By Emily Williams
“From an economic viability standpoint, Cahaba Heights is a gem,” said Vestavia Hills city manager Jeff Downes, and what makes the area special to the local economy are three simple elements: location, location and location.
Born as a community surrounding a pumping station on the Cahaba River, Cahaba Heights was managed by Jefferson County before being annexed into Vestavia Hills in 2002. The challenge the city faces in managing the community is the unplanned nature of the infrastructure.
“The challenge is that Cahaba Heights, as a community, was not a planned community,” Downes said. “It was developed over the course of time, sort of randomly, with very little in the way of regulations when it was unincorporated.”
Downes noted that gross sales from the community’s businesses, namely retail, have trended up consistently over the past five to 10 years – even throughout the recession. For Cahaba Heights to reach its full potential, transportation, sanitary sewage and sidewalks are all things that must be reworked. In addition, various studies conducted by the city prove a need for more retail space.
The city has found that teaming up with business developers is the best way to fast-track these updates.
“A strategy you have seen in recent years is that the infrastructure costs are shared in some fashion between the private entity and the city as a public entity,” Downes said.
The city has teamed up with developers on recent projects, such as the Leaf and Petal development, on the corner of Green Valley Road and Crosshaven Drive, and Martin’s BBQ, on the corner of Pumphouse Road and Dolly Ridge Road.
Each developer has worked with the city to incorporate updates to the surrounding infrastructure into their building plans. As an example, the Martin’s BBQ project will include an updated access road to ease traffic flow in addition to new parking for customers.
“We have also included an incentive agreement with Leaf and Petal that, at some point in the future, they will widen Crosshaven Drive to help address some issues with traffic,” Downes said.
Leaf and Petal Development
An example of a profitable partnership with private businesses, Downes noted, is the forthcoming Leaf and Petal development.
“More often, we are seeing multiple businesses partner up in order to fund these newer developments,” Downes said.
The relocation of the Cahaba Heights Leaf and Petal has been in the works for a while, according to owner Jamie Pursell.
Desiring more space, Pursell’s original plan was to build on a lot he owned on Crosshaven between the Rite Aid and Zaxby’s. Then Chick-fil-A presented him with an offer he couldn’t refuse.
So, Pursell began searching for a new location, preferring to stay in the same area.
“I just started talking to people and knocked on doors,” he said, asking if homeowners would be open to selling.
Pursell was met with debates over selling prices rather than hard opposition to the sale, and his plan came together and resulted in the purchase of six lots on Crosshaven. With the added space, Pursell has partnered with Becky Satterfield, of Satterfield’s Restaurant.
“Becky has always been a great customer and I consider her a friend,” Pursell said.
The vision for the new Leaf and Petal store is to create a space that not only serves as a flower shop, but can also be rented out after hours as an event space.
In addition, Satterfield plans to open a second restaurant with a Latin American focus on the property. In addition, the development also will include space for a second location of Crestline Bagel Company.
One of the main challenges the city faces when proposing new development is addressing the opinion of Cahaba Heights residents. Downes notes that the community residents are among the most outspoken, and their desires often compete with the city’s.
“The community has spoken very loudly about what is an acceptable development and what is unacceptable,” he said. “You can’t make everyone happy. There are people who are open to some kind of new development and there are people who don’t want any development at all.”
Having more retail businesses would yield opportunities for partnership on infrastructure improvements that the city has had to table because of lack of time or money, he said.
“As with anything, it takes time to accomplish everything that has been thrown out as concepts. So, we’re taking it one project at a time,” Downes said. “Vestavia Hills is a small city that is trying to manage many priorities, so these things take time.”
The city recently completed Meadowlawn Park on Dolly Ridge Road. It cost well more than $1 million to engineer the land to reduce flooding and provide a community green space.
The next project on the city’s list, already in the planning stages with engineers, is to create sidewalks all the way down Crosshaven, from the Summit to Overton, with a focus on extending the sidewalks Leaf and Petal plans to create. City officials also will look more closely at what improvements can be made to ease the flow of traffic on Crosshaven, specifically at the Green Valley intersection.
In addition, the citywide Community Spaces Plan includes multimillion dollar upgrades to the Cahaba Heights ball fields, which Downes expects to be tackled in the next one to two years.
Downes noted that residents can expect to see the Leaf and Petal and Martin’s BBQ developments going vertical very soon. People also will see the properties along Cahaba Heights Road, across from ARC Realty, beginning demolition to clear the space for redevelopment into offices.