A Midtown advocacy group got almost everything it asked for in a compromise with the developers of a Publix shopping center at the intersection of Florida Street and Old Shell Road when the Mobile City Council officially approved the rezoning application Tuesday by a 6-0 vote.
Before the rezoning was approved, Councilman Fred Richardson offered a number of amendments to both the planned unit development and the ordinance to force planning approval for any future changes. The amendment limited the number of curb cuts to two on North Florida Street, while one curb cut would be allowed on Old Shell Road.
The amendment also increased the width of the sidewalk along Old Shell Road to five feet to better accommodate bikers and pedestrians. Further, it forced the developer to construct an 8-foot screen, or fence made of composite material, along Hazel Street and to leave a larger portion of the project site in its “natural vegetative state.”
Two sticking points remained for Midtown Mobile Movement as the group appealed the PUD.
President Ashley Dukes said the group wanted developer John Argo to add voluntary use restrictions that wouldn’t allow for the future use of the property to include a convenience store or a gas station. The council denied the appeal.
Dukes said while Argo had agreed to place several other voluntary use restrictions on the property — including a prohibition on billboards, teen clubs, nursing homes and others — the developer balked at a restriction on a gas station or convenience store. Dukes said the group’s main concern with a gas station on the property would be the congestion problems it could create in proximity to bikers and pedestrians.
Casey Pipes, an attorney for Argo, said while plans did not call for a Publix-run gas station on the site, the developer wants to leave the possibility open for the retailer. Prohibiting convenience stores, Pipes said, could hurt the developer’s recruitment to the retail site, as the term is loosely defined.
The council also agreed by a 5-1 vote to give the developer up to $1 million to add turn lanes to both Old Shell Road and North Florida Street as well as construct sidewalks along Old Shell Road. Rich was the only dissenter, saying she was troubled “unless we’re going to start doing it in other areas.” For example, she said the Publix at Airport and University boulevards added its own “slip lane” to that project.
Richardson defended the move, pointing to projects like the Shoppes at Bel Air and Westwood Plaza, which each received substantial city support in the form of sales tax abatements.
“At Whole Foods, who put the light in?” Richardson asked. “We put it in. Bel Air Mall, we just handed those folks $7 million.”
Richardson argued the city would make its money back in a year, as Publix is expected to generate $1.3 million in tax revenue. Unlike the other projects mentioned, Richardson said the money would support city-owned infrastructure. He also compared it to deals to attract Airbus, ThyssenKrupp and a Wal-Mart distribution center to the area, which he claims “gave us nothing” in return.
Councilman C.J. Small said he largely agreed with Richardson, but corrected him by saying the Wal-Mart, Airbus and ThyssenKrupp deals did bring jobs to the area.