Helena plan needs citizen input

Published 3:38 pm Monday, April 26, 2010

At the Urban Design Studio, the Birmingham facility for fifth-year students of the Auburn School of Architecture, a 12-year ongoing project continues to offer first steps toward a Master City Plan to Alabama small towns.

The plan for Helena was completed in the summer of 2002. It shows the town’s assets, opportunities and proposed economic strategies for advancement.

It emphasizes maintaining the character and quality of Helena in the historic area and extending that into a historic downtown area. It suggests adding a cinema, bed and breakfast, hotel/inn, museum and a welcome center.

The study delineates a proposed new Town Center at the junction of Shelby County 261/52, 17 and 91. This point has great visibility from all directions, but is currently a visual clutter and lacking in pedestrian access.

It has developed as a ‘strip center’ rather than a town with a civic area that could become the heart of the community. A more inviting strategy would be a series of village centers.

The proposal suggests linking the Town Center, Joe Tucker Park and adjacent residential areas and Old Town via sidewalks and paths. Development of greenways with walking trails and biking paths throughout is highly advised.

Professor Cheryl Morgan, director of Urban Design Studio and the project coordinator, points out Helena is adjacent to the rapidly developing southern corridor (which extends to Montevallo) and is strategically located on the Buck Creek/Cahaba River waterway, which plays a significant role in today’s growth potential.

“Helena might consider developing and promoting area tourism via a passenger rail connection to other nearby historic town centers,” Morgan said.

The 2002 study includes recommendations for the consistently raised issue of lack of public parking. It addresses the issue of traffic congestion with the creation of a traditional street grid and rezoning regulations to promote compact growth rather than sprawl.

Strategies recommended include “active engagement with Alabama Department of Transportation to ensure an awareness of possible alternative and additional routes which are better alternatives to mitigating traffic congestion than adding lanes.”

“We recommend that communities reappraise goals and priorities about every five years, considering their successes and citing new needed changes that may have arisen,” Morgan said.

Our community would do well to take a look at this study and this columnist invites residents, new and old alike, to take time to review it and contribute their comments and opinions.

To continue creating a vision for our community in the 21st century requires the contributions of us all.

Laura Brookhart can be reached by e–mail at labro16@yahoo.com.