The Fairhope City Council got its first peek at a conceptual plan to redesign the space surrounding its landmark pier and parks around its public beaches Monday. As part of a $6.2 million working waterfront and bluff stabilization project funded by the RESTORE Act through the Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council, the design and engineering phase was awarded to Goodwyn Mills Caywood (GMC) and incorporated feedback from citizens through surveys and workshops.
At the council work session Monday, representatives from GMC explained the initial phase would be limited to the roughly 10-acre park around the pier and what is known as South Beach, which includes about 1,500-feet of waterfront. The North Beach park and duck pond area will be addressed at a later phase.
GMC Planner Brandon Bias said the main goals were to reinforce pedestrian connectivity, provide an appropriate placement of parking, incorporate active and passive uses of the bluff, introduce pier improvements with a potential ferry connection, add restroom facilities and “reimagine” the central formal space radiating from the existing fountain and rose garden.
Landscape architect Christian Preus said the team evaluated vehicular and pedestrian traffic, public uses of the waterfront, access, solar angles and other details to arrive at the plan.
“This site encompasses Fairhope life, really extends the value of the waterfront to the entire community, not just the people who can afford to live right up next to it,” he said. “our steering committee went through several different concepts and some of the good ideas from that process really morphed into a beautiful plan.”
Among the keystones of the project would be reducing the slope of the bluff above South Beach. Today a sheer, kudzu-covered drop currently exists between the upper and lower elevations and access is provided by two steep, aging wooden staircases. The conceptual plan would grade the bluff to a less severe angle and introduce ADA compliant sidewalks and ramps, shorter flights of stairs, “gallery steps” and terraces.
The edge along Mobile Street would be improved with parallel parking and its intersection with Fairhope Avenue could outfitted with a three-way stop to increase pedestrian safety.
Currently, the central space — the fountain and rose garden — is surrounded by parking. The conceptual plan shifts parking to the north but envisions a single-lane roundabout remaining around the fountain, providing some space for loading and unloading.
“The amount of parking infrastructure dedicated there now really fragments the space and depletes the value,” Preus said.
In the conceptual plan, the pier has been separated into four districts: the gateway district, a marina/restaurant district, a “people’s” district and a fishing district. It may include an expanded viewing and seating platform just beyond the existing marina, which could eventually incorporate a ferry terminal with service to Mobile and elsewhere, as the pier was used historically.
Further, jetties would be introduced along South Beach to provide and protect 60 to 70 feet of sand and provide more direct access to the water for swimmers and kayakers than what currently exists.
GMC Engineer Scott Hutchinson said all the water features would require permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers but otherwise, implementing the plan would be relatively straightforward. As designed, Hutchinson said “it appears” the plan can be built within the city’s RESTORE Act budget.
Councilman Robert Brown said he was concerned the plan would eliminate the park at the top of the bluff to enhance the park below. But Hutchinson said a more detailed drawing would show the upper park would not be affected.
Council President Jack Burrell expressed concerns with the distance of the proposed parking to the pier and parallel parking along Mobile Street, which is heavily trafficked.
Mayor Karin Wilson, who proposed the project to the Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council, reminded the council bluff stabilization was a required element to receive the money.
The council took no immediate action on the plan but will likely revisit it during a council meeting at a later date.
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