Spanish Fort considers planning jurisdiction changes


SPANISH FORT – Alabama cities must decide how to set their planning and police jurisdictions this summer to comply with a new state law setting limits on municipal authority outside corporate limits, Spanish Fort officials said.

The Alabama Legislature passed Senate Bill 107, sponsored by Sen. Chris Elliott, R-Spanish Fort, during the 2021 session. The law sets police jurisdictions at the limits in place at the beginning of 2021 and also establishes regulations for how far a city can exercise its planning jurisdiction to enforce subdivision regulations, David Conner, city attorney, told Spanish Fort City Council members on June 14.

Under the law, a city can exercise a planning jurisdiction as far as three miles outside the corporate limits. On Jan. 1, 2023, that jurisdiction will be reduced to a maximum of 1.5 miles, he said.

The city now exercises planning jurisdiction at the Eastern Shore Center and in one area on U.S. 31, but not in other locations beyond the corporate limits, Conner said.

Conner said the new limits have to be set by July 26, 2021.

“So as not to introduce any confusion, I would suggest that maybe y’all consider a mile and a half in areas where you think you’re going to have annexation, or you think you’re going to have growth that you want to address in those areas,” Conner told council members at a work session to discuss the legislation.

Extending the planning jurisdiction out 1.5 miles in all directions, however, would put Spanish Fort regulations in effect in some neighboring unincorporated communities, such as Stapleton, Mayor Mike McMillan said.

“It is very important to the future of Spanish Fort and the surrounding areas. We do respect the Stapleton area and, also, to be honest with you, if took the mile and a half from our boundaries we have to respect Bay Minette and Pine Grove and other areas that we’re not going into,” McMillan said. “We’re not trying to do a land grab. It has nothing to do with land. All it is is about planning.”

Conner said some residents in Stapleton are considering creating a landmark district to restrict neighboring municipalities extending their authority into the community.

“There has been some discussion about people in Stapleton wanting to create a landmark district because of fear of annexation by Loxley or Spanish Fort and I think the goal here is just to alleviate some concerns that Spanish Fort is trying to reach out and grab them in any way,” Conner said.

Under the proposal discussed at the work session, the Spanish Fort planning jurisdiction would not extend east of Alabama 59. The city would also limit its planning jurisdiction north of Bromley Road to areas already in the corporate limits.

Councilman J.R. Smith said that in other areas, Spanish Fort needs to have a say in development in locations that will become part of the city in the future.

“If somebody does come in and build a 20-lot subdivision, if it’s within a mile and a half of our corporate limits, it’s probably going to eventually become part of our city anyway,” Smith said. “Would we rather us oversee it or rather not have any control or say-so whatsoever if we’re going to end up with it ultimately?”

Councilman Carl Gustafson said the city needs to plan for development outside the corporate limits.

“I think that we can look to the future and right now that area is not developed,” Gustafson said. “There is no real cost to the city, but, yet, we have a lot of upside potential. So, I would rather plan for the future and go for the upside potential versus hanging where we are.”

Cities can change their planning jurisdictions after the July 26 deadline if municipal and county officials agree on the modifications, Conner said.