Cities and counties must plan for success

Downtown Fairhope features inviting storefronts and tree-lined streets.

The Baldwin County Commission ensured there was no room for ambiguity when it recently “repealed, rescinded, voided, and nullified” the Horizon 2025 comprehensive plan for unincorporated portions of the county. Commissioners and residents expressed concerns that the document gave the county too much authority over local property rights, and also promised to look at other planning organizations that receive county funds, such as the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission, and subdivision regulations to ensure similar encroachment is not encouraged elsewhere.

As the old saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail, and that is especially true when it comes to creating healthy, economically competitive, and environmentally safe cities and towns.

Comprehensive plans are designed to serve as a guide for future development. They are typically the result of extensive community outreach and are meant to reflect the public’s vision for what they would like their community to look like in the future. The plan may motivate public officials to place some of the recommendations into zoning codes or building regulations, but plans are only advisory. For a current example of the comprehensive planning process, visit the website for the Birmingham plan under development.

The Horizon 2025 Plan is referred to as a “guide” and “basic framework” in its introduction and the document specifically states that the “use of such words as ‘shall’ or ‘should’ or ‘may’ or ‘can’ and other such language, wherever it appears in this plan, is intended as a guideline, not a stricture, unless otherwise specified in the Baldwin County Zoning Ordinance, Subdivision Regulations or the Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance.”

Comprehensive plans do not seek to deny citizens their property rights; in fact, many comprehensive plans lead to zoning regulations that provide citizens with more options for how they can use their land, not less. Mixed-use development allows residents more housing options; complete streets policies give people more transportation choices; and form-based zoning codes give property owners the freedom to choose if their building can be used for commercial or residential purposes. Too often the established zoning codes restrict developers from creating the communities we want to live in, and updated comprehensive plans help correct that.

In Baldwin County specifically, Daphne recently adopted a land use and development ordinance aimed at improving the “health, safety, convenience, order, prosperity, and general welfare of the residents,” while Fairhope has a comprehensive plan that has a general aim of “guiding and accomplishing a coordinated, adjusted, and harmonious development of the municipality and its environs which will, in accordance with present and future needs, best promote health, safety, morals, order, convenience, prosperity and general welfare as well as efficiency and economy in the process of development.”

Both of these cities also have complete streets policies that will guide future transportation decisions. They also happen to be two of the most inviting and attractive cities in the state. That did not happen by accident. It was the result of a plan.

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