FOLEY – Cutting the number of stories allowed for Fort Morgan single family homes would reduce congestion and save lives, residents and first-responders told Baldwin County commissioners Tuesday.
The commission is scheduled to vote next Tuesday on a zoning change that would reduce the number of stories allowed for single-family homes from 2 ½ stories to two. At a commission work session, residents said developers now use the extra half-story allowed to add a third story to rental homes.
This creates buildings housing up to 44 people in what is supposed to be a single-family home, resident Paul Stanton said.
“People who rent out their homes will go to virtually any length to maximize bedroom counts and sleeping numbers,” Stanton said. “We have seen cots on top of cots in hallways, bunkbeds in rooms the size of closets and narrow stairs leading to attics filled with similar bedding.”
Stanton said the Oct. 5 fire on Ono Island is an example of what can happen with such buildings. The fires burned the structures on Ono Island even though the entire Orange Beach Fire Department responded as well as units from Gulf Shores and Escambia County.
“Can you imagine if one of these things goes up? They want to put two of these side by side. There will be 88 people in there that will die -- 44 per building,” Stanton said.
Fort Morgan Fire Chief Ernie Church said the department’s ladders cannot reach the top story on some of the homes.
“They told us to buy a ladder truck,” Church said. “A ladder truck can cost $1 million.”
The zoning change would limit single family homes to two stories, Vince Jackson, county planning director, said. The change would also require walkways to be built over dunes for people walking to the beach.
The changes are needed, Joe Emmerson, president of the Fort Morgan Civic Association, said.
“These standards, if enforced will help to protect the environmental and historic sensitivity of our homes on the Fort Morgan peninsula, while also supporting the public safety of our residents and visitors alike,” Emmerson told commissioners.
Michael Ludvigsen said that if standards are not changed, more three-story houses will be built and congestion will increase.
“If this continues the way it’s going. Nobody down there will be able to build a one or two-story house because the property value won’t be there,” Ludvigsen said. “The income won’t be there. The only way they’re going to be able to do it is if everybody builds three-story homes, which is just going to create more density. Why not focus on quality?”
He said that while the structures are listed as homes, they’re designed as rental units.
“When you have a single-family residential home that sleeps 40 people, nothing good’s going to come from it. It’s not a single-family residential home. It’s a small motel. Let’s be honest,” he said.
Commissioner Joe Davis said that while the homes house as many people as a motel, they do not have the same safety features.
“My big concern,” Davis said. “If you see a 12-year-old child or a 21-year-old lady in that window right there, how do you get to them? Are there fire escapes? Is there water pressure to get there?”
Commission Chairman Charles “Skip” Gruber said that before the commission makes changes, they need to know how the new zoning would affect existing structures. About 200 buildings have been constructed to the 2 ½ story height. Gruber said officials need to know if that would affect property owners’ insurance if the structures become non-conforming.