By Keysha Drexel
City officials in Vestavia Hills recently announced a project they hope will jumpstart new development in the Cahaba Heights community.
And it’s a plan that’s generating buzz from both longtime and new Cahaba Heights business owners.
On Aug. 11, the Vestavia City Council approved the sale of city-owned property on Dolly Ridge Road near Vestavia Hills Elementary Cahaba Heights.
That sale, said City Manager Jeff Downes, means the first public-private partnership in Cahaba Heights has successfully moved out of the idea stage and is now ready to be implemented.
Downes said the city sold the land for $175,000 to Hydinger, Stewart & Chew Commercial Properties. The company also owns two adjacent pieces of property which it plans to develop into a mixed-use commercial area, Downes said.
“The plan is for village-scale development–this won’t be a place for a big-box store,” Downes said. “The point is to create what I call quality of place–a development that will create lasting, timeless value for the residents and business owners of Cahaba Heights.”
Not only will the sale of the land help spur business development in Cahaba Heights, it will also help improve traffic conditions in the area, Downes said.
“The city will use the proceeds of that $175,000 sale to go towards building a road that will help traffic flow along Dolly Ridge Road near the new commercial development and the elementary school with planned entry and exit points at the school,” he said.
Kate Hartman, who owns Chickadee at 3138 Cahaba Heights Road with her mother-in-law, Carolyn Hartman, said she was thrilled to hear about the improvements planned for Cahaba Heights.
“I’m glad some fire is getting lit somewhere to improve this area,” she said. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Downes said he couldn’t agree more.
“There are some wonderful places in Cahaba Heights and then there are some places that are long overdue for revitalization,” he said.
When Cahaba Heights was annexed into Vestavia Hills in 2002, the city worked with residents and stakeholders to come up with a community plan to improve transportation and infrastructure and to create village-scale commercial developments, Downes said.
“Because the Cahaba Heights community plan was published at the beginning of the recessionary period, the ability to move forward with many components of that were challenged,” he said. “But the city has always had the strong desire to grow the Cahaba Heights community in a positive way.”
During the recession, cities in the Over the Mountain area and across the country were tightening their belts and delaying capital improvement and other major projects, but Vestavia Hills has been able to construct several new sidewalks in the area, Downes said.
And more sidewalks to connect the businesses and residential areas in Cahaba Heights are in the works, he said.
“The developer is working with the city to begin planning for additional sidewalks, including pedestrian access to this new (mixed-use) corridor,” he said.
Hartman said she thinks the new sidewalks and road improvements planned will be instrumental in the revitalization of Cahaba Heights.
“The sidewalks will be the key,” she said. “Not only does it allow people to get out of their cars and walk and shop at a variety of places, but it will also give the Cahaba Heights community a more connected feeling. Right now, it feels a little disjointed.”
A village-type mixed-use development will also help give Cahaba Heights more of an identity, Hartman said.
“I think the retailers and the business owners need to feel more connected, and a village-style development will help with that,” she said.
Hartman said she is glad to see the city investing in and planning for growth in Cahaba Heights.
“It makes financial sense to spend money where you are making money, and as far as I know, Cahaba Heights is the largest (sales tax) revenue generator in Vestavia Hills,” she said.
Downes said the city currently has four other projects in the works for Cahaba Heights and recognizes the area as a bit of a “diamond in the rough.”
“If you look at sales tax revenues per business, Cahaba Heights is growing at a faster pace than any other area of Vestavia Hills, so whatever we can do to be consistent and move forward with a plan will be good for the whole city,” Downes said.
Karen Odle, executive director of the Vestavia Hills Chamber of Commerce, said she thinks the revitalization plans will create momentum that will attract more new businesses to Cahaba Heights.
“I am so excited that we are seeing some movement–finally–on some projects, and I think it will be an incredible impetus for other new developments,” Odle said.
The activity and planned revitalization in Cahaba Heights is what motivated dentist Andrew Richardson to open his first office in Cahaba Heights.
Richardson, a pediatric dentist, will start seeing patients at his office at 4213 Dolly Ridge Road Sept. 19.
“I chose Cahaba Heights because I think it has a lot to offer and I think it has a lot of potential to be even better,” Richardson said.
Richardson said when he was in dental school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham a couple of years ago, he began to hear the buzz about Cahaba Heights.
“During the four years I was in dental school, I really came to like the area, and after I finished my pediatric dentistry residency at the University of Mississippi, it was one of the first places that came to mind when I started planning to open my own practice,” he said.
Richardson, who lives in Liberty Park with his wife, Mallory, and their almost 2-year-old daughter, Lila, said as a Vestavia Hills resident–and now, business owner–he hopes the city can continue to work with developers to grow Cahaba Heights and the rest of the city in a smart way.
“I have another daughter due at the end of September, and this is not only where I will have my practice, it is also where I am raising my family,” he said. “My plan is to start here and retire here, and I hope there are other people who want to make the same kind of investment in Cahaba Heights and Vestavia Hills.”
Downes said the revitalization plan for Cahaba Heights is just one piece of the city’s plans to kick-start economic growth all around Vestavia Hills.
“It’s all part of a strategy adopted by the city council and the mayor to grow our revenue stream in a very deliberate way, and then that growth in revenue will allow us to do the things we have to do. But more importantly, it will allow us to do the things we would like to do, whether that’s building new parks and playgrounds or making infrastructure improvements,” Downes said.