Growth management is essential today as communities seek to control the location, impact, character, and timing of development in order to balance environmental and economic needs and concerns, writes leading growth management consultant Douglas Porter in “Managing Growth in America’s Communities.”
Communities across Alabama are looking at ways to thoughtfully plan for expansion, including an unincorporated area of Autauga County that is experiencing enormous growth. With that in mind, the community participated in DesignAlabama’s DesignDash program to explore ways to effectively manage growth while making the community a safer and more desirable place to live and work.
“The primary area of concern is the U.S. 31 corridor between I-65 and CR 40 in an unincorporated area of Autauga County known as Pine Level,” explains Jim Byard of Prattville-based Byard Associates, a strategic development consulting firm. “This is a fast- growing business and residential corridor that encompasses the only interstate exit in Autauga County.”
DesignDash offers a single-day blitz of design interaction between community members and design professionals. A facilitator leads discussions between community members and design professionals who focus on a site-specific design and planning issue. During the second half of the day, the design professionals work alone to create ideas, renderings and other images based on their findings.
The U.S. Hwy 31 corridor has been identified as one of several major growth areas for Autauga County. The Autauga County Commission, in partnership with Central Alabama Electric Cooperative and Central Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission, asked DesignAlabama to look take a look at the U.S. 31 Hwy corridor, starting at exit 186 and traveling north to County Road 40, to begin discussions of good design and visioning for this rapidly growing area of North Autauga County, notes Kristi Pieper, economic developer for Autauga County.
The DesignDash workshop brought together a small core group of citizens to start the conversations and to begin creating a conceptual framework of how the US-31 corridor could be enhanced. And in the northern sector along U.S. Hwy 31 are large areas of undeveloped land with little street network. As these areas develop, it is important to plan for a street system that provides access and disperses traffic in a balanced, less concentrated manner.
“Autauga County continues growing at a steady pace and is expected to continue double-digit growth of nearly 20 percent by 2040,” Pieper adds. “Most of the growth we are seeing is in north Autauga County, in the Pine Leve/Marbury area. Exit 186, also known as the Pine Level exit, serves as the gateway to Autauga County and is the shortest route from I-65 to historic downtown Prattville.”
Exit 186 is also important as it is the shortest route to downtown Prattville and the home of Daniel Pratt’s Gin Factory, which is currently being revitalized.
“A big conversation” at the DesignDash event was whether the Pine Level area should be incorporated, explains GMC Regional and Community Planner Brandon Bias Brandon Bias who served as DesignDash facilitator. Though it’s up to the community to decide, the design professionals can show how this area can look in the future when managed growth principles are applied. A primary reason people give for moving to the area north of Prattville is the school system.
The DesignDash team also helped participants visualize how the intersection at U.S. Hwy 31 and I-65 could look, which is the only intersection on I-65 in Autauga County. The team provided participants with a report and now the community will build on those ideas when it participates in DesignVision, a two-day community visioning workshop held in partnership with Auburn University’s Urban Studio.
“DesignDash was a precursor for the DesignVision application process, opening the door for us to apply for the DesignVision Workshop and the Autauga County team is thrilled the U.S. 31 corridor was selected by DesignAlabama as the site for the 2022 fall DesignVision workshop,” says Pieper.
“We look forward to welcoming the Auburn University Urban Studio students to our community. These talented students will immerse themselves into our community, especially along the 31-corridor. As a county, the cost to bring in experts for opportunities like this would be prohibitive, so we are grateful to DesignAlabama for offering this program, and thank our partners CAEC [Central Alabama Electric Cooperative] and CARPDC [Central Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission] for bringing this opportunity to fruition.”
Implementing improvements will be determined by county elected officials along with the stakeholders who make up the Hwy 31 corridor, Byard says. As past chair of the DesignAlabama Board of Directors and resident of nearby Prattville, Byard thought this corridor would be a perfect project for DesignDash and DesignVision. So, he brought the idea to Autauga County officials and introduced them to Gina Clifford, Executive Director of DesignAlabama.
“Our local leaders took it from there,” adds Byard. “I’m glad that they see the need for good design in this unincorporated area that is considered the entryway to Autauga County along I-65.”
*Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of DesignAlabama