Alabaster plan includes new city center

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Alabaster is moving closer to the adoption of its new comprehensive plan. But the latest development shows a shift in the location of a city center away from the commercial area first proposed.

At a public meeting on the plan held Sept. 13, it was reported that the new proposed site of a city center is not the Interstate 65, Exit 238 commercial area that received much attention but a more scenic area off Highway 119.

Conducting the meeting held at the municipal annex was senior planner Joseph F. Hester of the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham.

Hester said another public hearing on the plan would be held by the Alabaster Planning and Zoning Board on Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. The Planning Commission would then make a recommendation to the city council, which would hold a public hearing of its own.

According to Hester, the new location of a city center is designated on a map near the Highway 119 and Highway 31 intersection opposite BlockBuster Video and Burger King.

While a company called Insight is now working with the city, Sherlock, Smith & Adams Inc. did the preliminary drawings for future land use in the comprehensive plan, Hester said.

City Councilmember Tommy Ryals, who also serves on the Planning and Zoning Board, pointed out the new city center area on a map of the city. He said it includes 111 acres for which the city has taken a six-month option to purchase.

&uot;A city is one of the few entities that could make full use of these 111 acres,&uot; Ryals said.

He said the property could be used for city buildings, offices, residences and commercial uses.

Ryals said municipal buildings in a city center would include a city hall and library, &uot;for sure.&uot;

He said &uot;common sense&uot; has to be used in planning the growth of the city, &uot;But you have to have a plan in place.&uot;

Ryals said the site now being considered backs up to Camp Branch and Saddle Lake, indicating the area &uot;feels like Gatlinburg&uot; and includes a six-acre lake that could include a walking trail and a fountain.

When asked about the shift of the intended location of a city center, Ryals said the city owns only about 10 acres in the Colonial Promenade area. He said Alabaster needs 80 to 100 acres to accomplish want it wants in a city center.

In the commercial area, Ryals said, property sells for $5 to $10 a foot while in the proposed area, it sells for about 50 cents a foot.

He also said the city feels the commercial property better serves the city as retail space.

Ryals pointed out that the city has considered more than one site for a city center.

However, in an open letter to the residents of Alabaster from Mayor David Frings dated Sept. 5, 2003, and posted on the city’s website, the area now occupied by the Colonial Promenade shopping center was originally proposed to meet both commercial and municipal needs.

In his letter, Frings said the city began evaluating opportunities to provide citizens with amenities. He said as part of the process the city adopted a re-development plan consisting of some 400 acres located behind a gas station at the corner of Highway 31 and Interstate 65.

This is the area now occupied by Colonial Promenade with stores such as the Wal-Mart Supercenter and AmStar Theater.

&uot;The city has been working for several months with redevelopers who have acquired almost 390 of the 400 acres within the development area,&uot; Frings wrote at the time.

&uot;After much negotiation and all attempts at settlement failed, it became necessary for the city council to have the remaining properties appraised. These appraisals were performed by a certified appraiser, licensed by the state of Alabama, who has never worked with the city of Alabaster before. The remaining holdouts were presented with these offers which they rejected. These appraisals considered all factors and were based on the highest and best use of the property in question.&uot;

The letter continues, &uot;Under Title 24, Code of Alabama, 1975, all cities have the right to create redevelopment districts and to promote community improvement. Therefore the roads and infrastructure built within this area serve a public purpose.

&uot;As part of this redevelopment area, the city is also designating part of the site as a new municipal center. Possibilities for the new center include a convention center, city hall, police facilities and a new community recreation center. The plan also includes an area designated for a future municipal park and institutional district to serve some of the non-profit associations in the area.

&uot;We believe that this redevelopment area will address the needs that the residents stated in the survey responses.&uot;

According to the final draft of the city’s comprehensive plan which was discussed at the public hearing recently, &uot;During the course of the comprehensive plan, several different sites were discussed and investigated.

However, a definitive site for the location of Alabaster’s New City Center could not be determined at that time.

&uot;However, the city of Alabaster has recently placed an option on a piece of property located near the intersection of U.S. 31 and 119 for its New City Center and should continue to diligently pursue this location to develop a New City Center in concert with private developers.&uot;