The Mobile City Council might soon take up an ordinance dealing with the closure, or partial closure, of public streets after plans for another neighborhood’s attempt to limit access to through traffic was discussed Tuesday morning.
John Adams, a resident of Ridgefield Place, told councilors he had concerns over a proposal made by the Ridgefield subdivision that would install a gate on East Drive in an area that runs into his neighborhood.
Adams said his concerns and the concerns of other residents ranged from an adverse impact on property values to outright discrimination. Adams said the neighborhood is ethnically diverse and he has concerns over cutting of segments of the street.
Specifically, Adams pointed out that the Islamic Society of Mobile maintains a school on East Drive. On Tuesday, he told councilors he doesn’t buy his neighbors’ narrative, which is that traffic safety and crime concerns are justification for the gate.
“I live in the area and see no unusual crime and no traffic safety concerns,” Adams said.
Councilman Fred Richardson said he also doubted many of the justifications he’s been given when requests to close public streets have come up before the City Council in the past.
“They’d use traffic concerns as a pretext,” Richardson said. “The issue was something different.”
During a pre-conference meeting Tuesday, the District 1 councilman said he was opposed to the closing of any public street. Councilwoman Bess Rich, who represents the Ridgefield subdivision, told Richardson the gate could be opened from time to time as needed, so it would not be a permanent closure.
Rich, Richardson and Adams all seemed to agree that regulations related to the closing off streets were needed. Rich added that the traffic concerns of residents in the area were legitimate.
“[The University of South Alabama] is an asset, but its growth has been exponential and has changed traffic patterns,” Rich said. “ … This is all open for discussion.”
Richardson countered by bringing up traffic concerns faced by his neighbors every day with thousands of employees from Mobile Infirmary and USA Medical Center using streets in neighborhoods in his district.
“I knew the Infirmary was there when I moved there,” Richardson said. “Why would I start whining about it now when I had the opportunity to live somewhere else?”
In other business, the council may also look at a possible rollback on requirements for the certificate of public convenience and necessity — a state requirement — after concerns were raised about Gulf Coast Ducks.
During the pre-conference meeting, councilors asked Chief of Staff Colby Cooper why the amphibious tour company was allowed to operate downtown without the certificate. Cooper told them the FBI background check process required by the city took anywhere from six to 18 months, and that was the only thing preventing Gulf Coast Ducks from operating.
Instead, Cooper said, the city decided to show them leniency, since that was the only roadblock in their way. Currently the Mobile Police Department also does background checks on certificate applicants.
Councilman Levon Manzie said he agreed with the administration, but wanted to make sure they were showing similar leniency fairly across the board.
The council also approved a $150,000-per-year contract with American Guard Services for unarmed security services at the Mobile, Alabama Cruise Terminal.
The council approved a $32,781 contract for painting and repair work to the Fort Conde fence. Cooper also gave an update to the council on the state of the visitors center, which was closed over the weekend.
He said the center was transitioning from Visit Mobile management to being managed by the History Museum of Mobile while the administration works on a path forward. The change in management occurred after the budget was finalized last week.
The center has reopened, Cooper said.
Volunteer Ronald Hunt told councilors the city has lost several good volunteers at the center due to the shift in management over the last year or so.