The Mobile City Council voted Tuesday to add to the agenda an item sponsored by Councilman Levon Manzie that would delay enforcement of an ordinance requiring screening in downtown parking lots — a move that led to a debate about the importance of parking lot aesthetics.

Parking lot owners within the Downtown Development District currently have until the end of next month to add fencing, shrubbery or other improvements to avoid fines from the city.

During a pre-conference meeting Tuesday morning, Manzie said he’s heard a number of complaints about the impending deadline and asked councilors to add an item on the agenda that would delay its enforcement.

Manzie repeatedly told colleagues he wasn’t against the measure and used the parking lot across from Government Plaza as an example of an owner doing things the right way, but wanted the issue delayed until the new zoning regulations are unveiled next year. He also took issue with the scope of improvements some business owners would have to agree to.

With consultants expected to deliver suggested zoning rule changes to the Planning Commission and council sometime next summer, Manzie said it was unnessary to enforce new parking lot rules that may change over the next six to seven months.

Shayla Beaco, director of Build Mobile, told Manzie the new zoning regulations shouldn’t affect parking lot rules the council has already passed, but Manzie said councilors had a meeting with planning consultant Mark White, of White & Smith, who said the rules could potentially change.

Manzie suggested laying the vote over and assigning it to a committee.

“We need to engage the people we’re putting the financial onus on,” Manzie said. “They don’t think we’re engaging with them.”

Manzie told councilors at least business owner, who runs a truck leasing business in the district, told him screening his parking lot could directly hurt his business.

“From his standpoint it doesn’t make good business sense,” Manzie said.

Beaco said business owners aggrieved by the new rules can get a variance through the Board of Zoning Adjustment, adding that the city is willing to work with business owners who have “made a good faith effort” but still need help coming into compliance.

Manzie said if beautification of parking lots was so important, maybe the city should require screening citywide and not just in the Henry Aaron Loop area.
Councilman Joel Daves said he can understand a business owner’s concerns over spending money on changes in the law that may be updated in less than a year. However, he added that the changes could benefit the same business owner in the long run by helping make downtown more vibrant.

Mayor Sandy Stimpson compared some of the downtown parking lots to blight in other areas of the city.