Mobile City Councilman Fred Richardson had to be rescued by boat from his two-story Chateauguay neighborhood residence following the last of three 100-year flood events in 1981.
With that in mind, the District 1 councilor urged his colleagues to table two agreements aimed at selling four vacant lots that had not been built upon since the floods.
“None of us expected anyone to build on that property,” Richardson said. “That issue needs to be worked out.”
The lots in question are part of a larger piece of undeveloped property, known colloquially among neighborhood residents as “the field.” The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) helped the city purchase the land in the 1980s. While the land purchased with FEMA funds cannot be built upon, the lots purchased through HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program can be. Despite assurances that the lots can be built upon in such a way as to avoid the flooding hazard that has caused the land to stay vacant all this time, Richardson has his doubts. He used the rain event on Monday, Aug. 25 as an example.
“There was flooding in the area [on Monday],” Richardson said. “If it had rained all day and all night and the creek rose, it would’ve flooded those same lots. This idea that it is never going to flood again … Mother Nature never told us that.”
The unanimous council vote to remove the contracts does not kill the plans. As Richardson explained, the contracts are likely to be re-introduced in “six to eight weeks” when Jamey Roberts, senior director of housing and community development, says he could come up with a new plan for the property. Richardson assured residents they will all be invited to a meeting where the future plan is announced.
Marl Cummings, who lives at 300 Levert St. with his family, wants to purchase one of the lots to improve his home with a back porch and some landscaping. He told councilors that otherwise he agrees with his neighbors that it’s inappropriate to build on “the field.” He said the family’s plans would constitute “low-impact” development and would extend 1 foot onto the current city property.
Despite Cummings’ wishes, Richardson moved to delay the plans, but assured him the contract for the sale hadn’t been killed.
“We can’t pick and choose,” Richardson said. “We have to treat everybody the same.”
In other business, councilors voted to extend into next month the closing on the sale of the former Ashland Fire Station building. Bob Isakson, of Lafayette Land Group, has a council-approved deal with the city to buy the 2,200-square-foot building for $368,850.
In a previous interview with Lagniappe, Isakson said there is no tenant in mind, but he envisions a possible coffee shop or other small space. The sale comes with conditions that require the seller to keep the outside of the building as it is, he said.
The council also got an update on planning for the U.S. Census, which will begin distribution in March of next year. Alabama is at risk of losing as many as two congressional seats and Census Partnership Specialist Shemika Brown and Alabama Possible Executive Director Kristina Scott urged councilors to begin efforts to encourage participation.
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