A moratorium on new residential construction in Fairhope could be voted on Dec. 22 after City Council members refused to consider Mayor Karin Wilson’s request for an immediate ban Monday.
Wilson asked for a vote on the moratorium during the council’s work session before the regular meeting. The moratorium was not on the agenda, so the council would have had to vote unanimously to add the item. At least two council members, Kevin Boone and Jimmy Conyers, said they would not consent to do so because neither builders nor other members of the public had been notified.
“I think to slide it in 10 minutes in advance [of the regular meeting], it’s going to be some backlash,” Conyers said.
Boone said, “To push it through tonight would be to railroad it.”
A moratorium had been discussed by Wilson and the new council at a recent work session but no action was taken, as council members agreed they needed to talk it over more and perhaps call a special meeting on the subject. Wilson said then she did not want to have development at a standstill for six months and wanted to first conduct a study of the capacity of the utility system.
But on Monday, water and sewer superintendent Dan McCrory said parts of the city sewer system are already at capacity, and continued development in the planning jurisdiction adjacent to the city may make things worse. The study is needed, he said.
“Right now I can’t sign off on any more development until this is done,” McCrory said.
Single- and multi-family projects that have already been approved or applied for would not be affected by the moratorium. A subdivision that is already approved may not start construction or complete it for a year or more, so there is time to deal with the problem before sewer hookups are needed, McCrory said.
In addition, Wilson said, the Planning and Zoning Department has been “inundated” with applications since the previous discussion. Applications totaling 472 lots are already on the Planning Commission’s agenda and 1,200 more lots are pending.
Wilson said the situation has become urgent, and that the proposed moratorium had been discussed already. “This is not last-minute,” she said.
Citizens want to control growth, and the city doesn’t answer to developers, Wilson said.
“As far as a sense of urgency, how long do you want us to take? We’ve been in office over a month,” she said.
A 10-day moratorium was also discussed but rejected. After the regular meeting, Council President Jack Burrell said he would put the six-month moratorium on the agenda for Dec. 22.
The council then complicated the situation by refusing to vote on Wilson’s proposed contract with Cowles, Murphy, Glover & Associates to study the city utilities system’s gas, water and sewer capacities. The engineering firm has offices in Mobile; LaGrange, Georgia; and Arlington, Tennessee, outside Memphis.
Wilson said she wanted “fresh eyes” on the utilities system. The firm is one of the best in the Southeast, she said, and the contract would not exceed $20,000.
But after Conyers moved to approve the contract, no one seconded the motion and the contract died for lack of a second.
Council members said they could find no evidence that the firm had any experience with municipal utilities systems and preferred a consultant that is familiar with Fairhope’s system.
Also during Monday’s work session, no action was taken on a request from the Dollar General Senior Bowl for a $35,000 donation in return for holding one of the college all-star game’s practices in Fairhope. The Senior Bowl made the same request last year for the first time and the previous council approved it.
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