The Mobile Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing to help determine the fate of a proposed major street, which would provide an unbroken connection between Mobile Infirmary and other hospitals on Springhill Avenue to points south.
The hearing, which is set for 2 p.m. Thursday, May 7, in the Government Plaza auditorium, will allow the public to comment on a Mobile Infirmary’s request to remove the proposal from the decades-old Major Streets Plan.
Specifically, the Infirmary is interested in eliminating the proposed thoroughfare known as “Crosstown Loop 3,” which has been a part of the Major Streets Plan since its inception in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Also referred to as the “Houston Street Extension,” it would begin at Dauphin Island Parkway before hitting Houston Street and, rather than the current zigzag route from Dauphin Street to Springhill Avenue that includes Kenneth Street and Mobile Infirmary Drive, would cut through two residential blocks and a commercial area currently containing dozens of historic homes and the former Old Shell Road School.
The proposed street would also tie into St. Stephens Road on the other side of the Infirmary, somewhere near the small bridge over Three Mile Creek.
For the proposed roadway to become a “major street,” Planner Richard Olsen said, the plan usually requires additional lanes and a wider right-of-way requirement.
“Generally the plan calls for it to be four-lane with a median, or four lane without a median, that type of thing,” Olsen said.
He said this particular major street is not part of the Mobile Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Mobile Area Transportation System plan, but most of the proposed major streets are.
“The MPO has a MATS plan and it shows the planned major streets that the MPO has and they are looking actively to seek funding,” Olsen said. “We are required to have, at a minimum, MATS plan streets on our Major Streets Plan. We can have more, which is what part of the Crosstown Loop 3 is.”
The intent of the Major Streets Plan is to help traffic flow and guide development in the city, Olsen said. He said the original intent of Crosstown Loop 3 was to be a corridor to both Mobile Infirmary and University of South Alabama Children’s and Women’s Hospital.
“It was the major access from south Mobile up to the hospitals,” Olsen said.
While widening is required for most major streets, Houston Street would not be widened, according to the plan, Olsen said, but inherently, houses between Kenneth Street and Gladys Avenue, as well as a few between Old Shell Road and New Hamilton Street, would be affected. In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted an employee of Lagniappe owns one of those properties.
“Because of the historic nature of Houston Street, the live oak trees that line it, the major street plan does not call for any additional widening or right-of-way,” he said. “Houston Street is also a fire lane, which is why there’s no on-street parking. There are some of the major streets that do not have that increased right-of-way or lanes, but they are predominantly east of the Interstate (65).”
Olsen added it would be “nearly impossible” to bring a street like that up to major street status.
Olsen said the city doesn’t seem interested in widening the portion of the proposed Crosstown Loop 3, either, considering the number of historic properties that would be affected. In addition, he said, any change to the right-of-way dedication in the area could negatively impact future development along Old Shell Road.
“Once you get on that street there north of Springhill, that’s actually private road, that’s not city right-of-way,” Olsen said. “To propose a major street on a private road, while it’s not totally unheard of, it’s not something we’d be willing to do.”
The city also doesn’t have an appetite to purchase the right-of-way needed for such a project, Olsen said. He added that to his knowledge, the city hasn’t used eminent domain to obtain property in the past.
“That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, but not to my knowledge,” he said.
Instead, he added, applications that come before the Planning Commission that are impacted by a proposed major street will be required to have an additional 50 feet from the centerline as right-of-way. In some cases, the Planning Commission will allow for an additional setback “so the city does not have to, in addition to requiring the right-of-way, also buy a building.”
Olsen said the hospital made the request for removal after purchasing property around the intersection of Old Shell Road and Mobile Infirmary Drive. He said they were attempting to clean up zoning on the property and subdivide it, when hospital officials found out the property would be impacted by the increased setback from the proposed major street.
Lauren Giddens, a spokeswoman for Infirmary Health, said the hospital is not in favor of making the corridor a major street.
For one, she said the proposed street would go right through the hospital’s wound care center. Also, the street could create traffic problems near the hospital’s emergency entrance, she said.
As for the possibility of future hospital development in the area, Giddens said there currently aren’t plans to buy more property.
Recently, a private developer announced plans to convert the former Old Shell Road School into a 72-unit apartment complex. On the opposite site of Mobile Infirmary Drive, behind the Dew Drop Inn, a smaller apartment complex was demolished last year. The area has also long been rumored as the possible site of a future grocery store.
A public hearing is scheduled, by state law, any time a change is proposed to the comprehensive plan, Olsen said. Residents may also submit written comments to the Planning Commission prior to the meeting.