Plan offers countywide review

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series discussing Shelby County’s Comprehensive Plan.

Shelby County’s quest to become a &uot;Community of Communities&uot; begins with a look at the current status of the county – its ecosystem, its organisms and other factors influencing the county’s future.


In examining the county’s ecosystem, there are two central themes: development means the purposeful, planned use of the land and &uot;successful stewardship of the environment and a robust economy and development of desirable places to live, work and play are mutually supportive.&uot;

Shelby County covers about 800 square miles with a population of nearly 150,000. The county is the fastest growing in the state, experiencing a 210 percent increase between 1970 and 1990. A population of about 217,000 is expected by 2015.

&uot;Such growth as recently experienced in Shelby County promises to produce, or has produced in some cases, some of the same conditions that undoubtedly compelled many current county residents to relocate in the first place from other older urban areas,&uot; according to the comprehensive plan which has been proposed for approval by the Shelby County Commission and the county’s Planning Commission.

The area is rich in natural resources, and &uot;clean air and water are necessary for the county’s continued growth and prosperity, making environmental conservation a good business decision,&uot; according to the plan.

The plan first identifies the four physiographic areas in the county: Cahaba Ridges, Cahaba Valley, Coosa Ridges and Coosa Valley.

Cahaba Ridges have maintained the forested state. There is outdoor recreation and greenways associated with stream valleys.

The Cahaba Valley area offers good opportunities for greenway development. There is natural vegetation and soil structures. There is a chance for innovative approaches for higher intensity development.

Coosa Ridges have the least number of rare species and the most dramatic viewscapes. There is an opportunity for developments that preserve viewscapes and avoid conflict with unstable soils and geology.

The Coosa Valley area has a complex aquifer system and a chance for continued development of outdoor recreation.

The county’s geologic makeup is diverse and complex, according to the plan.

There is sandstone, siltstone, shale, coal, limestone and more. Natural sinkholes occur in the county, mostly in the west-central area but they can occur elsewhere such as those that have been discovered in Wilsonville.

The plan states that the principle mineral resource in the county is limestone. Also present are sand, gravel and clay.

The county was the leading producer of limestone in the state with an average annual production of 6.4 million metric tons since 1970, about one-third of the statewide production as well as one of the leading lime-producing areas in the nation. This trend is expected to continue.

&uot;It is clear that underground mining played an important role in the area’s development and historical economic development and quarry operations,&uot; according to the plan, &uot;especially those related to limestone operations continue to be important economically.&uot;

The county, located entirely in the Alabama River watershed, is drained by two separate major river basins.

The eastern two-thirds of the county is in the Coosa River basin. In fact, the Coosa River serves as most of the eastern boundary of the county. Major streams draining this part of the county are Waxahatchee, Yellowleaf and Kelly creeks with important smaller tributaries including Shoal Creek in the north end of the county, Bear Creek, Muddy Prong and Clear Prong of Yellowleaf Creek and Buxahatchee Creek.

The western one-third of the county is in the Cahaba River basin, serving as part of the western border of the county and lying wholly within the county boundaries for another portion. Major tributaries to the Cahaba include Little Cahaba River, Buck Creek, Piney Woods Creek and Shoal Creek in the southwestern part of the county.

&uot;Proper management and allocation of these (water) resources may represent the most complex set of natural resource issues facing the county,&uot; the plan states. &uot;Improper management along with the declines in water quality and availability may produce other negative economic impacts as well such as increased water treatment costs, declining property values, physical damage to existing structures and conflicts among various water resource users within the county with neighboring counties and with state or federal laws.&uot;

The county is composed of a total land area of about 508,700 acres, 69 percent, or 351,200 acres, of which are forested.

About 7 percent, or 24,200 acres (4.75 percent of the total county area), of Shelby County’s forestland is dominated by longleaf pines. About 110,600 acres, or 31 percent, are loblolly pine and shortleaf pine.

Oak-pine-dominated forests occupies about 66,300 acres or nearly 19 percent of wooded land in the county.

Oak-hickory-dominated woodlands comprise 117,800 acres, or about 34 percent, of all woodland in the county.

&uot;Proper recognition and understanding, and consequently management, of ecosystems and habitats will contribute directly first to

the conservation and continued presence of health natural systems in Shelby County along with the species of animals and plants that live in them,&uot; the plan states


With the diverse geology of the county comes a variety of species. There are 15 species of animals in Shelby County that were formally listed as endangered or threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 including the gray bat, the Indiana bat, the red-cockaded woodpecker, the Cahaba shiner, the southern acornshell (mussel), the southern clubshell (mussel), the triangular kidneyshell (mussel), the flat pebblesnail, the cylindrical lioplax (snail) and the Alabama livebearing snail.

Six formally listed &uot;threatened&uot; species in Shelby County include the blue shiner, the goldline darter, the orange-nacre mucket (mussel), the Alabama moccasinshell (mussel), the round rocksnail and the painted rocksnail, all aquatic species. Each of these have been reported from the Cahaba area except for the painted rocksnail which has been seen in Buxahatchee Creek and the Alabama moccasinshell.

A 17th federally listed &uot;endangered&uot; species, the dusky gopher frog, is reported in Shelby County near Calera.

Other factors

* Population:

Shelby County is in the top 4 percent of county growth rates calculated between 1990 and 2000.

The county experienced nearly a 277 percent increase in population between 1970 and 2000 and more growth has followed with annual population increases of almost 4.5 percent.

Currently, there are an estimated 155,000 residents in the county with projections of 218,000 by 2015.

There are 18 municipalities either completely or partially within the county, the largest and fastest growing of which is Alabaster with a population of 22,619.

The age category of 45 to 64 is growing the most rapidly during the past 10 years at 94 percent. The senior population, 65 and older, has the second highest growth rate at 61 percent since the 1990 census.

Shelby County is not representative of the state or the nation in terms of racial composition. According to the 2000 census, 7.4 percent of the population is black with the Hispanic population representing 2 percent of the population.

Median household income in Shelby County was $55,440, a 50 percent increase since the 1990 census. Poverty levels declined throughout the 1990s with only 4.6 percent of families in Shelby County living below the poverty level, according to the 2000 census.

* Local economy:

Shelby County has historically enjoyed lower unemployment rates than the state or nation. According to the 2000 census, more than 74,600 people were employed in 2000 with unemployment at a low 3 percent. State unemployment during 2000 was at 6.2 percent.

The working age population in the county stood at about 109,600 in 2000, an increase of about 34,600 since 1990. This is a 46 percent increase since 1990 and a 425 percent increase since 1950. Presently, the working age population represents about 77 percent of the county’s total population.

* Political:

The comprehensive plan states that a major focus of the plan is to facilitate a more countywide perspective for planning and supporting development.

In 1982, the county was granted special enabling legislation which provided a chance to exercise zoning authority in unincorporated areas and designated the planning commission as the authority. Since that time, only seven of 22 beats in the county have become zoned. Of the county’s 804 square miles, 54 percent is unzoned as compared to 19 percent zoned.

&uot;The existence of 17 municipalities each with their own plans and regulations as authorized to all incorporated areas further muddles the picture,&uot; the plan states. &uot;A general lack of coordination among the various municipalities is exacerbated by a tax system that forces municipalities to rely on sales taxes for the lion’s share of their revenues.&uot;

Therefore a situation arises which pits nearby cities and towns in competition with one another for commercial development which will generate sales taxes.

&uot;Without establishing some sort of system of agreement whereby municipalities agree to share revenue or otherwise mitigate the competitive effects of the current tax structure, it will be very difficult to facilitate any meaningful cooperation among municipalities with regard to land development policy.&uot;

* Growth systems:

Four primary factors affect growth in the county – potable water, access to transportation, wastewater facilities and natural conditions.

Shelby County’s road system is composed of a combination of paved and unpaved roads – about 940 miles of paved roads to 129 miles of unpaved.

State maintained highways include interstates, 22.4 miles; U.S. highways, 52.4 miles; and state highways, 118.4 miles. The comprehensive plan breaks down funds needed to maintain and improve highways.

The Shelby County Airport is another mode of transportation in the county. The airport has 84 based aircraft, a number which is supposed to increase to 107 by 2020. General aviation operations are expected to increase by 1.22 percent per year until 2020.

Shelby County is served by 20 public water systems including 12 municipal water systems, six rural water authorities, the University of Montevallo system and the Shelby County water system.

Wastewater collections are available in the cities of Alabaster, Calera, Columbiana, Helena, Hoover, Montevallo, Pelham and Wilsonville.

In addition, the county and the Birmingham Water Works & Sewer Board operate collection systems. Two private systems serve the population along Highway 280.

* Quality of Life:

With an annual budget of more than $82 million, the Shelby County School System includes 18 elementary and intermediate schools, 14 middle and high schools, the Linda Nolen Learning Center and the Shelby Instructional Service Center, the Alternative Learning Center and the Shelby County School of Technology. As of May 2003, there were 21,838 students enrolled in the school system.

The county is served by 32 fire departments. Municipal fire departments number 14 and cover about 332 square miles. Twelve volunteer fire departments serve 283 square miles, and six departments are legally created entities whose districts cover some 106 square miles and are funded by mandated dues collection within respected boundaries. The remaining 30.6 square miles of the county have no first response fire protection.

Shelby’s County 1996 General Development Plan develops a system of parks and recreational facilities to adequately meet the needs of residents. Since the plan, 11 parks have been constructed with two more under way.

Mini-parks, or neighborhood parks are intended to provide recreational activities to a local neighborhood. Two of these are Almont Park and Shelby Park, both with three acres.

Community parks have more intense recreational uses including playgrounds, athletic and sports facilities. These are Gorman Park on the Coosa River, 14.3 acres; Forest Park in Chelsea, 100 acres; 1996 Fields in Chelsea, 58 acres; SportsBlast in Chelsea; Heardmont Park in Indian Springs, 75 acres; Oak Mountain Sports Complex; Chelsea Recreational Park, 28.6 acres; Fun Go Holler Park, under construction in Pelham, 18 acres; Cahaba Lily Park in Helena, 32 acres; and Calera Park under construction, 28 acres.

Regional parks provide outdoor recreational activities including picnicking, boating, swimming, hiking, biking, camping, golfing and sports athletic facilities. The only one of these in the county is Beeswax Creek Park with 75 acres.

Shelby County operates a 110-acre non-hazardous landfill between Calera and Columbiana. Recycling operations are conducted curbside by Alabaster, Hoover and Pelham and by Shelby County through a series of drop-off sites. The Board of Education, UM and Jefferson State Community College also operate recycling programs.