After an almost two hour hearing, the Mobile City Council denied the appeal of a handful of residents to a recent Mobile Tree Commission decision to permit the removal of more than 60 live oaks along the Broad Street corridor, as part of a multi-million dollar revitalization project.
The 6-1 vote to deny the appeal came after a group of residents and members of Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration announced they had reached a compromise.
Speaking to councilors on behalf of the Government Street Collaborative, Bill Boswell said the group and City Engineer Nick Amberger had agreed to a rough plan to allow the $14.5-million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, grant program to move forward.
The agreement, Boswell said, would save four trees to begin with and got Stimpson’s office to commit to add eight live oaks to the more than 200 re-plantings, as part of the project. The city has also agreed to allow the group to pick out trees it wants to save and swap them for some of the project’s proposed parallel parking spaces, Boswell said.
“The city will plant more live oaks,” Boswell said.”They will plant a live oak at the center of a proposed roundabout at the intersection of Broad and Canal streets.”
The agreement will also provide for a citizen committee, which will have an advisory role on future projects, Boswell said.
Despite the compromise, there were downtown residents still hoping the council would vote to send the issue back to the Tree Commission for review. Among those residents was attorney Pete Burns, who was referenced anonymously by Boswell as referring to the agreement as “a pig in a poke.”
“I’m the guy who called it ‘a pig in a poke’ because that’s what I believe it is,” Burns said. “An agreement to agree is not something I would advocate for a client.”
Without a concrete agreement, or a written plan in place, Burns fears the agreement could change.
Council Vice President Levon Manzie, who represents downtown residents, said that in addition to the agreement, councilors would be able to vote on a tree plan and if it doesn’t meet residents’ expectations it could be voted down.
Given the amount of the grant and the deadline of June to send out bids for the project, Burns indicated he didn’t have complete faith in the council to vote in line with its constituents.
“The council is going to be in a bind if citizens object to the plan,” Burns said. “The passage of time is not your friend …. As you lose time you get closer to a crash.”
When the city and the residents’ group have agreed upon a firm plan for tree removal, Amberger told councilors he would submit it to the Tree Commission anyway. Councilwoman Bess Rich, who made the lone vote to uphold the appeal, argued if the plan was going to go before the commission anyway, it didn’t hurt to send this issue back to the seven-member body appointed by councilors.
Amberger later clarified that he didn’t believe the changes would be large enough to trigger the need for another Tree Commission approval and would submit the plan to the board just to advise about it.
In other business, the council approved an agreement with the county for $60,000 in reimbursable funds to go toward the construction of a $200,000 basketball court in District 2, known as the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. basketball court. Manzie credited County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood for the supplemental funding.
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