Why is Fairhope one of Baldwin County’s – and one of the country’s - fastest growing cities?
Being recognized nationally and internationally has come at a price of 26.7% growth in a short period from 2010 to 2018.
What have we been doing to control the growth?
When rapid growth and development began to strain the City’s ability to provide high levels of services, infrastructure to appropriately serve new development and to maintain the small-town charm we are known for, City leaders issued a limited and temporary moratorium – From December 2016 to September 2017 – on major new developments of five or more subdivision lots and multiple occupancy permits.
A leadership team made of the Mayor and department heads from Planning, Economic and Community Development, Operations and Public Works began an integrated and coordinated look at the needs, which led to the creation of “The City of Fairhope Moratorium Report."
The goal was to create a development process that was clear, predictable, consistent and fair and that would be communicated well prior to, during and post-development. We hope to become nationally recognized as a leader in innovative planning techniques and design while upholding the legacy of Fairhope and its environmental stewardship.
What does this mean for Major Subdivisions, Village Subdivisions and Multiple Occupancy Permits (MOP)?
All Major Subdivisions, Village Subdivisions and Multiple Occupancy Permits (MOP) now require a mandatory pre-application meeting with staff, as well as a community meeting with the neighboring property owners. The purpose of the staff meeting is to discuss procedural issues, land use requirements, required approvals and information regarding public infrastructure impacts and required improvements.
Attendees to the pre-application meeting are applicants, engineers, architects, surveyors and any stakeholder in the application. The City staff includes representatives from planning, public works, building inspection and utilities. The applicant should come away from this meeting with a clear understanding of necessary requirements to gain approval.
After the pre-approval meeting, and before a formal application is submitted to the City, a community meeting is required to be held by the applicant with adjoining property owners and neighbors. The purpose of the community meeting is to solicit input in the design and development of a proposed project prior to formal engineered plans being drawn.
Engaging the community early in the process allows the developer an opportunity to address concerns and engage in dialogue with the neighbors well ahead of a formal public hearing. We believe this early dialogue will be an asset to the developer, neighbors and the city.
What does the application review process look like?
The Planning Department has refined our application review process to include an interdepartmental Development Review Meeting with key staff from Public Works, Utilities, Building Inspections, Economic and Community Affairs and others.
A comment letter noting an deficiencies, comments or concerns is provided to the applicant, prior to a full Developmental Review Committee (DRC) meeting that is held in an open format where any issues are discussed between applicant and staff. If the comments are satisfactorily addressed, the development application is placed on the Planning Commission agenda.
What are post-construction procedures?
Post-construction procedures have been improved, with the Building Department thoroughly examining construction plans and conducting inspections at every phase. We have now included a “close out” procedure where parking, landscaping and lighting for newly developed sites are evaluated to ensure that all requirements and conditions are met.
Why did you extend Central Business District (CBD) boundaries?
Central Business District (CBD) boundaries have been slightly extended to take in additional areas that have urban characteristics or that are suitable for urban uses. The height and number of habitable stories also slightly increased for applications inside the CBD. The goal is to create additional investment and redevelopment in underutilized properties downtown so that all properties in the CBD contribute to the character and economic vitality of our downtown. This change has resulted in four mixed use/retail projects that are underway.
Is there are parking study underway in the CBD?
Yes, planning staff is conducting a parking study for the CBD. All public parking has been geo-located and placed into the GIS system, classified into four categories: 1) On-street parallel; 2) Angled parking; 3) Surface-level parking lot; and 4) Parking deck.
We are currently calculating the total square footage of structures in the CBD and their categories to apply a common standard (such as the Institute of Transportation Engineers) to generate parking demand that can be compared to our parking supply. Once we know if parking is sufficient, we will begin a more focused review of peak demand to give us a strong baseline.
What does planning include now?
Planning is now a collaborative approach among staff of various departments. This approach early in the development process has resulted in better coordination and several cost-share agreements with developers to upgrade adjacent but off-site City infrastructure, such as drainage and utilities to better serve the larger areas.
Has the city increased GIS capabilities and accessibility for employees and citizens?
Yes, the City now has an online map viewer where property information including zoning, overlay zones and key public facilities are searchable and printable. In addition, utilities are being digitally mapped in GIS with key identification and modeling of key facilities.
Does the City have a comprehensive land use plan?
We applied for and were awarded $650,000 from Restore Act funding to create and implement a new comprehensive land use plan. The exercise will incorporate all previous planning efforts and integrate community involvement to create a long-term vision for future growth in the Fairhope area, including inside the city limits, police jurisdiction and planning jurisdiction and will include public input meetings. This plan will tie together future land use planning and utility capacity and future upgrades as well as a target level of service for other key infrastructure such as road capacities, passive and active parks.
How is the City handling stormwater?
We hired an experienced Professional Engineer as Public Works Director to lead and address growth issues related to Stormwater Management. Stormwater issues have been at the forefront of the moratorium objectives and the City is working to minimize ecological impacts from development by using the innovative Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – LEED-certified – green practices for development.
The Public Works Department has been busy completing an inventory and evaluation of existing drainage systems within the City and mapping the Stormwater Management System (SWM) in detail through GIS. The Department has been identifying funding and creating a prioritized capital improvement plan for 5-, 10- and 25-year increments.
How are leaders addressing growth issues related to the Sanitary Sewer System?
We also hired an experienced Professional Engineer as Operations Director to lead and address growth issues related to the Sanitary Sewer System and oversee our public utilities. With growth of 27% over five years and permitting increases of 57% since 2000, the Utilities Department is actively engaged in ensuring that this vital infrastructure can keep pace and prevent Sanitary Sewer Overflows.
The Department led the completion of necessary studies to identify and implement improvements. The Operations Director provided the necessary information and direction to create Restore Act proposals for long-term improvements to the sewer system. Two of these proposals totaling $11 million were approved, and the projects are moving forward following the required Department of Treasury process. For more information, click here: https://www.fairhopeal.gov/community/faq/water-quality
What other ways are City staff addressing growth?
Our staff are learning about best practices in planning from several New Urbanist communities, including managing growth, pedestrian safety, stormwater management and design.
- Identifying opportunities for redevelopment, including undeveloped properties and vacant buildings, as an alternative to new development
- Working with local businesses to understand employment needs and help find solutions
- Serving as a resource for existing business and industry, including efforts to maintain a viable Central Business District
- Increasing communications and outreach related to growth issues through community meetings, social and other media
- Implementing a downtown traffic, parking and pedestrian-safety plan
Revised February 2019