Is the Smart Code smart for Spanish Fort?

By Jay Hasting
Posted 4/26/07


Where’s the center of Spanish Fort?

Where’s the heart of the city?

Where’s the area citizens go to for a relaxing afternoon?

If you're not sure, you're not alone. That's because the city of Spanish Fort doesn’t have that …

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Is the Smart Code smart for Spanish Fort?



Where’s the center of Spanish Fort?

Where’s the heart of the city?

Where’s the area citizens go to for a relaxing afternoon?

If you're not sure, you're not alone. That's because the city of Spanish Fort doesn’t have that area, yet.

But the future could be only a few months away. Mayor Joe Bonner asserts, “The City has a vision. This kind of long range plan will take 20 to 30 years to be completed. But, you need a beginning and that is what we are looking at right now.”

A recent day-long work session at the Five Rivers Resource Center may have shed some light on the plan. The Mayor, members of the City Council, Planning Commission, Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce, developers and citizens took a glimpse of what could be the future of Spanish Fort. The plan could make the City one of the most desirable areas to live in the state. But with that vision will come some changes that would be tied to a revamping of a portion of the city’s zoning laws. That change is called the Smart Code.

The Smart Code is a tool used to create a reality from a vision leaders have for a portion of the city. Basically the Smart Code is a change in the rules that apply to zoning that have been used in the United States since the late 1920’s. Smart Code proponent Chad Emerson of the Jones School of Law at Faulkner University in Montgomery said The Smart Code would allow zoning laws to revert back to the traditional type of town layout. “It would create a town center, a heart of the city,” Emerson said, “that Spanish Fort does not have. Where’s the main street,the center of the town, where do people go for Easter egg hunts and fireworks displays? That area does not exist in Spanish Fort today, but it can.

“A Main Street, a town center, that is what Spanish Fort is missing,” said Emerson. A development like that would make Spanish Fort a more desirable place to live. People want to live in desirable areas.

“Spanish Fort is a wonderful community, but does it have an identifiable area of town that is the heart of the city?” Emerson asked and suggested city leaders look at long sustained cities and what they have.

“Does Spanish Fort have that area that people go to on Sunday afternoon to let the kids play, shop, and have a cup of coffee?

“Does Spanish Fort have an area like Jackson Square in New Orleans?

He added an area like that becomes the town center in a Smart Code development. It would be an attractive area that citizens and visitors would spend a day exploring.

“All of the stars have aligned perfectly for Spanish Fort to make this move,” Emerson said. “The city could easily create that type of area. The city already owns land that would be perfect for this type of project. The area located at the corner of Highway 31 and Highway 72 can be the heart of the city. It is located in the center of town, at an intersection directly off the main thoroughfare, the city does not have to purchase the property and it can be rezoned to the Smart Code without affecting any of the other property owners in the city.”

Adopting the Smart Code for that area would not necessitate the scrapping of all the existing zoning ordinances and starting over, Emerson said. It can be targeted to that one particular piece of property.

“The Smart Code is ideally used to start in a small area to create a development that is attractive and enticing to citizens to actually park their cars and get out and walk around the area. Malls do this now; they get you there and out of the car to create impulse buys at other stores.

Emerson added, “The difference is, malls are sterile environments that do not allow kids to play. The Smart Code development would be designed to allow families to visit the area and spend the day.”

How this will all come about according to Emerson is relatively simple.

“First you must have a vision, what you want the area to look and feel like. That in itself may be the hardest part.”

The City of Spanish Fort is preparing for an overhaul of the Highway 31 Corridor by the State of Alabama.

ALADOT, The Alabama Department of Transportation is planning to widen the main artery that runs through the city. Emerson said the main concern there is the design speed limit that will be administered by ALADOT.

“If you want to create an area on both sides of the street the design speed will be the big issue,” Emerson said. “ALADOT wants to move traffic through the area as fast but as safe as possible.”

Emerson believes the speed would have to be around 35 miles an hour to create a safe walking area for citizens.

“Anything over that would not be inviting to the visitors to walk in the area.” If ALADOT will not go along with a reduced speed limit on Highway 31 the development would have to be confined to one side of the road, most likely to the north of Highway 31. Emerson says when the plan is developed then it will be time to adopt the Smart Code.

“It is the tool that will make the development work,” he added. “The area of the development then would be rezoned to the Smart Code and construction could begin within three to four months.”

Emerson said there are advantages to a Smart Code type development. ,

“It would lead to increased property values,” Emerson said.

“A Smart Code area will allow multi-use of property that can be utilized as residential and commercial. That means residents in the area could own a commercial business in the area and live in the same dwelling. Imagine a baker living above his bakery. One advantage the baker would realize is he only has one mortgage.”

Emerson reasoned, “That should increase property values since the parcel of land could be used for more than one purpose unlike most current zoning ordinances that forbid the mixture.

Mayor Bonner said he realizes city leaders need the public’s input for the plan. “We want to have the citizens involved in this plan. We need their ideas.”

The city anticipates getting more information about the Smart Code Friday when Emerson will meet with them again about the development.

He will present the city with a more detailed overview of what can happen to Spanish Fort in the future by utilizing the Smart Code.