Residents near the site of a future Publix in Midtown are claiming the developer removed trees and shrubs that were listed as a natural buffer in the official plans approved by the Planning Commission and City Council.
A Facebook group called “Stand With Grand” shared photos of bulldozers taking out the barrier Monday. The concerns of the group and of other residents along Grand Boulevard caught the attention of some members of the Mobile City Council Tuesday.
Councilwoman Bess Rich said she hoped the city would investigate the issue, even though it doesn’t involve her district. She said the buffer was part of the planned unit development, as part of the retail center anchored by the grocery store, and should not have been altered.
Councilman Fred Richardson, who represents the area, issued a statement Tuesday evening confirming that the city had issued a notice of violation to the developer as well as a “stop work order” until the city “receives and approves a plan to address this situation.”
“I’m thankful for the quick work of the administration and look forward to a resolution,” the statement read. “I also appreciate the voice of all the concerned citizens in the area and hopefully, working together, this problem will be remedied. The trust and support of the local community and integrity of their homes, neighborhood and quality of life is paramount.”
City spokeswoman Laura Byrne could nto be reached for comment by the time this story was posted.
Jon Gray, a spokesman for developer John Argo and MAB American Management, said plans approved by council called for the retention of a natural buffer at that location, but added the words “as much as is practical.”
The removal of three trees, shrubs and vines from the location, Gray argues, was practical because they were taken out to remove an old fence and a “running track” from the former school property. Gray added only one of the trees, a 30-foot oak, was large and that particular tree was scheduled to be removed anyway.
“The vast majority of the area will be left natural,” Gray said. “He said he hopes to find a quick resolution to the issue. If they have to plant more than the trees they already plan to plant, they’ll do it, Gray said.
“We respect where the property owners are coming from,” Gray said. “ … We have no problem with them. More than any developer, we’re committed to green space … and greenery.”
Betsy Swinson, a Grand Boulevard resident, wrote in an email Wednesday afternoon that the trees Gray references did not need to be taken down. She added that the cutting down of the 30-foot oak tree was not part of the deal residents made with the developer.
“I and several perimeter neighbors filed an appeal on June 17, 2016 against the Planning Commission’s approval of the (former Augusta Evans school) Site PUD and Rezoning,” she wrote. “As part of our agreement to rescind our appeal, the developers agreed to leave the green space buffers between the development and our homes. The trees were supposed to remain and they were located behind a 50-75′ berm of dirt that has been placed there by the developers.”
Swinson also wrote that what developers did in removing a silt fence and moving behind a high pile of dirt to remove the trees is actually more labor intensive than to leave it alone.
“The removal of those trees was not necessary and honestly feels a bit spiteful,” Swinson said. “There aren’t any significant consequences in Mobile for destroying trees.”
Argo released a statement late Wednesday afternoon. In the statement, he expressed appreciation for the city allowing contractors to continue work in certain “priority areas.” Argo reiterated that contractors felt trying to save the vegetation in question wasn’t “reasonably practical,” but added that they would work with the city on a resolution.
“We will respect and accept the decision of the city in this matter,” Argo said in the statement. “It is important to note that none of the trees removed were large or considered to be heritage or protected trees. We have also set up a chain of communication to better communicate with the city in advance in hopes that a misinterpretation of this nature doesn’t happen in the future.”