After multiple meetings and three revisions to site plans, the developer of a proposed shopping center and a Midtown advocacy group are still far apart on plans for the former Augusta Evans School property.
At issue now, just a day ahead of a Planning Commission public hearing on the development that would be anchored by a Publix, is the placement of the center’s outparcel buildings and the amount of parking.
Casey Pipes, an attorney for developer John Argo and MAB American Management, said plans have already been changed to reflect neighbors’ concerns. For instance, he said, an outparcel some had compared to a strip mall has been broken up into three smaller buildings, which are in line with a village concept; another outparcel has been made smaller; and another outparcel has been moved farther south and closer to Florida Street. Pipes said changes were also made to hide more of the parking lot from street view. These changes included shifting the orientation of one of the outparcels to face Old Shell Road and “break up the big parking lot feel,” he said.
The most recent plan submitted to the city’s planning department includes parallel on-street parking as well.
“We left a lot more landscaped area along the north end of the site,” Pipes said.
Green space on the site was increased to 26 percent from 22 percent in the original drawings. The city only requires 12 percent green space for a retail development, Pipes said.
Ashley Dukes, president of the Midtown Mobile Movement, said MAB American Management has only made small changes and has avoided the “essential, crucial changes” neighbors have called for.
“We’ve heard a lot of talk from the developer, but haven’t seen a whole lot of action,” she said.
Dukes said the developer could do more to move outparcels closer to the street and away from residential areas nearby. One outparcel in the plans can’t be moved because of utilities, and Dukes says she understands that. She said the parking lot in front of that particular building could be removed and possibly replaced with a wider sidewalk, or more green space.
“Our goal is to make things as pedestrian- and bike-friendly as possible,” Dukes said.
One way to make the development more pedestrian- and bike-friendly would be to move all of the proposed shops in the plan closer to Florida Street or Old Shell Road, with a shared parking lot behind them. The current plans call for separate parking lots, which Dukes said is a suburban style that has become common over the past 50 years but is increasingly falling out of favor.
Dukes said Midtown Mobile Movement’s suggestions fall in line with Map for Mobile, while the developer’s plan does not. She added the suggestions are similar to what other communities nationwide are seeing in terms of development.
“We just want what’s best for Mobile and Midtown,” she said. “Once it’s built it will take 40 years to change it. As long as we can get the buildings in the right place we can get that streetscape that’s attractive … ”
Jon Gray, a spokesman for the developer, said the plan already calls for hundreds of linear feet of sidewalks of varying widths.
Dukes suggested moving the three outparcel village concept west to the other side of the development, along Florida Street and farther away from residential areas.
“If they moved up the buildings they would be farther away from people’s backyards,” she said. “We want to see them move up as many of the buildings as possible.”
Gray said while Map for Mobile is a great plan, there are currently no ordinances on the books to back it up.
The Mobile Planning Commission will host a public hearing on the development at 2 p.m. on Thursday, June 2, in the multi-purpose room of Government Plaza.