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Baldwin County approves two new subdivisions despite resident criticisms

Baldwin County Planning and Zoning Commission

The Baldwin County Planning and Zoning Commission approved the preliminary plat for two new subdivisions in the area earlier this month. These are official maps that record the placement of a new subdivision.

The first subdivision is Iron Horse Subdivision, which houses 284 lots. It is located between Summerdale and Foley in Planning District 18. The district is unzoned. The second subdivision is Silver Springs Subdivision, which includes 199 lots and sits in Planning District 14. Residents recently voted to implement zoning in Planning District 14 last month. However, developers submitted their application before the planning district was zoned. This means the subdivision will operate under unzoned guidelines. Both subdivisions are located in Central Baldwin County.

The two new subdivisions could bring nearly 500 new homes to the area over the next few years. However, not all residents were happy with the county’s approval. Baldwin County Planning and Zoning Commission held public hearings on July 6 for both subdivisions. A handful of residents expressed several concerns about the Iron Horse Subdivision, the first being traffic.

“Traffic’s already really heavy on [County Road] 24,” said Alan Pierce, a resident in Planning District 18. “I can remember when we [would] see 10, 20 cars a day going down 24. Now, to get out on 24, I have to wait on the light to change at [County Road] 59 and 24 and let all that traffic pass just to pull out. With that many homes in there, I’m just concerned. If you figure the potential l for two vehicles per lot, you’re looking at close to 600 vehicles extra coming [from] 24. I’d recommend not to approve it.”

Civil engineers at Neel-Schaffer submitted traffic impact studies for both subdivisions. Road improvements were recommended, including new intersections and turn lanes to improve traffic flow. The planning commission approved the subdivisions on the condition that these improvements were put in place before the subdivisions’ final plat. The planning commission also stated that both subdivisions must meet broadband service requirements before final plat approval.

Other residents discussed environmental issues, particularly the risk of flooding.

“We’ve been concerned about a certain amount of our drainage going away,” said Rebecca Hogan, another Planning District 18 resident. “On the eastern side of the property, there is a little [section] of wooded wetland. I implore whoever is designing this subdivision [to not] alter that. If it is either filled in or additional drainage is sent in that direction, it’s going to cause flooding problems for the properties. It’s absolutely vital during tropical storms but also [during] normal, heavy periods of rain. If some of it is chopped out…, we’re going to have water up to the doorways.”

In addition to traffic reports, developers also had to submit drainage reports with their preliminary plat. Environmental experts at Dewberry Engineers confirmed that all jurisdictional and non-jurisdictional wetlands were protected by buffers or will be modified to prevent flooding in surrounding areas. Experts also recommended the creation of additional ponds to address flooding concerns in Iron Horse Subdivision.

The third criticism among residents was the possible strain on infrastructure from these two new subdivisions.

“Another issue is, and this is foremost in everybody’s mind, who’s going to govern as far as [the] fire department and police department?” said resident Shirley Eason. “We’re talking approximately 500 more people, if [there is] two people per household. That’s a big concern because we’re shorthanded now.”

Rebecca Hogan echoed these sentiments.

“About the [police] jurisdiction, that is a serious concern because there’s been neighbors shooting guns next to people’s houses or extreme mega-subwoofer rock concert levels of noise complaints just to the south of this place,” Hogan said. “As you can see, the Foley police jurisdiction cuts off way before that [subdivision]. Sheriffs can’t really do much about it. There’s no ordinances in those areas for noise complaints or … terrible behaviors. I would really consider not approving this if the Foley police jurisdiction line doesn’t bump up to include this because it makes life hell sometimes.”

Fire and police protection were approved for both subdivisions. To address any possible confusion, the planning commission confirmed that Summerdale Fire Marshal Michael Aaron approved Iron Horse Subdivision for fire protection. Police jurisdiction will come from Baldwin County.

Despite resident criticisms, the Baldwin County Planning and Zoning Commission motioned to approve both subdivisions to staff conditions. Matthew Brown is the planning director for the commission. Brown said he understands why residents might feel frustrated, but the developers did what they had to do to reach commission approval.

“There were no concerns raised that were uniquely substantial, [none] that would have given us grounds to deny or postpone the approval of the subdivisions…” he said. “It’s not that these concerns aren’t valid, but we’ve checked them. [Developers have] met our requirements or have given us documentation to show they will have them met prior to the final plat… It’s a pretty rigorous process. We have something like a 30-page checklist, which we run each [subdivision] through. If you interviewed the developers, they would, if anything, complain about the rigor of the process.”

Brown said because both subdivisions were within unzoned planning districts during their application submission, the commission does not have the authority to deny them.

“This volunteer board, the planning commission, their hands are tied in these unzoned areas,” he said. “When the subdivisions come up, as long as those boxes have been checked, they can’t turn it away just because they don’t like it, it doesn’t fit or it’s going to have some type of negative impact in changing the way the community feels. They’re just average citizens serving in that capacity. People think they’re approving it, but the law and the Alabama Supreme Court [have] been very clear on this. We have little discretion but to approve these subdivisions.”

The subdivision approval process now moves to the Baldwin County Highway Department. Subdivision developers have two years to submit full construction plans to the department. Developers also have two, one-year extensions to submit these plans. From there, developers begin site development and apply for the final plat application. Once the final plat receives enough signatures, developers can start pulling building permits to construct homes in these subdivisions.

Joshua LeBerte is a news intern for Alabama Public Radio.
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