The Mobile Board of Zoning Adjustment voted unanimously to deny a variance request to allow a car wash to be built near a midtown neighborhood.
Residents in the Cromwell Place neighborhood have for months been opposed to the planned unit development (PUD) for a car wash on a large vacant lot at the southeast corner of Dauphin Street and Sage Avenue. The issue has previously been denied by the Planning Commission and the Mobile City Council, so the request for the variance was a last chance to avoid an administrative appeal, Casey Pipes, an attorney for applicant Robert Myers, told board members before the vote.
“The hardship is Mr. Myers bought the property and wants to be able to use it,” Pipes said.
At issue for Pipes is previous approval from the Planning Commission to rezone the property as commercial, making a car wash an acceptable use. However, a 2016 PUD expired and in the process of seeking a new one, issues with rezoning in 2008 came to light.
In 2008, the property was originally zoned commercial, with nearby residents being notified the property would host a bank and a drug store. When the first batch of notifications were mailed, words were added implying all other commercial uses would be applicable, attorney Jim Rossler told the Planning Commission in May.
However, the initial hearing in 2008 was held over and a second batch of letters were mailed alerting residents to the commercial rezoning for a bank, this time without the caveat, Rossler said. The agenda for the meeting at the time only mentioned the bank rezoning as well. The City Council ultimately approved the rezoning, Rossler said. The city advertised it and sent out written notices again. Once again, he said, the notices only referred to a bank.
The confusion over notifications means that a previous, unrelated state Supreme Court ruling applies, Rossler argued. In what he referred to as the “Roadhouse Grill case,” Rossler said the state’s high court used evidence of a similar notification inconsistency to void the zoning of a restaurant. The Planning Commission voted along a tight 6-4 margin to reject the PUD for the car wash.
Donald Stewart, an attorney hired by about 30 residents, argued he believes the issues with notification should mean the property reverts back to residential, as it was prior to the 2008 rezoning. At a minimum, Stewart argued, the commercial zoning should be limited to a bank or drug store.
Stewart also a variance would be inappropriate because potential economic loss can’t be considered a hardship.
“He wants you to rezone it,” Stewart said. “He says with no proof that he can’t sell it to a bank. He says with no proof he can’t sell it for residential use.”
But Pipes disagreed.
“Everybody here knows we couldn’t sell it for what we put into it through residential … we want you to fix it before it goes through the court system.”