27 Apr Smart Growth
“There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.” Franklin D. Roosevelt
Many of us are not from here; in fact, more of us are originally from somewhere else. All of us appreciate and love the community that native Baldwin Countians created. I was welcomed here with open arms in 1994, and I still know and enjoy many of the people I met here in my first few weeks. Like many others, one of my dearest friends moved his family here in 2008 and would have gladly closed the gate behind him the next day if possible. We are all concerned that growth will change the community into a place with a lower quality of life, but in reality these new faces to Baldwin County have actually improved our quality of life by being here and being involved in our community.
There are two popular misconceptions about growth here in Baldwin County that must be addressed in order to focus on properly managing the future of our county. First of all, developers do not cause growth. Developers and builders fill the supply of growth demand in the market the same as Publix supplies demand on their shelves. Baldwin County itself, our environment, our people, and our quality of life are what have caused growth demand here. We are in just about every magazine in the US. In this month’s Southern Living alone, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach rank second in best beaches in the South, Fairhope ranks second as best small town in the South, the Shrimp Festival ranks fifth in best festival in the South, and the Magnolia Springs Bed and Breakfast ranks tenth for the best Inn in the South. We have caused growth by being fabulous with others bragging about it. During the economic recession, we were still growing at 1.6 percent because of retirees, and, you guessed it, Foley is ranked as one of the best places to retire in the country.
The second misconception about growth is that we can stop it. Unfortunately, we can’t close the gate without adversely affecting our quality of life. Think about this, if we were actually able to stop growth completely we would be accepting the fact that today is the best it will ever be here in Baldwin County. Every day we would lose contributing members to our community and our local economy. A large part of our economy relies on construction and real estate. These sectors would be forced to leave causing further service providers, restaurants, doctors, car salesmen, etc. to leave, too. As our community contracted, opportunities would vanish as our children moved elsewhere to chase employment. This story is prevalent across so many dying areas across our country. You can find towns drying up within a couple hours drive of here. Stopping growth will kill our quality of life, as the inverse is true, also.
When I moved here in 1994, there was one movie theater in Daphne with vinyl sparkly seats showing second run movies. There were less than a half dozen date night restaurants in the county, and if you wanted to do any serious shopping, it was Mobile or Pensacola. It is nostalgic to think about going to the Big Top for supper and the Eastern Shore Cinema for January’s hottest movie, but reality is, we enjoy the option and convenience of 67 screens to choose from along with some outstanding restaurants. We rank pretty high in restaurants, too.
We should embrace smart growth as a blessing of further opportunities and a better quality of life for our citizens along with our children. I have proven that private property rights are of the utmost concern to me, so long as they do not infringe on the private property rights of others, as prescribed by our country’s founding documents. Baldwin County manages and plans for growth through subdivision regulations and zoning. Our subdivision regulations allow market supply while requiring developers mitigate its impacts to the community; in particular, traffic and the environment. Our zoning regulations continue to expand as market demands change, but I am intentional against speculative zoning, and spot zoning. Zoning must be incorporated with our plans to increase highway capacities while reducing driving distances for necessary services in growth areas. We will continue to collaborate with schools, municipalities, hospitals, and utility providers as we grow and impact infrastructure (see last weeks post). Zoning must be consistent with the character of the community. Some areas of the county are un-zoned. If residents of those areas vote in zoning, our planning and zoning department will work with that community to implement the entire community’s vision for its growth.
We all love Baldwin County. I loved it in 1993 when I first visited. I love it more today, and I will love it in the future because it will still rank as one of the best places to live, work, play, and raise a family. For me personally, I work hoping my little boy will choose to grow his family here due to Baldwin County’s people, quality of life, environment, and opportunities. Thank you for letting me do this work I enjoy so much.