In the past, if Miriam Boutwell was presented with a problem in her role as Foley’s community development director, she and her staff had to find a way to solve it.
But with a new organization she helped establish, Plan Lower AL Now (PLAN), there might be another person within the group who has already faced and fixed the same problem.
“It has been so helpful for me to know what everybody else is doing and that Foley is not the only one experiencing a challenge,” Boutwell said. “They may have already experienced it and solved the problem.”
PLAN meets regularly in Foley at the Graham Creek Interpretive Center. Invited are planners from the county and cities in Baldwin County as well as engineers, developers, Realtors and homebuilders.
Daphne Planning Director Adrienne Jones doesn’t attend every meeting but makes sure she looks over the agenda to see if there’s an item that will help her or her city learn more.
“If it’s something good that I can add value to or something I think would add value to what I do here in Daphne, then I’ll go,” Jones said. “It is a way for planners in the area and planning-type professionals to get together.”
With thousands of lots in nearly 100 subdivisions in various stages of development in the county, Boutwell says it’s good for leaders in the regions to keep up with growth nearby.
“For instance, today I’ve had three meetings with developers who may or may not build something in Foley,” Boutwell said. “But it would be helpful for Orange Beach or Gulf Shores to know we are planning a big subdivision that might impact them in some way.”
Boutwell said any topic related to growth and managing it is on the table at the meetings, including talking about new roads.
“We typically have a speaker,” she said. “It could be one of us or we could have a third party come in and speak. We network and we roundtable common issues that we are having. It runs the gamut … just kind of an open forum for us to discuss all these things.”
Meeting with developers before they start making serious plans and before the project starts can also head off some issues between the two groups.
“If it’s in the regulations and they know they have to do it they are typically OK with it, but you can’t let them get too far into the process and then tell them they have to go back and do something, because it costs them money,” Boutwell said.
It’s been a learning experience for both sides, she said.
“Tying in with the homebuilders and the Realtors and the developers has really been helpful for all of us,” Boutwell said. “They understand the city side better and regulatory side better and we better understand how they choose a piece of property to build on.”