Despite opposition, the Fairhope City Council approved the proposed scope of work for its $6.2 million, RESTORE Act-funded “working waterfront and green space project” Monday night, one that envisions aesthetic and structural changes to the Fairhope Municipal Pier, fountain, rose garden and surrounding parklands. But it was approved with a contingency.
When artistic renderings of the project were initially unveiled more than a year ago, they were widely criticized as being too transformative for an amenity that many community members appreciate in its largely natural state. After Mayor Sherry Sullivan was elected, she ordered the project back into a public comment period, where the city abandoned such ideas as “stabilizing” the bluff above South Beach Park, reconfiguring the parking lot, realigning the fountain with Fairhope Avenue and the pier, and adding a new “pocket beach” protected by jetties or a seawall.
The new plan, revealed in January, seeks to simply improve the existing stairs on the bluff and add a handicap-accessible (ADA-compliant) ramp, while also introducing a bathroom facility, benches and minimal landscaping to South Beach. The bulk of the grant that initially targeted the bluff and parking areas will be redirected to the pier, which the city hopes to fortify with a living shoreline and bulkhead and improve with new features. The fountain, rose garden and parking area will see minor changes.
Still, portions of the updated scope of work — primarily the ADA ramp — continued to draw scrutiny. Two weeks ago, Sullivan urged the City Council to place the project on its agenda, suggesting a deadline was approaching to retain the grant.
Chris Knight, a retired architect who lives on Bayview Street, wrote the mayor April 14 to suggest the city “misunderstands” the ADA law and the proposed ramp would be a “significant structure” that “would have a negative impact on the stability of the bluff as well as detracting from the natural beauty of the park.”
“The ADA law requires that the park be accessible to handicapped individuals,” Knight wrote. “As the park is currently configured, the upper level of the park is accessible by roadways with handicapped parking spaces provided at this level. The lower level of the Bayfront Park is accessible by roadways with handicapped parking spaces provided at this level. Therefore, the ADA requirements have been met.”
On the other hand, Knight said a ramp would be necessary if other access was limited, “but the ADA does not require a ramp as long as other means of accessible access are provided.”
Similarly, Howell Raines, a retired New York Times editor and part-time Fairhope resident who has been particularly vocal about the project, wrote the mayor and council to suggest “the ramp is not only un-necessary [sic] … but badly located.”
“After an arduous descent down the ramp, a disabled person on a wheelchair, walker or crutches would have to travel more than 100 yards to reach the pier and rose garden,” he wrote. “Visually, the ramp will be an intrusive eyesore, detracting from the natural view of the bluff and reducing the amount of green space available to visitors.”
Chuck Zunk, a resident of White Avenue, appeared at the meeting Monday to urge the council to table the project.
“There are still too many unanswered questions about certain features of the design,” he said. “To go forward is premature.”
But Sullivan said the scope of work is a conceptual plan, and each component will be approved and bid as the project progresses. City attorney Marcus McDowell advised leaving the ramp in the scope of work, rather than removing something that may be necessary.
Ultimately, noting the grant deadline approaching next year, Council President Jack Burrell suggested amending the resolution to note the ADA ramp will only be included “contingent upon the opinion of a third-party expert for ADA compliance.”
The council unanimously agreed and the resolution passed.
“The ramp seems like a good idea but I’m not married to it if there is a better way for the parks to be accessible to everyone,” Burrell said.
In other business, the council approved amendments to the 80-acre Klumpp Planned Unit Development (PUD) on the northwest corner of State Highway 181 and Fairhope Avenue. There, Municipal Judge Haymes Snedeker and his business partner, Ray Hix, through Gayfer Village Partners LLC, plan to develop an existing agricultural parcel into a three-phase, mixed-use residential and commercial development.
Specifically, the amendments reduce the number of commercial lots from 16 to 12, expand the high-destiny residential portion of the property to encompass as many as 233 duplex and triplex units, and removes the previously approved 67 single-family residential lots in favor of 59 units dedicated for “convalescent, nursing or assisted living.” The new plan also calls for a combined 45-foot buffer between the existing subdivision of Idlewild off Morphy Avenue.
The council expressed concerns with density and the nature of the commercial property, but said details would be scrutinized further along in the planning process.
“I don’t want people to get comfortable that just because they bring us a site plan we’re going to rubber-stamp it,” Burrell said.
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