After months of planning and gathering of citizen input, the city is ready to unveil its long-range planning framework called “Map for Mobile.”
The city’s planning department presented the plan — with its emphasis on connectivity and infrastructure — to the Planning Commission earlier this month, while a public hearing is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 5, at 2 p.m. in the auditorium at Government Plaza.
Executive Director of Planning and Development Dianne Irby said input from residents who placed dots on a map where they saw the biggest weaknesses led city officials to focus on improving major corridors with “workhorse streets and congestion.”
Areas all around the city, including Midtown and West Mobile, will be improved and “infrastructure blight” will be removed. To achieve it, Irby said, the city and Council hope to commit $21 million per year to the infrastructure plan over the next three years.
The first phase of those projects, paid for with money set aside from retaining a 20 percent hike in city sales taxes, was approved by the Council during budget negotiations. Irby said the majority of those projects, including the ongoing resurfacing of Ann Street in District 3, were already underway and prioritized over other projects expected to come later.
“Shovel-ready was one of the criteria this year,” she said. “Alignment with long-range plans was also a priority. We’re making sure that stays a critically important part of planning projects.”
Good stormwater management was also an aspect of the plan residents paid attention to, Irby said.
“I think people recognize we’re an older city and a wet city,” she said.
With a focus on stormwater management comes a focus on protecting natural resources. According to the plan, this focus will include: protection of watersheds and conservation of sensitive habitat areas; strategic utilization of the waterfront as an economic engine while protecting its natural beauty and sensitivity; development of a waterfront accessible to the public along the western side of Mobile Bay; and creation of trails and passive recreation spaces along streams and other flood-prone areas.
Housing, improvements in recreation, sidewalks and connectivity are also important aspects of the plan, she said.
As for the housing element, the framework will encourage filling vacant spaces, like older shopping centers, with mixed-use development.
“There’s an interest in seeing the city get rid of vacant properties,” Irby said.
The increase in housing options comes as part of a plan to strengthen neighborhoods through: more residential development in close proximity to jobs and services; reinvestment and redevelopment in targeted neighborhoods; and better connectivity between neighborhoods and destinations.
The focus on connectivity will begin next year as work begins on new sidewalks. The framework also focuses on bike and pedestrian lanes.
Goals for connectivity, according to the plan, include: decreased traffic congestion, accommodations for driving, walking and biking; and a more accessible and better utilized transit system, among other things.
With regard to recreation, Irby said, it’s about not only developing more opportunities, but also reconnecting the public with some of the amenities the city already provides through signage and other improvements.
The downtown area of the city won’t be left out, as plans to improve the Water Street corridor will begin with changes to signaling, Irby said. The city is also awaiting a possible November decision on a $13.5 million federal TIGER grant that would allow work to begin on a refurbishment of Broad Street as a part of the “Bring Back Broad” initiative.
“There will be more sidewalks throughout every district for safety, connectivity and exercise,” Irby said.
The city’s ongoing attempt to reduce blight in various neighborhoods is also part of the plan, Irby said, as well as providing more housing opportunities attracting people to the area. Removing blighted property will also improve property values, she said.
“We want to rebuild in neighborhoods what fits in the neighborhood,” Irby said.
This aspect of the plan is currently being carried in two areas of the city by the Bloomberg I-Team led by Joan Dunlap and Nigel Roberts, senior director of community and housing development. Those areas include Africatown, South Oakleigh/Texas Hill and Campground.
Irby also said the Peninsula Group is working with the city to help clean up several vacant industrial buildings along Dauphin Island Parkway.
While the plan is expansive, it does not focus too heavily on suggested zoning changes. Instead it will incorporate various neighborhood plans already in the books, as well as changes currently under review. For instance, citizens in Africatown are currently working on their own plan to revitalize the neighborhood which will be incorporated into the long-range plan. Also, plans in other neighborhoods, like Spring Hill, will be included.
“We want to help areas navigate what we do,” she said, “so we can help them get plans implemented.”
The plan can be reviewed at www.mapformobile.org. There’s a comment section on the site, Irby said, and the city has received a lot of very good comments so far. Planning Commission members and city councilors have also been very supportive of the plan, Irby noted.