The Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA), the state employees’ pension fund with more than $44 billion in assets, has filed a lawsuit against the Baldwin County Commission for adopting the resolution to create Planning District 19, a controversial zoning district in Point Clear that was approved by voters in a Dec. 29, 2020, election.
The district, which became the county’s first new planning district in more than 10 years, also prompted a lawsuit from residents in a historically Black neighborhood south of Fairhope, who claimed the boundaries were unfairly drawn to exclude minority voters who helped defeat a similar ballot measure more than a decade ago.
Similarly, RSA, which owns the Lakewood Golf Club and the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort in Point Clear, argues “the proposed and adopted boundaries for District 19 do not correspond to any voting precinct, and the commission made no determination that the use of [voting precinct’s] boundaries was not feasible.”
RSA claims it has 351 acres within the district, where new zoning ordinances have “decreased the value of the property by prohibiting RSA from continuing development of the property for residential uses and also impeded its clubhouse’s existing use.” In a complaint filed in October 2021, RSA also claims it was never notified of the election, the proposed map, proposed zoning provisions or any public hearing related to the district.
“District 19 encompasses the property as well as a number of surrounding parcels on which single-family homes and other structures are built,” the complaint states. “The zoning map for District 19 singles out the property and zones it, in particular, as an ‘Outdoor Recreation’ district — one of the most restrictive, if not the most restrictive zoning designations.”
Further, RSA claims the zoning map or zoning ordinances were amended the day the commission approved the district, and those amendments should have been reviewed by the Baldwin County Planning Commission.
“Due to the lack of actual notice, RSA was not afforded the opportunity to seek reclassifications for portions of its property included in District 19,” the complaint states. District 19, RSA believes, “is arbitrary and capricious, because it is inconsistent with the character of the district and its suitability for particular uses.” Additionally, RSA argues the district “constitutes piecemeal or spot zoning in violation of Alabama law” and more specifically, “singled out the property despite it not being part of any comprehensive plan.”
RSA is seeking a declaratory judgment voiding District 19. Meanwhile, the claim challenging the election filed by Black residents has been partially dismissed, but Judge Scott Taylor is allowing claims regarding the district boundaries to continue. The county has denied wrongdoing in both cases.
Baldwin County’s planning districts are created in a “citizen-driven” process that involves petitioning 10 percent of the electorate within a district, then holding an election where the district must be approved by a simple majority. According to state law, the boundaries of planning districts must correspond with voting precincts, “unless the [County Commission] determines that the use of the voting precinct boundaries is not feasible.”
Before legal action was filed, County Administrator Wayne Dyess told Lagniappe he could not account for inconsistencies in the Planning District 19 boundaries, which do not correspond with Voting Precinct 10. The boundaries of the district were allegedly approved by the county’s former planning director, Vince Jackson, who left the position just before the election.
Since District 19 was approved by voters, there have been at least six other attempts to create new zoning districts in Baldwin County. Proposed Planning District 11, outside of Magnolia Springs, was defeated by voters there in mid-2021.
Three elections are scheduled in February for two new planning districts outside of Fairhope (8 and 37), plus Planning District 36 in Seminole. A petition has been received to create yet another district outside Foley — Planning District 35 — and it is currently being evaluated by probate court.
Coincidentally, District 19 became the county’s 19th zoned planning district. Eleven districts in the county remain unzoned.
RSA vs Baldwin County
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