Orange Beach council wrestles with drainage, zoning adjustments

By Crystal Cole
Posted 1/10/17

Residents of the Bayou Creek subdivision may soon see some relief from drainage issues in their neighborhood after the Orange Beach City Council voted unanimously to make a $19,500 one-time …

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Orange Beach council wrestles with drainage, zoning adjustments


Residents of the Bayou Creek subdivision may soon see some relief from drainage issues in their neighborhood after the Orange Beach City Council voted unanimously to make a $19,500 one-time appropriation.

Rex Walker, president of the Bayou Creek Property Owners’ Association, said while he and other homeowners had worked to try to manage the wetlands area near their neighborhood that serves for drainage purposes, it had been difficult for them to work in.

“The only thing we’ve done is go in and cut down pine trees and basic popcorn trees we’ve cut down,” Walker said. “This is the first time we’ve been able to have a Corps of Engineers permit to do anything with heavy equipment in there, but it’s silted in so high now that on the north side, there’s problems all over with water drainage. And the pipe that goes under the road on the south side of the street - where it drains under the road to 200 feet to the back of Lot 50, the wetlands are higher than the end of the pipe so there’s no way that water can drain into the wetlands. Actually, it just stays at that constant level behind all of those yards there.”

Kit Alexander, Director of Engineering and Community Development for the City of Orange Beach, said the elevation of slabs with some of the newer construction in the subdivision has also contributed to the drainage issues.

“The elevation of the slabs in this part mean the swale in this location is high,” Alexander said. “The pipe he was speaking about is the same thing - there’s a swale back here that accepts these lots that goes under the street and over to the wetlands. Excavating the wetlands would help the water get out of that whole ditch because the pipe has been silted in at the end.”

Walker said part of the issue stems from a 10 foot easement in their subdivision that is used to get drainage to the wetlands from about 60 neighboring properties.

He added that with the plan developed to address the issues, some of the problems could be addressed easily.

“We talked about taking some equipment and going in to make the trench deeper on the new homes that have the increased height requirement, which should help some there with flow to the wetlands,” Walker said. “That should correct some of the problems on the north side of the street.”

Councilman Jeff Silvers said he had some angst about getting the city involved with a project that effects a private subdivision, but his concerns were mostly addressed with changed wording on the resolution.

“This resolution does not stand as precedent to any future commitment of city resources to the privately owned facility,” Silvers said. “This appropriation is done only to address the limited public purpose outlined above, as long as we can show it will serve a public purpose. With that wording in there, it makes me feel better than I did a few weeks ago.”

Mayor Tony Kennon said he sees the project as a city project because of the drainage coming into the neighborhood from outside properties.

“If it only dealt with Bayou Place, it’d be a totally different scenario, but these poor folks bought a house and they expect to not have drainage issues based on living in the city of Orange Beach, and it’s an unfair cost,” Kennon said. “One of the actual real functions of government is drainage, and this, to me, is one of those functions we should be getting involved in to fix it for everyone in that surrounding area like we have before. I feel strongly that this should be our problem and we need to fix it.”

Councilman Jeff Boyd agreed with Kennon.

“We’ve done this for every other project in the four years I’ve been here,” Boyd said. “I personally think we should just take it. When we’ve come across drainage issues as a city, we’ve helped. Every one that we’ve come across that was a victim situation, we’ve helped. I think we approve this and I think we figure out a way the city takes it over.”

City staff stressed this plan was by no means a permanent solution to the drainage issues in the area and warned that without constant maintenance, this could be an issue the city would have to revisit in the years to come.

Changes at The Wharf

The council also approved two planning changes at The Wharf entertainment district, unanimously voting to allow a new farmers’ market and zip line to be established at the property.

The farmers market, which will be operated by the Burris Farmers Market out of Loxley, will be built as a 6,000 square foot facility at the south end of the city’s Event Center.

“The area was supposed to be an expansion for the Event Center, but this is a modification to the master plan,” said Griffin Powell, a city planner for Orange Beach.

When asked why the site for the market was placed in the area it was by the council, a representative for the market said it was to attract more customers.

“They think they can get better visibility with this site, with traffic coming off of the Beach Express,” the representative said.

Panning staff called the zip line construction a “minor modification” to existing plan at the Wharf.

The newly moved zip line will have more than 6,000 linear feet of zip line that will originate in the parking lot behind the Cowgirls restaurant.

“I’m glad they found a home,” Kennon said. “I do think this is a good place for them.”

Questions about parking requirements for residential developments

Council members punted a decision on a planned unit development proposal at the end of Canal Square Lane, as questions about parking space requirements arose.

The PUD proposal asked for 10.11 acres to be rezoned from General Business to PUD zoning to allow the construction of a 56-unit townhouse development, which failed to receive a favorable recommendation from the city’s planning commission in a 4-4 vote.

Under the current proposal, the developer had planned to build two parking spaces per unit with an additional 12 guest parking spaces.

Councilman Jerry Johnson said he was concerned that would not be nearly enough parking.

“If you’ve got three bedrooms, there are going to be three cars there,” Johnson said. “And 12 spaces for guest parking is definitely not going to be enough.”

Johnson said he felt multi-family developments like the one proposed should have to follow the same city rules that apply to condo developments.

“Whatever we do, we need to have the same rules for multi-family because you’re going to have the same parking issues you would with condos,” Johnson said.

Kennon agreed with Johnson.

“When a developer comes in, they want as few parking spaces as they can get,” Kennon said. “Then, once people come in, they want as many parking spaces as they can get. It’s funny how that happens.”

Silvers also raised the question about storage for items like boats, which he said residents to that development would likely want to have.

“This is Orange Beach, so they’re going to want to have a boat,” Silvers said.“What’s going to happen with storage because they’re going to try to keep it there if they can get away with it. We have to protect from that.”

The proposal was held over to give planning staff and council members more time to address those concerns with the developer.

Alcohol sales at the Carmike Theater in The Wharf

Though The Wharf is already designated as an entertainment district that allows open carry of alcoholic beverages, council members were apprehensive about potentially granting a liquor license to the Carmike Theater there.

Johnson said due to the fact the audience at the theater has a large mix of young people, he didn’t feel comfortable granting the license.

“I would say no to this because you’re having alcohol and your audience is going to be a mix of young folks, kids that will be going to PG movies,” Johnson said. “The control the theater proposed looks good on paper, but I go to that movie theater now and I just don’t see a lot of control. I don’t have a problem with the liquor license, but I do have a problem with the location.”

Councilwoman Annette Mitchell worried not granting the license is not consistent with the entertainment district designation The Wharf already enjoys.

“We made it to where you can walk around holding alcohol in a cup all around the development, so to me we’re already walking outside next to children with open cups,”

Mitchell said. “I have a problem speaking out of one side of mouth with this project when we’ve already made The Wharf an entertainment district. I’ve seen people walking around with alcohol and children coexisting.”

She added her concerns that not granting the license could cause the theater to leave.

“Most people are not going to buy alcohol there because they can’t imagine what they’ll be charged for that,” Mitchell said. “I don’t know how that theater is doing, but I would hate to lose the theater in Orange Beach because of this.”

John Archer, an attorney for Carmike, said the theater chain is serious about its alcohol control plan.

“There is a dedicated register that people would be able to purchase beer from with an ID scanner,” Archer said. “A person over 21 would be the one scanning it, and people would only be allowed to buy one drink per ID.”

The theater’s manager added they would be willing to hire an additional security officer on duty if the license were allowed.

Kennon said he still felt that serving alcohol there just wasn’t in keeping with the city’s family friendly image.

“There are a lot of kids there unsupervised because parents think it is a safe place, but I think that changes once alcohol is introduced,” Kennon said. “No judgement, no self-righteous high ground here, but I just don’t think this works with Orange Beach with what we’re trying to project about family friendly and family safe.”