Bluff, beach changes dropped from Working Waterfront plan


FAIRHOPE – Proposed changes in the South Beach bluff that had drawn complaints from some residents are being dropped from the draft of the Fairhope Working Waterfront plan, designers and city officials said.

A sand beach south of the Fairhope Pier has also been dropped from the proposal, Scott Hutchinson of Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood an engineer working on the project, said.

“The big items are no beach and no bluff work,” he told City Council members on Jan. 11.

Council members and Mayor Sherry Sullivan will consider the new draft of the plan and take action on the proposal at an upcoming meeting, officials said.

An earlier draft of the plan called for adding terraces along the South Beach bluffs to create areas where visitors could view Mobile Bay and sunsets.

“On the bluff, on the south beach part of the bluff, really not do anything that we had previously talked about, about modifying the bluff to provide the slopes up the bluff and bathrooms into the bluff, viewing areas, amphitheater, that sort of stuff,” Hutchinson said Jan. 11. “We’re removing that from the equation.”

He said the sand beach below those bluffs that was in the earlier draft has also been dropped.

“The previous plan had a sandy beach, rock jetties to hold a sandy beach in on the south beach,” Hutchinson said. “We’re proposing now, based on input, is to not do a sandy beach, but simply do either a new bulkhead type of material or either, possibly, more of a living shoreline, which is grass beds, things like that, which is something that you wouldn’t sit at the beach and enjoy. It would be more grass, things like that, but probably bulkhead material is what we’re talking about.”

Richard Johnson, Fairhope Public Works director, said Sullivan asked city officials to take more public comments last fall and to look at how the project could address residents’ concerns.

“Mayor Sullivan asked to open up and receive comments, additional comments during the first month of her tenure and took those and shared those and what you see here kind of the first draft of what we need to get to, which is an engineering designed scope of work, meaning that we’ve got to tell our funders and we’ve got to tell our engineers this is what are the components of what we’re going to design as part of this project and that is one of the benchmarks that we have to get to,” Johnson told council members.

Hutchinson said work on the south bluff will include replacing the south stairs with a ramp to allow access to handicapped visitors and to replace some invasive vegetation, such as kudzu, with native plants that will do a better job preventing erosion.

The project has a $6.2 million budget that is being paid with money from the settlement of the BP oil spill through the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf States, or RESTORE, Act.

Hutchinson said money that had been allocated for the bluffs in the earlier draft could be used for improvements on the pier, such as better crabbing sites and a new entrance.

“There’s so many things that we can do down there,” Hutchinson said. “When you live here long enough, you just don’t pay that much attention to what it really looks like. You’re just used to seeing it every day, but when you go down there and really look closely, you can see there’s a lot of improvements we can make to the pier itself, esthetically, with benches and lighting and new rails.”

Council President Jack Burrell said one possible pier improvement that he would like considered is a landing site for a ferry if a proposed cross-bay service is ever put in place.

“Mobile may be closer to putting one in service and it needs somewhere to go and I think bringing tourists over here and dropping them off during the daytime and shopping and then going back to Mobile is a good use of a ferry terminal,” Burrell said.

“It’s not a Carnival Cruise ship, it’s maybe a 100-passenger ferry and that pier is certainly no stranger to ferries. That’s part of its legacy is the Mobile ferries,” Burrell added.

Another area of concern with earlier plans was the rose garden and fountain at the entrance to the pier site. Hutchinson said plans to move all the parking and shift the fountain and garden have also been changed.

“Our current plan is to leave it offset like it is now,” Hutchinson said. “The adjustments that we would make would really be geared toward making it pedestrian friendly because right now, you come down from the top to the bottom of the bluff and if you’re walking, it’s unclear where to go because you’ve got this big area of asphalt that you’ve got to cross and cars coming in different directions, so those kinds of improvements are really what we’re talking about.”

He said the fountain will have to be replaced.

“It would be something that’s still size and scope of what’s there now, but something that doesn’t leak and something that works,” Hutchinson said.

He said some parking spots could be changed, but visitors can still park at the pier site.

“The big change from the last plan is we’re going to keep the circulation the same and keep some parking that’s facing outward toward the bay for people to view sunsets,” Hutchinson said. “Our goal is to not lose any parking, but to keep the same parking capacity that’s down there. We could possibly remove some of the interior spots, maybe replace them somewhere else, but, overall, certainly keep the outside parking spots that are down there. Keep it pretty much the same, but just improved.”