FORT MORGAN — Fort Morgan, in unincorporated Baldwin County, has a particular peacefulness residents say they don't want to be taken away. After a piece of legislation was introduced this session to annex some properties into the City of Gulf Shores, citizens became concerned. They don't want high-rise condos or commercial rental property to take over properties that have not yet been developed.

Those citizens met with Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft, State Rep. Frances Holk-Jones (R-Foley) and State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine) on Friday. The Shell Banks Baptist Church was packed for the over two-hour-long meeting.

Holk-Jones sponsored House Bill 473, which alters the corporate limits of Gulf Shores by annexing properties owned by seven people or "entities" into the city. The properties do not touch current Gulf Shores city limits, so the property owners could not go straight to the city to be annexed.

All property owners, including the city of Gulf Shores, want the property to become part of the city. Holk-Jones and Elliott both say they support personal property rights.

"They asked to come in and it is their right," Holk-Jones told the crowd. "I submitted the bill for their annexation."

HB473-int by Erica Thomas on Scribd

Craft said the City of Gulf Shores owns the acres, but just over a half-acre of it can be developed because it is in a wildlife preserve. He said that the property would be developed into a learning center for the school.

Craft said he never approached anyone about requesting annexation, and property owner Frank Reed, Jr. confirmed he heard about the proposal and wanted to participate on his own.

"The difference between my kids going to school today in Gulf Shores versus what we're asking for, is right now I have to ask permission for them to go to Gulf Shores," said Reed. "So, if this change is made, it is part of my property rights that they go to Gulf Shores. There is a big difference between having a right to go there or having the privilege to go to school there."

Fort Morgan 2 Alabama News
Frank Reed, Jr. explains why he wants his property annexed. Photo: Erica Thomas.

Others, he said, are concerned about educational resources, such as their kids going to Gulf Shores City Schools and the emergency responder resources that the city provides.

"When it comes to police jurisdictions them [Gulf Shores] providing services outside of their municipal limits is 100% volunteer," Elliott said. "They do not have to do it and I want to make sure everybody knows that there are some municipalities in this state that have discontinued their services outside their municipal limits. That's in their ability to do that."

Elliott said annexing in would ensure property owners would be covered by city services.

Fort Morgan 1 Alabama News
State Sen. Chris Elliott (R-Josephine) answers questions. Photo: Erica Thomas.

Elliott said the Legislative action option is better than a referendum for a local vote because the vote means property owners would depend on those who do not own their property to make a decision for them.

"I believe in private property rights," Elliott said. "Even when it is inconvenient for me as a politician who is going to probably ask for your vote probably one more time. It is much easier for me to say, 'The will of the mass wants this.' But, principally, I believe those folks have the ability to do with their property just like they want to. Just like I would defend your ability to not go into a city."

As for the city of Gulf Shores, Craft said the city has no desire to take on a large portion of Fort Morgan. Further, he said more growth through condominiums or apartments would only add to traffic problems the city already has.

"Highway 59 at Fort Morgan Road is the worst intersection in Baldwin County or one of them," said Craft. "It's definitely the worst in the city, and we don't have the capacity to allow or encourage growth in Fort Morgan to have more people on that road. You have to be able to get out of here. So whatever you build down here, we've got to deal with up there."

He said he would support Fort Morgan incorporating itself if they saw fit.

The meeting ended with an agreement that an amendment could be added to HB473 to ensure the property zoning cannot change in the future. Elliott said he would work to insert the correct language into the bill.

Still, residents who do not want Fort Morgan to change are concerned that this annexation is the beginning of a bigger plan that will end with the rest of the island being developed into high-rise condominiums. They suggested a landmark district bill, similar to the one Holk-Jones introduced for Bon Secour. However, Holk-Jones said she does not support a landmark district for Fort Morgan because there are property owners there who want to be annexed into another city. She said no one in Bon Secour came to her wanting to be annexed into another city.

For the bill to pass, every member of the Baldwin County delegation in the Senate must approve the measure.

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