Ways to make improvements to the Twin Beech/Houstonville community near Fairhope, which predates the city itself, was addressed at a DesignVision workshop. DesignAlabama, along with Design Initiative and Auburn University’s Urban Studio, joined members of the Baldwin County planning department and community members in a two-day charette.
The focus was the entire Twin Beech community, which is not so much geographically defined as it is defined by the people and places that have resided there for generations, explains Marshall Anderson of Design Initiative, who served as facilitator. Some areas considered part of the community have been annexed into adjacent jurisdictions, including the City of Fairhope. The specific areas of focus included the Rotary Youth Club and the historic Anna T. Jeanes school site, as well as the major intersections within the community.
“The issues that were brought to our attention were mainly centered around current and future development and how that is eroding the community’s sense of place and identity,” Anderson notes. “Property that was once rural and agricultural in nature is being purchased and developed into multi-family housing. Because it is in the unincorporated county, there is no strict zoning and land-use to limit nor guide development, and you don’t have the same design standards that a city like Fairhope has to help govern what gets built. The community also feels like it does not have a voice nor a seat at the table when discussions are had and decisions get made that directly impact their collective future.”
A solution the group presented was to focus on better definition of the existing networks, including streets. Information about Complete Streets was provided as a way to begin to enhance existing infrastructure (the street network), making it not only safer but multi-modal for cyclists and pedestrians. Recommendations included walking trails and sidewalks along major arterials connecting existing nodes (Rotary Youth Club, school site, local churches), and bike lanes to add accessibility. Also reduce vehicle travel widths and encourage reduced speeds, crosswalks at major intersections, bioswales to incorporate effective stormwater management at critical locations, as well as buffer pedestrians and cyclist from vehicles, shade trees and street lights.
“Finally, we made recommendations to look for community gathering nodes, taking advantage of current and planned community venues,” Anderson says. “The Rotary Youth Club was used as a space for community gathering in the past, but has been developed as a school in its current life. There are ways to keep the school function while providing more community access to the site for recreational use (basketball court, baseball field, community playground, walking trails). Our recommendation gave them an example of how the two different uses could mutually coexist.”
The DesignVision team also proposed a long-term aspirational goal of giving new life to the Anna T. Jeanes school site as a new K-8 grade school for the county, with a focus on life-sciences and the arts. Owned by Baldwin County Board of Education, the school served Black students first through ninth grades beginning in 1913. When schools in the Fairhope area were desegregated, the campus became the Fairhope Intermediate School in 1970.
“The community has historic ties to this site as well, with Anna T. Jeanes schools being built all across the southeast, especially in rural communities, for African American children,” adds Anderson. “The site holds the potential to bridge this historic use with the future, taking advantage of the site’s unique topography and hydrology. Outdoor classrooms, science labs, as well as dual-purpose spaces that can serve the communities interest in arts and education.”
Clarice Hall-Black, a member of the City of Fairhope Planning Commission who participated in the DesignVision workshop, grew up in South Fairhope and is a member of the Houston family who founded the community. She is also a founder of Fairhope Unite, a nonprofit that has proposed an option to turn the Anna T. Jeanes school into a community center. Among the popular ideas that came out of DesignVision, Hall-Black says, include extending sidewalks and using traffic calming techniques such as placing a statue or large planters in certain areas in the middle of the street.
*Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of DesignAlabama