The Fairhope City Council voted to extend its six-month moratorium on subdivisions and other multi-family structures for another 90 days, citing the need for officials to catch up with the “rapid and substantial” growth the coastal community has seen in recent years.
The prohibition, first approved at the end of 2016 and set to end July 4, only applies to new projects, and so won’t halt any construction already underway. Minor projects are also excluded from the ordinance. Those are caveats Fairhope leaders emphasized when the ordinance originally passed, staving off criticism that officials are potentially stymying the city’s residential boom.
“We have to become citizen-friendly,” Mayor Karin Wilson said. “We need a moratorium because we are in an emergency mode right now. We are not stopping development. We are taking the time we need to protect the citizens, those who voted us in several months ago.”One issue at the forefront of the 2016 campaign that led to Wilson’s and most of the current council’s rise to power was their predecessors’ approval of a controversial 240-unit housing complex in the city. Within the five-year period following 2010, Fairhope’s population ballooned from 15,228 to just under 19,000 — a 22 percent increase — making it one of the fastest growing municipalities in the state.
City officials at the council meeting on June 12 said the extension of the moratorium was necessary because, despite the time they’ve had, city workers and contractors have more work to do in planning for the infrastructural and regulatory future of the burgeoning city.
The text of the original ordinance said during the building freeze the city would “evaluate public utility availability, address traffic issues, review the City’s drainage regulations, review requirements to protect sensitive environmental areas, review of existing subdivision regulations and zoning ordinance, access management on major corridors and other traffic related concerns.”
It’s unclear what real progress has been made toward achieving those goals in the six months since, and that’s a harsh reality one Fairhope citizen warned about when the entire process began.
“At least get your ducks in a row and know who’s doing the studies, what do you want to accomplish, and how to get out of the moratorium,” one resident said at the December meeting.
There was also some discussion in the meeting of the length of the extension — three months — being a compromise between those who wanted longer to complete the work and those who fear potential litigation against the city because of the subdivision postponement.
Legal action wouldn’t be out of the question, either, given the demand for large residential projects in the city. Before the original ordinance restricting development passed in December, Fairhope’s director of planning and zoning, Jonathan Swift, said the number of applications for large residential projects had drastically increased in anticipation of the freeze.
“I would say a whole lot of panic has taken place,” Smith said at the time.
In the end, the extension of the moratorium passed without opposition. It is set to expire in early October.