By law, citizens may attempt to come under the jurisdiction of Baldwin County’s Planning and Zoning authority by first compiling a petition of 10 percent of the electorate of their district, the boundaries of which should correspond with voting precincts, where applicable. If the petition is certified by the County Commission, the commission will request the Judge of Probate to hold an election. If a simple majority approves zoning, citizens within that district can create their own development guidelines, subject to the approval of the commission.
Two other districts have been proposed since last year — one near Foley and the other near Magnolia Springs — but they failed in the election and the petition process, respectively. This week, Baldwin County Planning Director Matthew Brown recommended the commission approve the boundaries for the latest petition, proposed Planning District 8, noting “it is absolutely unfeasible to follow voting precinct boundaries.”
A variance between the voting precinct and the boundaries of Planning District 19 prompted a lawsuit from a group of residents who claimed many Black residents of the voting precinct were excluded from the planning district because they would have opposed it. After voters overwhelmingly approved the district in an unusual Dec. 29 election, organizers of the district later carved out special exceptions for “heirs property” in the Black community. Separately, the lawsuit was substantially dismissed.
At a work session Monday, Brown said the proposed Planning District 8 includes portions of five different voting precincts and “it would be impossible to use any existing precinct.”
So the proposed boundaries “essentially fill in unzoned areas checkered outside Fairhope city limits, making natural boundaries around County Road 32, Old Battles Road and State Route 181.
Clarice Hall-Black, a member of the Fairhope Planning Commission, filed the notice of the petition with her neighbor and cousin Vickie Graham. Hall-Black, a resident of Twin Beech Road, said in recent months, residents in the proposed district have complained about a Dollar General, Publix, and 242-unit apartment complex built adjacent to single-family residential areas.
“I’m trying to get the message out that when you’re unzoned, you can have fast food restaurants and nightclubs next to your house. You can fight it all day, but you’re unzoned,” she said. “This is the same thing that has been happening for 20 years. We’re in a situation where things are happening around us we can’t control and we can either help ourselves and control it or continue to sit here and complain.”
She said as a member of the Fairhope Planning Commission, she’s found residents outside the city limits are often reluctant to seek annexation. She believes county zoning can be more palatable.
“This is an opportunity to essentially make our own rules,” she said.
As of Tuesday, the county had not reported the number of signatures necessary to obtain 10 percent of the electorate in the district, but Hall-Black said she believes she can meet the threshold.
“We had some community-type meetings and we heard from the city and the county, and people seemed responsive to county zoning,” she said. “I’m not sure how many we need, but I’ll be busy knocking on doors.”
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