AL Supreme Court Finds Boat-Launch Project was a Governmental Function, Rather than a Proprietary One Making Town Immune from Zoning Ordinance Set-Back

This post was authored by Matthew Loescher, Esq.

The Chandlers and Barnes had sought an injunction to prevent the Town Council of Perdido Beach from constructing a public boat launch and pier at the end of State Street on the western shore of Soldier’s Creek. – adjacent to their properties. In this case, the property appealed from a judgment entered by the Baldwin Circuit Court after a bench trial in favor of the Town Council.

Upon review of the record, the court noted that the proposed boat launch would be placed where State Street ends at the edge of Soldier’s Creek, and would not destroy or inhibit the use of State Street as a public road. The boat-launch project would enhance State Street’s use as an area of ​​public recreation, making it easier for citizens to launch boats, to fish at the pier, and to picnic in the adjacent designated public park. As such, the project did not divert State Street from its dedicated public purpose. Moreover, the “Town of Perdido Beach Master Plan 2030” contained several references to providing public water access and boat launches to the community in the years to come for the benefit of Perdido Beach’s citizens. The court found the aforementioned supported the circuit court’s conclusion that the boat-launch project was a governmental function, rather than a proprietary one, and the Town Council was immune from the zoning ordinance’s wetland-setback provision.

The Chandlers and Barnes next argued that the great weight of the evidence demonstrated that the zoning amendments would create a public safety hazard and the zoning amendments were arbitrary and capricious because they were enacted solely to accommodate the launch of the boat rather than for the benefit of Perdido Beach as a whole. As discussed above, however, the record reflects that Perdido Beach has always intended to increase public water access and that for years many residents have been asking for more water-access points. Further evidence indicated that State Street had already been used for several years to access Soldier’s Creek. The boat-launch project at issue sought to make water access easier for residents who – unlike the Chandlers — did not have access to the private boat launch in the Parkway Beach Area. Accordingly, the court held the validity of those zoning amendments was fairly debatable and not arbitrary and capricious. Consequently, the circuit court’s judgment following the bench trial was confirmed.

Barnes v Town Council of Perdido Beach, 2022 WL 12240411 (AL 10/21/2022)