Beach access battle brews in Gulf Shores

By Crystal Cole
Posted 2/14/17

Planning Director Andy Bauer brought a zoning ordinance amendment before the Gulf Shores City Council that could change beach access rights for some areas.

The proposed amendment would allow …

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Beach access battle brews in Gulf Shores

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Planning Director Andy Bauer brought a zoning ordinance amendment before the Gulf Shores City Council that could change beach access rights for some areas.

The proposed amendment would allow cottage developments and subdivisions on the north side of Beach Boulevard two potential options for beach access.

“The first option would be for cottage subdivisions and developments to use existing beach access,” Bauer said. “There’s a limit of 20 units.”

Bauer said the second option would allow cottage developments to obtain new beach accesses.

“This would only be allowed after the processing of a conditional use permit through the planning commission, city council and public notification,” Bauer said. “That beach access, if obtained, would also be limited to 20 units.”

Bauer said the city adopted beach access regulations in 2005, restricting access from the north side of the beach to the south side.

“The primary reasons for that are people living on the north side or living on the north side of Beach Boulevard want to cross Beach Boulevard and go to beach on the south side,” Bauer said. “Also, the city lacks public and private beach access for all the users who wish to utilize our beach.”

Bauer told the council he felt the amendment had a balance that would satisfy several competing interests

“For people on the south side, it’s private and they don’t necessarily like a flood of people trying to go onto the beach, so that’s the reason we restrict it to 20 total units per beach access,” Bauer said. “It’s that midway point to stop a flood of tourists going onto the private beach, but it also provides beach access.”

Bauer added the city had been working to encourage cottage-like developments because it helps decrease density and are more in character with existing neighborhood developments.

Bauer said his department had received one letter against the amendment, which had questions about devaluation of the beach property and concerns about overcrowding the private public beach.

Mayor Robert Craft questioned which properties in that area would be allowed to have cottage type developments approved, with Bauer replying all of the properties zoned BT on the north side of Beach Boulevard from the state park to 11th street, as well as from Lagoon Pass westward to Mystique, would be eligible.

“The area really we’re talking about is west around the pass because the areas back into town, the front is developed with condominiums,” Bauer said. “There’s really no further development that can take place for someone to grant a beach access, so the primary area is around Lagoon Pass.”

One resident told the council she had lived on West Beach for 25 years and said she felt the changes wouldn’t actually solve anything.

“The people on the south side that purchased those residential properties thought they were buying residential properties and had a private beach, so all you’re doing here is encouraging more trespassing,” she said. “You’re not going to stop any trespassing that is already occurring. You’re not going to make it any less. All you’re going to do is make it worse. You are lowering their property values. The people on the north side pay a third of what the people on the south side did, and then they expect to have access.”

She said the city has plenty of accesses between the lagoon and the main beach.

“I don’t think we have any property there that isn’t within a mile of public access,” she said. “These people can go to a public access and walk that entire beach. They’re allowed, no one says they can’t walk on the beach. all the private property owners expect is that they have a beach that they’ve paid for that they don’t have people with their tents and chairs and families in their backyard. I don’t think that’s unreasonable to request.”

Craft said the goal of this proposal was to reduce density in those areas, which should help cut down on the number of people who could trespass.

“Our simple goal was that if we could lower density on those BT zoned properties, then we’re going to have less people that are going to be breaking the law crossing there that we can’t enforce or stop,” Craft said. “If we can’t fix the whole problem, we can at least reduce the scope of the problem of these type of things.”

The amendment will be advertised for 22 days and come back before the council for a public hearing some time in March.