The Mobile Planning Commission approved the rezoning and the planned unit development to allow an AltaPointe mental health facility on a large parcel of land at the corner of Sage Avenue and Dauphin Street in Midtown.
The decision comes more than a year after the board denied the development of a car wash on the same piece of property due to an issue with notice related to a previous plan. During the May 2018 meeting, commissioners based the decision largely on letters suggesting limitations on the commercial rezoning of the property. Attorney Jim Rossler, working on behalf of the city’s legal department, laid out the case during the May meeting.
During the 2008 rezoning to commercial of the former Graff Dairy property, residents within 300 feet were sent letters explaining that the property would be rezoned to allow for a bank. A first batch of letters sent to residents also explained that any other commercial use could be acceptable under the ordinance, Rossler said.
However, the initial hearing in 2008 was held over and a second batch of letters went out alerting residents to the commercial rezoning for a bank, this time without the caveat, Rossler said. The agenda for the meeting in question only mentioned the bank rezoning as well. The City Council ultimately approved the rezoning, Rossler said. The city advertised it and sent out written notices again. Once again, he said, the notices only referred to the bank.
Commissioner and City Councilwoman Bess Rich used Rossler’s argument from May to plead a case that the limited business district rezoning being asked for with the current application was an upzoning from residential and not, as it was stated by planning staff, a downzoning from regular business.
“I thought it would be [residential],” Rich said. “The Supreme Court has said that when something like [the notice issue] happens, it reverts back to the older zoning. We’re splitting hairs, but I really see this as going from R1 to LB2.”
Rossler told Rich and the other commissioners that despite the notice issue the property remains B2, as it was rezoned in 2008.
At the public hearing on Thursday, Dec. 19 only one resident spoke in opposition of the plan.
Frankie Little, who lives directly behind the planned development, said he would not have purchased his home in the Cromwell Place subdivision if he and his family would’ve known AltaPointe was going to put a facility in his backyard.
“I’m disappointed that is the choice,” he told commissioners.
Little shared more concerns with the commission at a separate public hearing for a related issue. He said drainage is a problem in the neighborhood and the streets within it flood during heavy rains. He mentioned specifically neighbors kayaking down the streets of the neighborhood during a heavy rain earlier in the year.
“I can only imagine what will happen with a parking lot there,” he said.
Little also said he was concerned about security at the facility’s parking lot after it closes at 5:30 p.m. He said he has two young children and the parking lot, which would be near the back of the property, would be close to his backyard.
“The back parking lot is the ideal place to go and do anything,” he said.
Thomas Larry Smith, the applicant on the rezoning application, said the parking lot would be well lit to try and alleviate the security concerns.
“I don’t know if we’ll have security guards,” he said. “The parking lot will be lit to normal standards.”
As for hiring security guards, Smith said they’d give it “some thought.”
Former State Rep. Mary Zoghby, who lives in an adjacent subdivision and had argued against the car wash, told commissioners she was in favor of the new plan. She also said she sits on the board of AltaPointe.
“I’ve heard no objections from neighbors who live on the western side of the subdivision,” she said. “No one has come to me to say they’re against it.”
Zoghby said the healthcare company has “made every effort” to contact area residents.
“Something’s going to happen with this property one day or another,” Zoghby said. “We want to see a quality development. I feel this makes for a more appropriate and better use of this property than previous applications.”
The clinic, which would serve both children and adults, would be open during normal business hours on Monday through Friday only, Zoghby said. There would be no residential use.
Rose McPhillips, another neighbor, admitted there might be an issue with proper notice for this application as well, but said she was not opposed to the use and the limited business district zoning.
McPhillips said, unlike Zoghby, she has heard complaints from neighbors over the possibility of a mental health facility being near their homes. McPhillips said she’s not as concerned about the proposed facility’s patients.
“If they’re not on medication, they’re not going there and if they’re on medication, they won’t have a problem with it,” she said.
While the planning commission has final say on the subdivision and planned unit development requests, the rezoning portion of the application will need to go to the city council for final approval.
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