Clarice Hall Black’s great-great-great grandfather moved from North Carolina to land south of Fairhope more than 100 years ago.
He worked hard, did well, added acreage, farmed, and raised 3000 chickens and nine children.
As Hall Black canvassed the neighborhood last fall in her campaign to promote county zoning for the farms and small neighborhoods near Twin Beech Road, she knew she was related somehow to nearly everyone who lives there.
The roads bore the surnames of her African American ancestors. Heard, Wilson, Packer, Hankins, Bell.
What made this Air Force retiree, now teacher’s aide, step out of her comfort zone and adopt a mission to bring county zoning to her generational homeland?
Hall Black is urging folks in the Twin Beech area to vote yes to becoming Baldwin County District 8 in a referendum on Feb. 15 at Mars Hill Church, 1716 S. Greeno Rd.
Former Mayor Karin Wilson recruited Hall Black for the Fairhope Planning Commission a few years back in an effort to add diversity. She recently moved back to Baldwin County with her husband after both retired from the US Air Force. As Hall Black grew into her role as a Fairhope Planning commissioner, she had an “aha moment.” It was counterintuitive on multiple levels.
County zoning would in fact give neighbors more control over the fate of their neighborhoods. Not less, as most of them thought.
And folks were channeling their local government grievances up the wrong stream.
Rural dwellers were “hating on the city for their problems when they didn’t live in the city,” she said. “They live in the county so the city can’t do anything to help them with their issues.”
That ship had sailed years ago. As Fairhope grew and annexed surrounding neighborhoods, the African American communities to the south didn’t get invited to the party. When sewer systems snaked through Fairhope’s outskirts, the Twin Beech neighborhood didn’t get a chance to hook up.
Why? One word sums it up.
“Race,” Hall Black said.
We’re shocked! Shocked!
Today, living in an unzoned area of Baldwin County leaves the community vulnerable to the whims of property owners eager to cash in on skyrocketing real estate prices. They feed into the playbook of developers making big-number offers that actually amount to low-ball bids.
“The kids disappear and move away, and they don’t really know the value of the family property. So when a developer makes an offer, they end up giving it away.” Hall Black said.
Lately, signs have been popping up in the neighborhood that people aren’t so happy to see. A Dollar General with its busy and unsightly parking lot appeared next door to one home. Commercial storage units dot the landscape. People find themselves looking out the kitchen window to see a big business sign on the lawn of a home that is now an air conditioning business.
That’s where county zoning comes in. And that’s the message of the self-appointed zoning zealot.
“Coming into Baldwin County zoning will give landowners a voice in what happens on the properties around them,” Hall Black said. “If it’s not zoned, anything can be put there.”
She’s fighting a mountain of misinformation. Zoning will rob me of my right to say what I do with my land. My property taxes will go up. Zoning designations are forever.
None of this is true.
In fact, becoming Baldwin County District 8 will add to property owners’ rights. It makes development open and public, giving the community a say in how the area grows.
If a neighbor wants to change a zoning use designation from residential to commercial, for example, people who live nearby can voice agreement or objection at a public hearing.
If your community is not zoned, you don’t have the right to speak on a new development coming to your area, Hall Black explains to family and friends as she takes her pro-zoning campaign door-to-door.
During her campaign to secure the 173 signatures needed to bring District 8 to a referendum (she got 219), Vickie Graham took her up on an invitation to check out some Planning Commission meetings.
Graham didn’t know what it meant to be zoned or unzoned, she admits.
“Now I know it means a lot more than we thought,” she said. “But there’s a lot of misinformation and fear.”
Graham’s great-great-grandfather Wilson farmed the land around Cedar and Wilson roads. She saw some of her relatives “get what looked like big offers, but actually sold cheap.”
“If they sell and the buyer builds something we don’t like, the rest of us who still live here are stuck with it,” Graham said.
“Zoning gives us a voice to say ‘We don’t want this.’”