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City of Alabaster responds to resident concerns about upcoming housing project


A new subdivision is coming to the city of Alabaster. Newcastle Homes is expected to build a master-planned community off of County Road 12 (Smokey Road), near Veterans Park. The local homebuilder first submitted its rezoning request for annexation three years ago. The housing project, named Walker Springs, will cover 456 acres and bring roughly 970 new homes to the area.

“It’s basically a planned community where you’ve got these different pods, if you will, these different types of housing with different price points,” said Brian Binzer, Alabaster’s city administrator. “It’s got a diversity of housing. It’s something that wouldn’t happen overnight, but it would be built over time.”

However, many residents are left feeling uneasy. The biggest concern among them is traffic. Highway 119, which borders one side of the housing project and connects County Road 12, is known to be a hotspot for congestion. And many are concerned this new project will only make things worse.

“[With] any new development, people are concerned about traffic and how it’s going to impact the local roads,” Binzer said. “We’re very aware of that. Folks have expressed that with this development, ‘Well, you’re going to have maybe 1,000 homes that are going to cause more impacts on the roadway system.’ We’re trying to get ahead of that and make that a priority with ALDOT [Alabama Department of Transportation].”

Binzer said the City of Alabaster has pressed ALDOT to help widen Highway 119, and the state agency is willing to move forward with this initiative.

Courtesy: Insite Engineering, Newcastle Homes

“We’ve worked probably more than 10 years to get [Highway 119] widened. We have about $4 million, or a little bit more than that, [invested] in city funds. The state has committed state and federal money to widen it as well,” he said. “They’re in the process of widening about a mile, basically five lanes, that gets you down Smokey Road, where this development is, for Phase One. That’s underway now. The second phase of that is to widen the next mile, which goes all the way down to Veterans Park.”

Alabaster officials and ALDOT are also working alongside the City of Calera and Shelby County to widen portions of Interstate 65, which connects Alabaster to other parts of the Birmingham metro. The city recently paid another $1.7 million to widen the interstate in an effort to match ALDOT’s financial commitment.

“The city’s keenly aware of traffic concerns. It’s one of our highest priorities, alongside public safety, quality of life and parks,” Binzer said. “We’re doing all we can and putting our money where our mouth is to support expanding our traffic infrastructure. We have a glaring need, and we pushed ALDOT. Thankfully, ALDOT has been very a good partner with the city not just on Highway 119 but also along I-65. That’s in the news statewide, but it’s really important to our citizens. One of our highest priorities is to get people to and from work and to get people to and from school.”

However, it is not just the city that’s addressing traffic concerns. As part of its master plan, Newcastle Homes will build a connector road from County Road 12 to Highway 119. No homes will be located along the one-mile roadway, which is intended for limited community access. Because the roadway connects the subdivision to Veterans Park across the street, a new traffic signal will be installed along with walking trail connections for residents.

Criticism from the community did not stop there. Local homeowners were also concerned about the environment. Walker Springs is located near Ebenezer Swamp, which is home to several plant and animal species as well as wetlands. Residents are concerned about the damage Walker Springs could bring to wetlands that are located within the subdivision. Binzer said Newcastle Homes must receive a wetland permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before it moves any further with its housing development. The federal agency will look into all resident concerns surrounding wetlands and the local environment.

“This project is going through the Corps of Engineers’ permitting process, the federal government. We give all deference from that standpoint, the wetlands, to the Corps of Engineers to handle,” Binzer said. “We’re supportive of what the outcome of that is going to be.”

Binzer said the permitting process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already led to changes.

“[Newcastle Homes] originally submitted plans for a little over 1,000 homes, but they’re reduced it. The last master plan was approved with 999 homes. But [with] the permit that’s currently being reviewed, because they have some wetlands on the property, they are reducing the number of homes on the project probably by about 30,” he said.

Newcastle Homes must also meet the requirements of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) regarding where stormwater must flow and how much stormwater can flow per subdivision. Stormwater is water from rain that travels from a home’s driveway or rooftop into a nearby water body or storm drain.

“The stormwater has to go somewhere. They’re going to have to design detention ponds and all the things that you would see in modern projects nowadays to capture the stormwater, so it doesn’t flood out their neighbors,” Binzer said. “We’re going to be on top of that. We’ve got a strong engineering division within our building department that’s going to watch over that, and then ADEM is going to watch to make sure we’re covering all the issues with soil erosion and all the things that would capture that soil before it hits the streets. It will be a process, and it’s something we’re very familiar with.”

In addition to wetland and flood protection, Binzer said 36% of the new housing project will remain undeveloped aside from walking trails and other outdoor amenities.

The third biggest complaint among citizens has to do with schools. Many residents are concerned about schooling and whether the Alabaster City School District can handle several hundred new students. However, Binzer said local schools feel quite the opposite.

“Our city schools are not at capacity. We don’t have trailers at our schools like you see in a lot of high growth areas,” he said. “We are gaining population, but our schools have requested new homes. This is going to be a healthy thing to replenish our school population with new homes. Alabaster did grow very strongly back in the 1990s and the 2000s, where we had hundreds of permits over the course of months, but, now, we’re doing a little less than 100 building permits a year on average. You want to have new permits for good tax growth but also for your school population too. Having new homes on the market is actually going to help our schools.”

All in all, Binzer said Walker Springs will positively impact both new and existing homeowners in the city.

“Folks from the outside who want to move to Alabaster can’t find a home. [With] our resale market, homes don’t sit on the market very long. We don’t have enough housing supply. That meets the need for new residents,” he said. “Also, folks that want to move into a bigger house don’t have that opportunity as much in Alabaster. This project has a phase for people that want a bigger house. Even people who are empty nesters wanting to downsize have an opportunity too. You want to be a community that continues to grow. You don’t want to outstrip your infrastructure, and we’re not doing that. You want to have new housing on the market that supplies the demand folks are asking for.”

Residents who are concerned about the new Walker Springs development are asked to contact the city’s Planning and Zoning Department. Sources within the city who may be contacted include Brian Binzer, Alabaster’s city administrator, and Vanessa McGrath, the city planner and zoning administration. Call the City of Alabaster at 205-664-6800 or the city’s Planning and Zoning Department at 205-664-6823.

As for the fate of Walker Springs, Newcastle Homes has already submitted several plats to Alabaster for city approval and most recently submitted all materials to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for federal approval. The Corps of Engineers has had Newcastle Home’s application for several months now but may make additional environmental revisions to the project. After federal approval, the homebuilder then turns to the city’s engineering division for development plan approval.

Groundbreaking is expected to begin sometime this year. The housing project will be completed over the next 10 to 12 years.

Joshua LeBerte is a news intern for Alabama Public Radio.
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