The Fairhope City Council has hit the brakes on one of the fastest-growing cities in Alabama with a six-month moratorium on new subdivisions and multi-family developments. But with so many applications being processed, it might be hard to tell.

Construction on existing lots is not affected, nor are completed subdivision applications or multi-family applications submitted prior to the Dec. 22 council meeting. Mayor Karin Wilson signed the ordinance enacting the moratorium the morning of Dec. 23.
The moratorium covers Fairhope and its five-mile planning jurisdiction outside the city limits.

Fairhope’s planning staff has been overwhelmed with applications involving hundreds of new lots since talk of a moratorium began before Wilson took office in November. Jonathan Smith, director of planning and zoning, said he had stopped accepting incomplete applications altogether and had returned more applications than at any other time during his 11 years on the job.

According to Smith and the ordinance, the moratorium gives the city time to: clear the backlog of applications and associated paperwork; study utility capacity and availability (the council has been told parts of the city are at capacity for sewer service); address traffic issues and access management; review drainage regulations; review requirements to protect environmentally sensitive areas; review subdivision regulations and the zoning ordinance (Smith said some regulations conflict with each other and all need an overhaul).

Smith suggested completing those tasks within six months would be ambitious but possible. The council reserved the right to terminate the moratorium before the end date or to extend it longer than six months.

“It’s not going to stop development and it’s not going to stop building,” Councilman Robert Brown said.

Judging from Fairhope’s Planning Commission agenda for Jan. 3, Brown is right. The commission is scheduled to consider eight large new subdivisions or phases of existing subdivisions, ranging from 23 lots to 114 lots. One multi-family project is also on the agenda.

Fairhope’s development boom made growth the central issue of this year’s city elections, which brought in a new mayor and three council members. Fairhope residents have expressed concern about increased traffic, environmental impacts and potential negative effects on the quality of life in the small, waterfront city.

The moratorium had been put off because of the election and because council members want to discuss it thoroughly. But at the Dec. 12 work session, Wilson asked for an immediate moratorium because of the number of applications swamping the Planning and Zoning Department and growing concern about sewer and stormwater drainage capacity.

With only minutes remaining before that evening’s regular meeting, council members said they didn’t want to put the moratorium on the agenda without notice. On Dec. 22, the vote was unanimous.