A week after appropriating funds for it, the Mobile City Council by a 6-1 vote on Tuesday approved the purchase of land needed for a new Crichton fire station.
Councilwoman Bess Rich was the lone dissenter on the item that frees up $190,000 for the purchase of the land at the intersection of Davenport and Haas avenues. Rich had a number of concerns about the deal, including the sale price.
“I don’t oppose the new fire station,” Rich said. “I know Gus Rehm is in bad condition, but $190,000 is way more than the property is worth.”
She blamed the high price for the two-acre portion of the parcel on a rezoning that allowed it to become commercial instead of leaving it residential. A fire station is exempt from the zoning ordinance and can be placed on any property regardless of zoning.
As noted last week, the property, which was the site of the old Crichton school, was owned by the Mobile County school board. A plan for the city to acquire the property from the school system fell apart when the third-party buyer showed interest in developing it. A plan to lease the property from the developer was not economically feasible for the city, Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s Chief of Staff Colby Cooper told councilors.
Rich’s other concerns about the deal were largely philosophical, she said. For instance, a fire station behind property open to retail development didn’t fit in with the city’s long-range planning goals to connect communities, set out in the Map for Mobile. At one point, she said, plans for a park on that property had been discussed.
Councilman Fred Richardson, who represents the area in question, acknowledged the high price for the property but defended the proposed retail development. He said the area is in a low-to-moderate income neighborhood and jobs were more important than a park.
While Richardson said he’d support the land purchase, he warned the administration he wouldn’t support future items related to the fire station unless plans for a public meeting room were added.
“There is not a school or a public building in Crichton and we’ve worn out our welcome at various churches,” Richardson said. “There is no reason not to build a meeting room.”
Last week, Stimpson told Richardson an additional meeting room would make the project too expensive to proceed with and threatened to build a fire station in another community where there is a need.
On Tuesday, Richardson said the city has added meeting rooms to two fire stations in West Mobile.
“It’s troubling to me … to finally build a station east of (Interstate) 65 and tell residents I can’t put a meeting room in it for you … when we’ve put rooms in stations to the west,” he said. “I want a meeting room in the new fire station.”
In other business, the council approved an $85,050 incentive and development agreement between Airbus supplier Hutchinson Aerospace and the Mobile Airport Authority. They also approved roof repairs of up to $1 million for a building at the Brookley Aeroplex for VT Mobile Aerospace.
The council also approved a $111,700 contract with Melvin Pierce Painting for City of Mobile, Alabama Cruise Terminal improvements.