The city of Fairhope appears poised to consider changes to a controversial plan to renovate portions of the municipal pier and surrounding parklands. At the March 22 City Council work session, engineer Scott Hutchinson of Goodwyn Mills Cawood (GMC) gave an update on the project, which was originally unveiled in April 2020 by former Mayor Karin Wilson.
Initially, the plan called for drastic visual changes to public space, including grading the bluff along Mobile Street, relocating the parking lot, realigning the water fountain and rose garden, adding bathroom facilities, dredging sand and installing jetties for a new beach, and repairing and upgrading the pier itself.
The proposal was met with backlash from park purists, who generally argued it should remain in its mostly natural state. Wilson shelved the idea during an election campaign and when Mayor Sherry Sullivan was elected in August, she reopened the window for public input. Revisions were initially discussed in January.
Last week, Hutchinson had no visuals to share and little in the way of specifics, but told the City Council “the only way” the bluff will be touched by the new plan is by installing posts for a new ADA-compatible pedestrian ramp. GMC has been paid $900,000 to draft the proposal, a project made possible with a $6.2 million Restore Act grant Wilson secured in 2018.
“We’re not proposing any cut to the bluff,” he said. The proposed bathroom will remain, as well as existing staircases on the bluff. The existing parking spaces will remain, he said, and the pier will be updated with new railings and fishing stations. A new 400-square foot pavilion will be constructed south of the fountain.
Howell Raines, who was a vocal critic of the previous plan, said this one also doesn’t pass muster. In a letter to Sullivan and Council President Jack Burrell last week, Raines expressed concern the proposal will not be fully vetted by citizens prior to council approval.
“I think the public and the council need to see precise drawings of the entire project before you vote,” he wrote. “ADA access requirements can be met in a better way … Given the 30-foot height of the bluff and the limits on the proposed new ramp’s angle of descent, GMC needs to defend putting a grandiose structure where none is needed.”
Raines also questioned other developments and urged the council to hold over the plan until it can be further scrutinized.
At the work session, Burrell suggested it could be on the council agenda as soon as next week. Hutchinson said once the project is approved, it can still be amended. In response to questions from Lagniappe this week, Sullivan elaborated, adding, “The original scope of work for this grant was very broad, and the guidance given by myself and the City Council in the next month or so will help narrow the scope so the city staff can clearly communicate to engineers what it is that is desired in that space.”
Sullivan noted the process has already been open for public comment at least twice but “there will be opportunities for discussion with the City Council.”
“It is important to note that a conceptual drawing is just that: a concept that includes all the scope of work components agreed upon,” she wrote. “The visual will not be the final design but, rather, representative of the plan as a whole. A concept will be presented to the Council at an upcoming council meeting. I am hopeful that we can move forward with a narrowed scope of work and a conceptual drawing in the next month. Each component of the project will be prioritized and will go through the process of engineering, bidding and presented to the City Council.”
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