Fairhope city leaders expressed reservations about a possible moratorium on new subdivisions and multi-family developments Monday, concluding that more discussion is needed.
Monday’s wide-ranging discussion during a City Council work session ended only because the group ran out of time before its regular meeting. Council President Jack Burrell said a special meeting on the subject may be needed.
A proposed ordinance would place a six-month moratorium on all subdivision and multiple-occupancy applications while the council evaluates the availability of public utilities, traffic issues, drainage regulations, environmental issues and existing subdivision and planning regulations.
Projects already underway or applied for would not be affected. Building Official Erik Cortinas said the planning and zoning department has been “flooded” with applications for new projects from developers trying to beat a possible moratorium.
Managing growth was one of the main issues in the recent municipal elections, as new subdivisions have sprung up around the city’s core and a planned apartment complex generated much controversy. Former Mayor Tim Kant had proposed a moratorium, but newly elected Mayor Karin Wilson instead proposed that the city start by studying whether the utilities system had enough capacity to handle the new residential projects.
“I just don’t want to put this six-month thing out there and have everything at a standstill,” Wilson said.
A proposed moratorium had been tabled by the previous council. Burrell said he deliberately did not put it on Monday’s meeting agenda because he didn’t want to trigger a last-minute run on applications without a better sense of what the council wanted.
“We’ve really got to determine what it is that we really, really want to stop for now,” Burrell said.
Several additional questions were raised by city officials. Wilson said studying the utility system’s ability to take on additional sewer tie-ins and water hook-ups wouldn’t take six months, but the system’s capacity and weaknesses need to be established before other steps are taken to manage growth.
Others wondered whether the council would be legally obligated to take care of all the other issues spelled out in the ordinance within the six-month period and whether that could be accomplished.
Cortinas said many of the recent applications were incomplete, raising the question of whether an incomplete application would count as exempt if a moratorium were passed.
In response to a question during the regular meeting, Burrell said no action would be taken for at least two weeks and possibly not at all. More discussion was needed, leading to the possibility of a special meeting, he said.
Also Monday, the council agreed to hire attorney Matthew McDonald to review all litigation in which the city is involved. Wilson said she wanted an attorney not involved with city business or with any of the pending lawsuits to review lawsuits that have lingered without being resolved. Although McDonald’s fees remain to be negotiated, Wilson said she thinks the review will more than pay for itself in reduced litigation costs.
“I think we’re going to save an incredible amount of money,” Wilson said.