You can stop making furious phone calls, quit sending passionate emails and cease writing lengthy letters to the editor. Call off the dogs: Fairhope will not be making drastic changes to its municipal pier and surrounding parklands after all.
At a City Council work session yesterday, Goodwyn Mills Cawood (GMC) engineer Scott Hutchinson seemed reluctant to list a number of revisions to an ambitious plan he initially unveiled early last year, which sought to use a $6.2 million Restore Act grant to substantially alter the design and landscaping of the city’s pier, fountain, rose garden, South Beach park and bluff.
Despite being subjected to months of public input before it was revealed, the plan was poorly received, prompting former Mayor Karin Wilson to temporarily table it and current Mayor Sherry Sullivan to bring it back to the drawing board. Among the improvements first proposed was to stabilize and reduce the slope of the natural bluff to provide an ADA-compliant ramp between the upper and lower elevations; to realign the fountain and rose garden with the pier and Fairhope Avenue; to move the majority of parking spaces from in front of the pier to north along the beach; and to create a new beach immediately south of the pier by installing protective jetties.
But several people decried the plan as too extreme a renovation for a largely natural park that has received only minimal enhancements over the years. Wilson said the “bluff stabilization” portion of the proposal would have to remain intact, as it was the crux of the federal grant money.
On Monday, Hutchinson assured it would. But rather than using heavy equipment to decrease the grade of the bluff, he suggested replacing invasive species like the existing kudzu with native plants known to secure underlying soils.
“On the bluff, we’re not doing anything we previously talked about to provide slopes, bathrooms, a viewing area or an amphitheater,” Hutchinson said.
Instead, the new plan simply calls for bringing existing stairs up to code and providing an ADA-compliant ramp, the design of which has yet to be drawn.
“On the bluff face there will be no improvements or retaining walls; we’re simply taking out invasive species and cleaning it up,” he conceded. “The kudzu looks like it’s covering everything but if you get down below the leaves, there is very little protection of soil material.”
There will likely be a bathroom facility added to South Beach as well as new benches and minimal landscaping, but the proposal for a new sandy beach at the shoreline has also been scrapped.
“The previous plan had a sandy beach and rock jetties,” he said. “We’re proposing now to not do a sandy beach and do either a bulkhead-type material or more of a living shoreline like grass beds … something you wouldn’t sit at the beach and enjoy.”
Meanwhile, damaged concrete around the pier landing will be repaired, while money intended for some of the more extreme enhancements to the bluff, parking and park will be redirected to the pier itself. The fountain, which is plagued with plumbing and electrical problems, will also be rebuilt.
“We’ll have to do a complete rebuild,” Hutchinson said. “We’ll be replacing it in the size and scope of what’s there now and the mechanics can be better protected. It will be slightly smaller but no more than 10 percent decreased in size.”
Pier improvements are currently undefined but Hutchinson said “there are so many things we can do down there.”
In GMC’s original concept, the pier was separated into four unique districts — the gateway district, a marina/restaurant district, a people’s district and a fishing district — and proposals called for expanded viewing and seating platforms and the possible inclusion of a ferry terminal where conceivably, ferry service to Mobile may someday return.
City Council President Jack Burrell said he’s a proponent of a ferry terminal and ferry service is part of the pier’s “legacy.”
“I may be convinced later it’s a bad idea but I think it should be on the visionary list,” Burrell said.
Hutchinson said the revisions remain in the scope of the grant, and won’t be used to enhance the privately operated restaurant or marina on the pier.
Planning Director Richard Johnson agreed, saying the initial scope of work for the grant application was “very broad and vague,” so the city has flexibility on the plan.
“Ultimately, the objective we are working toward, Mayor Sullivan asked to open up and receive additional comments during the first month of [Sullivan’s] tenure and what you see here is kind of the first draft of what we need to get to, which is an engineering and design scope of work,” Johnson said. “This is a pretty big list but as we look at budgets and we look at components and as we look at priorities we may have to refine it.”
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