Update includes town center for Helena

Planners unveiled bold new ideas for the city of Helena on Monday.

The plans include turning the area near the Winn Dixie Shopping Center into a retail district and town center and also adding a new road connecting Alabama Highway 261 and Shelby County Highway 52.

Representatives from the Auburn University Center for Architecture and Urban Studies and the Regional Plannning Commission of Greater Birmingham, who have studied the area, were on hand for the meeting.

They have been working with municipal officials and holding public meetings in an effort to update the city’s comprehensive plan &045;

a plan which was last updated in the 1970s.

Cheryl Morgan of the Auburn Center said the planners found two basic principles in their research.

The first, she said, was that there was not enough &uot;linkage&uot; to connect neighborhoods and important parts of the city, like Old Town Helena and the Winn Dixie Shopping Center.

&uot;We are seeking ways to make this a connecting city, not just a strip,&uot; Morgan said.

The planners unveiled several proposed roads, pathways, or &uot;greenways,&uot; and also sidewalks to connect areas of the city.

Building a few new roads in the city, she said, would alleviate traffic jams by allowing people to take alternate routes to their destination instead of every resident using &uot;two or three roads&uot; for their travels throughout the city.

One such proposed road was a connection between Alabama 261, near the rock quarries, to Shelby County 52 at the tanker farm near the outskirts of Pelham.

The planners’ second principle, she said, was a proposal to build a retail district and town center at the intersection of Shelby County highways 17, 52 and 91 and Alabama Highway 261, all near the Winn Dixie Shopping Center.

By building a basic grid of roads and sidewalks paralleling highways 17 and 52, she said, traffic could flow more freely.

The grid would allow residents, wanting to shop at CVS, Winn Dixie and other stores in the area, an earlier turnoff, therefore lessening the impact of vehicles on the now major intersection of four roads.

&uot;There are more options than to just five-lane every road. If we can encourage people to walk to buy their bread or use the pharmacy, we have reduced the impact on the roads,&uot; she said.

Morgan also proposed the city build a new post office in the town center as a major attraction to achieve &uot;vitality&uot; in a downtown area.

Other proposed features of the town center area included retail spaces where the Winn Dixie parking lot is, an area she referred to as &uot;a sea of asphalt&uot; which does not encourage commerce.

&uot;Parking lots don’t provide tax dollars &045; people do,&uot; she said.

The planners also offered a revamp of Old Town Helena complete with a pedestrian bridge over Buck Creek, and an overlook, or pedestrian bridge, over the railroad tracks.

The map of the area also showed two parallel roads west of the main Old Town strip on Alabama 261. The roads extend north into the area near Mount Pleasant church.

Morgan encouraged city officials and residents to attract different kinds of businesses to the historic area such as an inn, specialty restaurants and a bakery.

&uot;Why should visitors have just antiques to look at?&uot; she asked.

Morgan also stressed the need for supporting current businesses in Helena &045; a suggestion met with applause by some Helena business leaders.

&uot;You need to support Old Town or you won’t have it,&uot; she said.

A crowd of about 40 residents seemed to favor the proposals.

&uot;People want to be able to walk to places like you can in Mountain Brook and Homewood. You can’t do that here,&uot; Helena resident Malcolm Davis said.

&uot;I moved here because I wanted that small town feel. If you have strip development along all you major arteries, you lose that small town feel,&uot; Huisuk Palmer agreed.

Palmer urged city leaders to move ahead with improvements to the city’s infrastructure.

&uot;What is your clear 10-year plan for roads, sewer and utilities?&uot; Palmer asked. &uot;People don’t want to live here if they keep having to deal with all the congestion.&uot;

After the meeting, Helena Mayor Sonny Penhale said he favored the proposals.

&uot;They are all good. We will try to do what we can with the money we have,&uot; Penhale said.

&uot;Old Town Helena was a major part of our first plan, and look how far we have come. A lot of what she mentioned, those roads, are already on the drawing board. We just haven’t got the money to do them right now.&uot;