Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mayor Says New City Growth Plan Needs "Teeth"

Fairhope, Alabama


A series of town hall meetings are scheduled this week to seek citizens' input on how they want the city to develop in coming years: the city council recently hired what is being called the "Thompson Group" to conduct the meetings -- and update the city's Comprehensive Plan as a part of the overall Alabama Communities of Excellence certification process that has been underway for about two years.

(The Comprehensive Plan is separate from the city's Strategic Plan; but there is considerable overlap.)

The 'Thompson Group' consists of Thompson Engineering, led by Chiristoper Baker, the city's former Planning Director, and Glen Leroy, who was instrumental in developing the city's current Comprehensive Growth Plan about 15 years ago -- and updating it in 2006 (click here).

Citizens at that time visualized building upon the vision of Fairhope's founders by "keeping it a small town" and "approaching development differently" from other cities -- among other things.

Eventually a  village-pattern model was adopted, over less restrictive ones considered..

The first meeting will be 5:30PM Monday, in the conference room at the Homestead Village Retirement Community on Plantation Dr. -- behind the Piggly Wiggly.


A number of citizens, including local business owner Karin Wilson, have publicly/privately expressed their disappointment with the current plan that was adopted in 2000 (and updated in 2006); they say the original plan was characterized as being ironclad; but it was never really fully enforced -- becoming "just a guide" instead.

Wilson brought the subject up at another meeting last August (click, scroll to bottom):

"We have been there ... done that ... (you) didn't follow that vision ... abide by it."
Wilson, standing in back

The current "Village Model" (see below) envisioned 6 smaller neighborhood commercial centers near major intersections versus the usual free-wheeling "Market-driven Model" strip mall-type  commercial development all along the main roads.

The downtown was to be a Regional Village center and Greeno Rd. @ Fairhope Ave. a larger, local Commercial Village center.

A Tourism District was added later around the Grand Hotel in Pt. clear.

Disappointments often-cited are the 2007 construction of Walmart (a "big box" store over twice the size of that envisioned by the current plan); creeping commercial development along Greeno Rd; increasing traffic congestion; and the lack of connecting streets between new subdivisions, especially the larger ones.


At the previous meeting, several residents worried about suburban sprawl -- especially on the east side of town: one of the main reasons some moved here -- to escape the big-city suburbs (Atlanta).

The owner of another small business worried about more big box stores (J.C. Penney, REI, etc.) coming and putting her small bicycle shop out of business; another about preserving the uniqueness of the city. (click here for some video of August meeting)

First citizen: " ... the east side of Fairhope ... is just a jungle of stuff ... just been plunked down here ... and there ... been watching the quality go down ... ."

Second citizen: "... too much growth ... bringing in big boxes will kill Fairhope ... blow it up."

example of suburban sprawl
A primary method recommended by urban planners to limit sprawl and reduce traffic congestion on main roads,  requiring connecting of the streets between adjacent subdivisions rather than utilizing only one or two isolated main entrances, is a constant source of frustration for city officials: citizens generally favor it as a concept, but not using their own neighborhood streets.

The most-common complaint seems to be speeding on the residential streets (usually 25mph limit) -- not the actual connections.

Without connectivity providing some relief,  the complaint becomes about traffic congestion on the major roads -- and what to do about it (more traffic lights, traffic circles, etc.).

The many delays encountered on the infamous Airport Blvd. in Mobile and Hwy 59 in S. Baldwin county are often mentioned as examples to avoid.



At various times over recent months during the ACE process, Mayor Kant has said he thought the Comp. plan has indeed been successful in many ways ("just needs tweaking")  -- but attributes failures to the lack of the necessary new planning and zoning laws being enacted by past city councils.

He singles out their failure to adopt the much-debated Historical Preservation Ordinance, in particular. (A new effort is currently underway.)

Using the extensive resources of the ACE organization itself may help to implement the plan as well, according to the mayor.

The failure of county citizens just outside the city limits to enact zoning has been cited as problematic as well: particularly along CR 13 and Hwy 181 (where Walmart located).

Currently, the city only has jurisdiction over subdivision applications within its police jurisdiction outside of city limits: it has no influence over what is done with intact lots in the un-zoned areas north, east and south of town.

With few exceptions, there is no way to annex private property into the city, unless the owner requests it: the cause of the city's irregular jurisdiction line and much confusion for city officials and residents at times. (The State Legislature annexed Walmart into the city last year, by constitutional amendment).

[That situation may change (more annexing authority given by state law) when the city's population surpasses 25,000, according to informed sources.]



Anonymous said...

Look, just let N. Greeno Road go commercial/business. This could stop alot of urban "spraw". When is Fairhope going to wake up and realize that all the business is going down to Orange Beach? Go out and ask all the downtown merchants how their business has been. Fairhope is specialty shops that can't compete with everything else going on around them. Keep Fairhope - Fairhope? Easier said then done if you have a business there that you see going south to OB or other places. How in the world do they expect the people to really make a living in this town?

Anonymous said...

The fact is that outside the city you have NO zoning control. Therefore people can build what they want the group leading the effort is a joke. Thompson is the Mayor's buddy and Chris Baker was at the reins when the whole public thing started. Glen Leroy is pushing a concept that is not supported by the Alabama Code. You can spend all the money you want on "villages" but until you change the state code to allow the city to regulate land use on land that is not in the are wasting your time. Oh well I guess you can do like Kant, you can annex them in after they build like Walmart. The village concept has not worked for these reasons and will not work in the future. The public hearing process however does line the pockets of consultants including Thompson and Chris Baker....which rolls back to Kant and his City Council. We have a flower clock....all is good.

Anonymous said...

Growth plan already has teeth. It "bites." The Publix strip mall is the City's example of their Village Concept. It is not ugly, but neither it a village. The comment above is spot on.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! ... more competition is just what the downtown needs.

Anonymous said...

Wow! What ill-informed nonsense. Glad you aren't in charge of anything important. Are you?