By John Mullen and Gabriel Tynes
People who live outside corporate city limits in Baldwin County are making moves to curb, limit or control potential annexations.
“They are worried about losing the feel that is Josephine and having parts of that annexed without their consent,” State Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Daphne, said. “Large portions of that area are already in the Orange Beach police jurisdictions. They are also frustrated with what they see as some municipal overreach there and I think that’s what’s driving this more than anything else.
“These folks are starting to feel municipal influence well outside the municipality and they don’t like it. What they are trying to do is preserve their community from being legislatively annexed by a neighboring municipality without their consent.”
State Rep. Steve McMillan, R-Foley, is working on a bill to create the Josephine Landmark District, which would put some restrictions on annexations. If approved in this session of the Alabama Legislature, it will be on the November ballot as an amendment to the constitution. A similar bill creating a Barnwell Landmark District, sponsored by State Rep. Joe Faust, R-Fairhope, is making its way through the Legislature as well.
“I met with them the first time in early December and we talked about if we passed the constitutional amendment the only way they would be annexed would be by referendum,” McMillan said. “Then a couple of the larger property owners didn’t want to be involved, so I’m going to take them out and still leave plenty of area for Josephine to do what the original intent was. That was to keep them from being forced annexed by act of the Legislature.”
Those two large landowners are David Lawrenz and the company that owns Barber Marina.
“The interesting thing is Lawrenz has already been annexed in Orange Beach,” McMillan said. “They did it at his request. Barber’s got enough that he doesn’t really have any need for it. He’s got enough acreage that he can be flexible enough with what he wants to do. Frankly, we’re fortunate to have somebody that has his sensitivity for environmental issues and water quality and other things.”
Eliminating those two from the area and other legalities have McMillan’s bill still in committee.
“As soon as I can get those legal descriptions, I’m ready to go with it,” McMillan said. “I think the rest of the delegation is, too. Then it goes to the Senate where it will just be a formality.”
The new bills would not completely stop annexations, but would at least give residents in those unincorporated areas a voice in the process.
“It will not stop annexation by referendum or contiguous consensual annexation,” Elliott said. “If you are next to the city for instance and you want to move your property into the city and the city wants you and you want the city then you can annex into the city. It also will not stop annexation through referendum, which is another way to do that.”
Mayor Karin Wilson of Fairhope has been a vocal critic of the plan. Writing a proposed resolution against landmark districts, she has received the backing of every mayor in the county except for those in Loxley and Silverhill.
Her resolution claims landmark districts are “not a recognized legal entity under the laws of Alabama” and “the sole basis for creation of a landmark district appears to be to prohibit a municipality from annexing any property within, by local acts of the Legislature.” Further, it claims “there is no uniform, consistent or transparent approach for defining the boundaries of proposed landmark districts” and points out the Barnwell proposal would envelope some 44 square miles, including areas far outside the boundaries of what has traditionally been known as Barnwell.
“To be clear, I do not oppose the concept of Barnwell creating a landmark district,” she wrote legislators last week. “It is the language in the bill for which I’m opposed. The arbitrary boundary of the proposed Barnwell District … includes portions within Fairhope’s incorporated boundary. Other communities such as Battles Wharf, Clay City, Fish River, parts of Point Clear and Houstonville are included as well. For comparison’s sake, Foley is the largest city in Baldwin County by area and it is approximately 32 square miles.”
Wilson argued cities such as Fairhope need all the tools in the legislative toolbox to control growth, including annexation.
“Like many municipalities in Baldwin County, Fairhope is currently experiencing immense development pressure along its unincorporated borders, and we oppose any legislation that prevents us from protecting the future of our citizens,” she wrote. “Every city within Alabama has grown by using the same rules of annexation as established by the State Legislature. Due to the arbitrary boundary of this proposed landmark district, Fairhope would be placed at a disadvantage to manage and direct our growth.”
Boyd Little is president of Oak Hollow Farm in Barnwell and spokesman for a group of citizens advocating on behalf of the landmark district. He said the effort was in response to the city’s proposed Greeno Road Overlay District, a zoning amendment the Fairhope Planning Commission proposed in late 2018 but ultimately rejected earlier this month.
“Basically we’re trying to look out for citizens in our area, because there have been some egregious things Fairhope has been doing with planning and zoning … things taking place that have landowners blocked from doing anything with their property.”
Among Little’s concerns were having to go through two regulatory authorities — the city and the county — to do something as simple as subdivide large parcels of property for low-impact family use. But he also said the city enforces its sign ordinance beyond corporate limits and Barnwell residents pay permit and application fees and for some city services, yet do not have a vote in elections or a voice in city government.
“We have no right to say anything,” he said. “The landmark district was a tool we found — it shouldn’t change police jurisdiction, it shouldn’t impact law enforcement, the fire department, [emergency medical services], planning or zoning — all it does is give us the right to say whether we want to be annexed or not.”
If the legislation is approved, a referendum to adopt the landmark districts would be added to a countywide or statewide ballot in November. Lagniappe will update this story as it develops.
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