Friday, November 16, 2007

Sewer Land Swap will proceed in Orange Beach

Orange Beach also restarts negotiations to lease Josephine area lines

Friday, November 16, 2007

By RYAN DEZEMBER Staff Reporter

ORANGE BEACH -- After a nearly 18-month delay, the city and Alabama conservation officials have set a date later this month to finalize a land swap that will allow construction of a new $20 million municipal sewer treatment plant, Mayor Pete Blalock said Tuesday.

The two sides plan to close the transaction Nov. 27, which will give Orange Beach 40 acres south of the city's current treatment facility on Canal Road while the state will get 46 acres of maritime forest to be added to the Gulf State Park.

The trade had been delayed first because of problems with appraisals used in the deal, and later because of a disagreement between the state and the federal government over whether the state land could leave Alabama's hands.

But Blalock said those issues have been resolved and the city, as soon as the swap is finalized, plans to begin building a plant that can treat 10 million gallons per day with the ability to be expanded to handle 15 million gallons daily. The current plant can treat 5.5 million gallons a day.
Last month, with the future of the new plant still up in the air, the City Council voted to stop promising wastewater treatment service to large developments for 180 days. The fear was that with the delays in building the new plant, the current facility might be overloaded by new condos and shopping centers.

Councilman Jeff Silvers said the city has contractors already lined up to clear the site, and that construction will likely take 18 months.

Also Tuesday, the city officials said that after putting the brakes on negotiations to lease its Josephine-area sewer lines to a private company, it would resume working out a short-term deal with Alabama Utility Services LLC.

Orange Beach now bills 817 customers in the area north of the Intracoastal Waterway that the company seeks to take over. Each of those customers is charged, like city residents, $20 per month.

The Pell City sewer company, which is building a treatment plant in the Lillian area, seeks to lease those lines from the city for the first few years it's open. That would not only give the company some business to start with, but it would provide the city's sewer system some relief until the new plant is finished, city officials have said.

The city would then be able to reclaim the lines when its plant is completed.

City Administrator Jeff Moon said that after the company's initial proposal last month, three council members expressed hesitancy to lease the lines because the company said that it would likely need to raise rates for existing customers.

Council members said a recent 68 percent rate hike by Baldwin County Sewer Service, a separate private provider, caused them some pause in dealing with a private company.
But Alabama Utility Services has now offered to keep rates level for existing customers while charging a separate city regulated rate to customers it hooks up to the lines, its lawyer David Whetstone said Tuesday.

"We can assure you that it would be in the $30 to $40 range, which I think is a very competitive rate," Whetstone said.

Whetstone, who is Gulf Shores' city attorney and a former Baldwin County district attorney, said the company will adhere to city building standards when adding on to the lines and would allow the council to regulate its rates for all customers.
"It will bring a new competitor to the area and I think a competitor is good for everyone," Whetstone said. "I think competition leads to lower prices."

Council members, without taking an official vote, gave City Attorney Wanda Cochran permission to restart negotiations with the sewer company.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Smart growth' improves quality of life

Originally Published by the Mobile Press Register

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

According to the U.S. Census, more than half of the population of the U.S. lives in a coastal county, and this number is expected to continue to grow.

As residents of a coastal area, we are aware of the sensitive ecosystems that exist in coastal areas, and the natural hazards that face them. As coastal areas continue to grow, they can protect natural resources by implementing land use policies known as "smart growth."

The term "smart growth" can be defined in many ways. For the most part, however, smart growth can be described as being sustainable growth: the planned development of a community that discourages sprawl and encourages open space and the preservation of natural areas -- basically, a balance of development and growth with conservation and natural resources, all leading to an improved quality of life for residents and a healthy community.

According to the Smart Growth Network, there are several major principles that a community may practice to achieve smart growth. These are:

Create walkable communities.

Create a range of housing opportunities and choices.

Encourage community collaboration in the planning process.

Foster distinct, attractive places with a strong sense of place.

Make development decisions predictable, fair and cost effective.

Mix land uses.

Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty and critical environmental areas.

Provide a variety of transportation choices.

Strengthen and direct development toward existing communities.

Take advantage of compact building design.

Many communities in Mobile and Baldwin counties are currently implementing principles of smart growth and are working to incorporate more of these principles.

For more information on smart growth, visit the Smart Growth Network online at

(Jody A. Thompson is an environmental extension associate at Auburn University Marine Extension and Research Center. Sea Grant writers may be contacted at 438-5690. )

State: Keep Perdido Key building cap

Originally Published by the Pensacola News Journal

November, 7, 2007

DCA disagrees with county plan

By Jamie Page

For the second time in two years, the Florida Department of Community Affairs is objecting to Escambia County's proposal to remove the building cap on Perdido Key.

A maximum of 7,150 dwelling units (houses or condominiums) and 1,000 lodging units (hotels or motels) are allowed on the Key.

But the county has proposed an amendment to the comprehensive land-use plan to allow development to the fullest extent allowable under the proposed zoning ? about 12,000 dwelling units and 2,500 lodging units.

In its recent review of the county's proposed amendment, the DCA recommended the change not be adopted for some of the same reasons the agency cited in 2006.

Mike McDaniel, chief of the DCA's Office of Comprehensive Planning, wrote in a recent letter to county commissioners that the DCA was concerned with the potential impact on coastal evacuation, facilities and services, and natural resources.

"The DCA must review the amendment before it can move forward to public hearings. Escambia County submitted a similar amendment to the DCA in 2005 to remove the cap, and in 2006 it was rejected. So the county rescinded the amendment and hired a firm to help address the DCA's objections and submitted a new one in August.

Commissioner Gene Valentino, who represents the Key, said he's surprised by the objections.He said the county is likely to submit a third revised amendment, and he's confident the DCA's objections can be addressed.

The Perdido Key Association has opposed removing the cap, fearing it would promote irresponsible growth."I wasn't surprised at all with their objections, not in the least," said Ann Griffin, president of the Perdido Key Association. "It's not environmentally responsible, it's not fiscally responsible, it's just not a good idea. They are basically telling them the same thing they did the last go around but telling them even stronger.

"There are about 3,400 residential units on Perdido Key and no lodging units. The remaining 3,750 units that can be built under the current cap have been reserved by developers. About 66 percent of land on the Key is in public ownership, and protected from development by government.

Commission Chairman Kevin White, who is "not surprised by anything DCA does," said commissioners could consider adopting the change anyway, without the DCA's support.

"But I have to find out what the down sides are," White said. "I do not like arbitrary caps. By removing the caps you are going to what zoning allows.

"Commissioners have said they thought the amendment would encourage more commercial growth to support the anticipated increase in residential property.

More than 700 families on the Key represented by the Perdido Key Association have said they don't want the cap removed.

"This further illustrates the huge disconnect between our county commissioners and the residents of Perdido Key who fought this plan change," said Kelly Robertson, vice president of the association. "First, there was the proposed change of 2006, next the challenge to the (tax-increment financing) funding for Perdido Key Drive, now this.

"On Sept. 6, the Florida Supreme Court said tax-increment financing deals that depend on revenue from property taxes must be approved by voters. The decision invalidated a bond for widening Perdido Key Drive.

White said part of the DCA's concern about adequate sewer systems, roads and other infrastructure not being able to support removal of the cap was going to be addressed with the widening of Perdido Key Drive to four lanes. That is, until the court shot it down.

Said White: "The Perdido Key Association is always going to be opposite of whatever Escambia County wants. I believe it's because of a no-growth mentality. They've got theirs and don't want anybody else to have any."Alison Davenport, a real estate broker on the Key, supports commissioners' move to lift the cap.

"Concurrency polices growth on its own; why does it need an additional cap?" said Davenport, founder of the nonprofit Promote Perdido. "It doesn't matter what a property is zoned for if you cannot prove the infrastructure is there to support it. The cap is an additional layer that's punitive to property owners."