By John Mullen

Chan West knew parking requirements her committee recommended for new construction in Fort Morgan were much more strict than previous regulations, but she also knew something needed to be done.

“I was afraid they were going to play heck with it because it was really strict,” West, the chairperson of the Fort Morgan Planning and Zoning Advisory Committee, said. “I was afraid it would get amended.”

But the local committee’s proposal sailed through the Baldwin County Planning Commission in June and was approved by the Baldwin County Commission in August.

The concern was over huge rental houses in Fort Morgan that bring in big groups, who bring lots of cars.

“They’ve got one duplex that has 11 bedrooms per side,” West said. “Overflow parking was all over the place.”

Baldwin County District 4 Commissioner Skip Gruber agreed.

“It was causing havoc in that whole area,” Gruber said. “People parking on other people’s property, parking in the road, people just parking on top of the dunes. Just anywhere they could park, they were parking.”

It became a public safety concern as well, West said, one the local committee is glad the county recognized with the change in parking requirements on the peninsula.

The advisory committee presented those concerns and recommended changes in the code. West said she’s happy with the change, and that the county responded to the requests of the residents.

When those sprawling homes were built, Baldwin County code required only two parking spaces per dwelling regardless of the number of bedrooms.

“That didn’t work, so that’s why we went with the number of bedrooms determining the number of parking spots,” Gruber said.

With the new code, dwellings with four bedrooms must have at least two parking spaces. If there are five or six bedrooms, three spaces are required.

For the larger homes with seven or more bedrooms, four spaces are required per unit, plus one additional space per unit for every two bedrooms over eight. The massive 22-bedroom duplex would be required to have 12 parking spaces if it were built today.

Gruber says builders will also face scrutiny from federal wildlife officials as they carve parking areas out of undeveloped dunes.

“They have to figure that into their plans when building a house,” he said. “They have to go to Fish and Wildlife to determine how much Fish and Wildlife is willing to give them for the beach mouse. It’s called the taking of the habitat of the beach mouse.”

While the change doesn’t affect homes built under the old requirement, Gruber says the new regulations will keep the problem from growing.

“We can’t go back and change the others, but we said, from this time forward we will fix that problem,” Gruber said.
The changes faced no opposition at any level of the approval process.

“Everybody was really happy with it,” Gruber said. “It passed without any problem.