The Mobile City Council upheld the Planning Commission’s denial of a planned unit development (PUD) for a car wash in midtown on Tuesday.
Councilors voted unanimously to deny the appeal brought by developer Rob Myers of the May 18 Planning Commission decision to deny a PUD for a car wash at the southeast corner of Dauphin Street and Sage Avenue. Casey Pipes, an attorney for Myers, argued commissioners went beyond their authority in denying the PUD based on zoning regulations that didn’t legally exist in a 2008 ordinance.
“The Planning Commission denial is not based on any valid ground,” he said. “They went off in a different direction.”
During the May 18 meeting, commissioners based the decision largely on letters suggesting limitations on the commercial rezoning of the property. Attorney Jim Rossler, working on behalf of the city’s legal department, laid out the case during the May meeting.
During the 2008 rezoning to commercial of the former Graf Dairy property, residents within 300 feet were sent letters explaining that the property would be rezoned to allow a bank. A first batch of letters sent to residents also explained that any other commercial use could be acceptable under the ordinance, Rossler said.
However, the initial hearing in 2008 was held over and a second batch of letters went out alerting residents to the commercial rezoning for a bank, this time without the caveat, Rossler said. The agenda for the meeting in question 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 the bank.
On Tuesday, Pipes argued the mistaken letters don’t carry legal weight because state law doesn’t require the city to send out letters. Pipes said state law says the city “may” send letters.
“The letters sent out showed suggested uses,” he said. “It’s not the only use allowed. Rob’s getting a different set of treatment.”
To complicate the issue, Pipes said the car wash PUD was approved in 2016. Once it was approved Myers purchased the property in question for $675,000. The PUD for the property expired and in an attempt to follow the rules, Myers needed approval again to allow an access road, Pipes said.
“The application was denied because of a zoning problem that doesn’t exist,” he said.
Donald Stewart, an attorney representing the neighbors, called the placement of a car wash “illegal use of the property” in question. He argued that the commission’s 2008 letter does mean that the use of the property is limited to that of a bank or drug store and that the opinion of the city’s legal team was in line with that.
Stewart suggested Myers seek to have the property rezoned properly, but told councilors neighbors would fight it.
In other business, the council delayed a vote, per its rules, on a spatial needs assessment for a combined Mobile Police and Mobile Fire-Rescue headquarters on the site of the current police headquarters on Government Street.
The proposed $99,260 agreement between the city and Architects Design Group would cover the cost of a detailed spatial needs assessment, site analysis and estimated costs associated with construction of a building.
Executive Director of Public Safety James Barber said a new joint facility can be built while the current police headquarters are in use and then the older building can be demolished. The future of the Central Fire Station, which currently houses MFRD administration, is less clear.
Barber admitted the fire station in question is “very dear” to MFRD staff and told councilors it was too early to discuss what might happen to the building.
In addition to housing the administrations of both the police and fire departments, the proposed joint complex would include fire station 23, which is currently located on Airport Boulevard.
Rodney McManus, vice president of Architects Design Group, told councilors that cities have found roughly a 20 percent square footage savings when combining headquarters “because many rooms can be shared.”
The assessment should take four to five months to complete, McManus said, and at that point a second phase can begin, which would give the city set plans for the project.
The council also discussed changing a city ordinance to require residents repairing blighted structures to use plexiglass instead of plywood to cover open windows and doorways.
While the cost of the plexiglass would be more in the beginning, it would last longer and thus be cheaper in the long run, Deputy Director of Municipal Enforcement David Daughenbaugh said.
Under the current city ordinance, those repairing structures can use plywood to cover holes. Untreated plywood can begin deteriorating within 15 to 30 days after it is placed on a structure. Treated, or painted, plywood will begin breaking down in about six months, Daughenbaugh said.
Not only will the plexiglass last longer, but it is shatter-resistant and looks nicer, Daughenbaugh said. The council plans to take up the ordinance amendment in a committee meeting.