Fort Morgan-area residents are planning to regroup after a bill calling for a referendum on incorporating Fort Morgan failed to get the full support of the local legislative delegation during this year’s legislative session.
“The bottom line is that it did not pass,” said Rep. Steve McMillan, the legislator who represents the area. “I take the full blame.”
McMillan said he became confused about whether the bill was among those uncontested by the five-member local legislative delegation and didn’t take additional steps needed to get it through the House. He thought the bill had passed and reached the Senate, and even told Fort Morgan Civic Association members it had when it had not, he said. Local bills must receive unanimous consent from the county’s legislative delegation to move forward.
“It did not have the votes to get out of the Baldwin County legislative delegation.” McMillan said.
The bill failed on a voice vote 2-2-1 with Rep. Alan Baker abstaining. Because it was a voice vote, McMillan said he did not know who voted for it other than him and who voted against it. He said legislators had some unanswered questions.
“I think the whole group met with the [Fort Morgan] Civic Association,” McMillan said. “I thought they had a good idea of what we were doing.”
Fort Morgan residents haven’t given up, Fort Morgan Civic Association President Paul Barefield said.
“We have not abandoned our plan,” Barefield said. “We want to move forward to get some protection for our area.”
McMillan said he had hoped to have a referendum on the ballot in November. However, that won’t be possible unless a special legislative session is called in time to allow the 90 days needed before an election to properly advertise the bill. Otherwise, the bill could be introduced in the next legislative session calling for a referendum in the 2018 election cycle or in any special election called before then.
“Our next plan is to meet again with the legislative delegation and to provide some information to the one who abstained and the two who voted against it,” Barefield said. “We want to answer any questions they have.”
The Civic Association asked legislators earlier this year to support a bill that would allow a referendum on incorporation. Its main goal is to protect the area — which is currently unincorporated and under the Baldwin County Commission’s jurisdiction — from overdevelopment. The association wants to maintain the current limits on both building height and density.
A Civic Association committee had considered several paths toward that end but settled on incorporation. The association sponsored public meetings and the overwhelming majority of those attending favored incorporation.
The effort comes after the Civic Association successfully sued the city of Gulf Shores over annexations that placed the entire area in the Gulf Shores’ police jurisdiction. Courts ruled wildlife sanctuary property owned by the federal government could not be annexed by Gulf Shores and that prevented all of the property annexed from being contiguous. This voided the annexations.
The association spent more than a decade and more than $100,000 fighting the annexation and hard feelings linger on both sides. Gulf Shores recently said it would not issue storm re-entry permits to Fort Morgan-area residents, who must pass through Gulf Shores to reach their property.
Earlier this year, the Civic Association erected a “Welcome to Fort Morgan” sign just west of the Gulf Shores city limits. Last week, Gulf Shores erected its own welcome sign on the opposite side of the road.
McMillan said he wishes both sides would get past their animosity and work together. He believes they both want the same thing, namely to limit the density of development. Fort Morgan residents want to maintain the area’s character while Gulf Shores is concerned about the amount of traffic that flows through the city.
The Legislature could pass a bill freezing the current zoning for Fort Morgan in place, but there would have to be some provision for appeal, McMillan said.
“Since the traffic from our area has to go through Gulf Shores, the city is rightly concerned about the traffic flow,” Barefield said. “There’s not a lot of difference in our objectives. The question is whether they will leave us alone to pursue our own solutions to overdevelopment.”