Fort Morganers overwhelmingly oppose proposed G.S. annexation

Fort Morganers overwhelmingly oppose proposed G.S. annexation
By Fran Thompson
Fort Morgan residents made it clear that they oppose a bill proposed by State Rep. Frances Holk-Jones in the Alabama Legislature to annex 16 properties into Gulf Shores during a weekday afternoon meeting on April 26 at Shell Banks Church presented by the Fort Morgan Civic Assn. (FMCA).
Approximately 200 Fort Morgan residents, stake holders, property owners and business owners spilled out of the church and more than 800 others watched on Facebook, according to FMCA.
A petition against the proposed annexation of the Fort Morgan properties garnered around 1,200 signatures, according to FMCA.
State Senator Chris Elliot, and Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft also attended the two hour meeting, and by the meeting’s end agreed with Holk-Jones to support adding an amendment to the bill to keep the annexed properties’ zoning with Baldwin County Planning District 25.
Senator Elliott said he would send a proposed amendment to FMCA President Joe Emerson within days, and Rep. Holk-Jones said she would not carry the bill over to 2025 session. All members of the Baldwin County Legislative Delegation need to agree for the legislation to move forward.
“Fort Morgan and the rest of Baldwin County are all watching and paying attention to what happens next,’’ said FMCA’s Jamie Strategier, a member of the Baldwin County Planning and Zoning Commission.
“An amendment of this magnitude takes careful preparation. HB473 has been rushed, yielding numerous errors and law violations up to this point.
“Fort Morganers worry this will also be rushed,’’ she added, “and our legislators will be pressured to support an amendment that they have not had time to review and vet. Why the rush?’’
“It is my regret that we didn’t have this conversation much, much, much earlier,” Senator Elliott said. “It would have kept a lot of this misunderstanding from happening.”
Fort Morgan resident Mike Wilson proposed adding the amendment to keep the zoning designation the same for all Fort Mogan properties annexed in the future.
“The city will benefit from additional property and rental tax revenue, and the fears of high-rise condos, high-density development and increased traffic of those opposed to this effort will be satisfied,” Wilson said. “Everybody wins.”
Fort Morgan residents fiercely oppose high-density developments on their peninsula, and many are still leery of Gulf Shores officials’ motives after the city annexed Fort Morgan Road right-of-way in 2003. That annexation was voided by the Alabama Supreme Court in 2014, according to
Mayor Craft said the 16 property owners requested annexation so they could take advantage of city services in a statement issued before the meeting.
“This proposed legislative annexation includes only sixteen parcels of land owned by seven families or entities who have voluntarily requested the legislature annex them into Gulf Shores, including one parcel owned by the City of Gulf Shores,’’ according to the released statement. “We fully support the right of individual property owners to request such annexation and support the legislature in passing this bill at the request of these property owners. The passage of this legislation would give these property owners the ability to access the City services they desire, including education, without impacting anyone else or any other properties.”
Most of the 16 properties in the proposed annexation (including the beautiful new restaurant Jessie’s) are adjacent to Bon Secour Bay and include approximately 43 acres owned by Gulf Shores. The city purchased 23 of its 43-acre parcel about 10 miles west of Hwy. 59 on Fort Morgan Rd. in May of 2022 for $850,000 in partnership with Gulf Shores City Schools and the Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism and Sustainability.
Funding for the Center for Ecotourism came from a $12.4 million BP oil spill settlement grant. The main Center For Ecotourism campus is located adjacent to the Gulf Shores City Schools campus.
“One important component of environmental education programs focused on coastal ecology is access to the many diverse estuarine environments in the region,” city documents stated at the time of the purchase. “These include riparian marshes, pine savannah flatwoods, freshwater and brackish wetlands, maritime forests, and beach/bay dune ecosystems.”
The parcel is surrounded by the preserved areas of the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve to the north and the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge to the south. The property includes more the half of the shoreline in Ewing Bayou as well as 800 feet of shoreline on Bon Secour Bay and creates a uniquely protected watershed in a rapidly growing county.
“We have no desire to take over all of Fort Morgan,” Mayor Craft said. “Highway 59 at Fort Morgan Road is one of the worst intersections in Baldwin County. Whatever you build down there, we have to deal with up here.
“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,’’ he added. “You have to be able to get out of here.”
Joe Emerson, president of the Fort Morgan Civic Association, told the Fort Morgan Planning and Zoning Advisory Committee, established by lawmakers in 2015, needed to be notified about the annexation.
“I’m not trying to tell people what they can or can’t do with private property,” Emerson told “ But I am wanting to make sure this is in accordance with the law.”