Thursday, July 20, 2017

Department Managers Give Building Moratorium Update

Fairhope, Alabama

Cortinas, Dyess, Peterson 


Department heads gave updates of growth management efforts at a townhall meeting at the library's Giddens Room Tuesday.

Building Department manager Eric Cortinas said meetings were held with developers and builders the day before to get their feedback about current regulations under review ... to prevent "unintended consequences" down the road.

Some of their major concerns were: changes to required elevations for floors in living spaces; allowable building heights; wetlands protection regulations matters.

In one of the rainiest regions of the country, keeping water out of living spaces is the objective Cortinas said: "Water going through someone's yard during heavy storms ... is not necessarily a drainage problem ... it is the nature of where we live ... ."

A rule of thumb however is if water is still standing after 48 - 72 hours: after that time there may be problems with grading of the lot.

One change being proposed is that floors be 15" above the grade of the lot.


Mayor Wilson at right
Developing "long-range strategies to improve and protect the quality of life ... and maintain the city's unique atmosphere" is  Planning Director Wayne Dyess' goal:

"We spend a lot of time permitting ... should spend more on long-term planning for the future ... ."

Dyess advocates for regulations that promote "an organized, rational method of approving developments  .... not make changes just for change sake ... must have a purpose behind them."

Feedback during the earlier meeting with builders/developers/engineers identified some concerns such as  addressing redundancy and conflicts between current regulations -- and a more timely/inclusive review process.


Dyess is proposing a new "conceptual" pre-application process inclusive of affected citizens and developers to identify potential issues "before the developers go too deep into their plans ... start designing." 

A pre-application conference with staff, followed by a community meeting with adjacent property owners before the actual formal application is made would insure incorporation of people's concerns into the final design (rather than have to make changes to drawings/plans after they are already completed),

Then,  the regular formal permitting process before the planning commission and city council would follow (as now).


Utilities Director of Operations Richard Peterson -- who said he is "wearing two hats" at the moment as acting Public Works Director as well -- mentioned the "many issues" with stormwater drainage, particularly concerning responsibility for maintenance of infrastructure already installed in neighborhoods around town.

Many of the issues are on private property or easements Peterson said: "What are developers and owners associations responsible for? They are not aware of their responsibilities (for maintenance) ... we need a mechanism to address that."

As a possible alternative,  a new storm water utility could be established at some point that may have more "leverage to work the issues out with people"; but that could come at additional costs to customers.


clay sewage pipe
Of all city utility issues, wastewater conveyance is the most pressing, Peterson said.

The five main pumping lift stations are nearing capacity and will need to be upgraded within five years to get sewage to the treatment plant -- located downtown just north of city hall.

Much of the 80 miles of old underground pipe leading to the plant is actually made of clay and have become porous and "brittle"  -- allowing rainwater to penetrate inside during heavy rains, causing manholes to overflow and capacity issues at the treatment plant itself.

Peterson said the city will have to carefully consider the high cost of upgrading the conveyance system pipes, or as an alternative constructing new, supplemental treatment facilities on the east side of town nearer to the new growth and development.

He said he would seek advice from ADEM about some of these issues during an upcoming routine meeting in Montgomery -- about renewing the city's operating permit.

As for the city's other utilities, Peterson described water as "strong" but new lines may be needed for fire plugs to accommodate growth; cast iron natural gas lines need to be replaced eventually "when we can"; and a consultant is currently helping to upgrade "fairly old" electric substations that are "close to" capacity: then distribution upgrades will start.


Planner Dyess called "getting ahead of the growth by long term planning essential to maintaining  quality of life -- and for maximizing the city's investment in its utilities by "locating growth where we already have them."

"Pre-zoning" could be implemented for property outside of city limits.

Dyess: "Growth, land use, building, utilities, roads, schools, public safety,  ... its a very complex issue overall."

Another town hall meeting is planned next month.

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