The Mobile Housing Board of Commissioners questioned some aspects of the renderings of redevelopment plans during presentations at the board’s annual meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 14.
While completely new streetscapes, revitalized communities and new retail space are what the the board was promised, some of the commissioners had reservations.
The presentations showed sketches of what redevelopment could mean for the now-vacant Roger Williams Homes on the city’s north side and the surrounding Three Mile Trace neighborhood, as well as Thomas James Place, Boykin Tower and R.V. Taylor communities on the city’s south side.
The presentations for both were the result of two years of community meetings and discussions, made possible by two Choice Neighborhood Planning Grants awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to MHB.
A plan has been proposed for the redevelopment of the three MHB properties on the city’s southside. Like the Three Mile Trace plan, Marie Mhoon, a local project manager, said the plan envisions a neighborhood with parks, mixed-income housing with retail businesses and job opportunities.
The southside plan includes space for retail near Interstate 10, Mhoon said, with plans to bring shops in first before the bulk of the housing. Cummings had doubts the plan would be successful.
“Retail will be tough,” he said. “It follows the development of housing. It will be the last to come.”
MHB Executive Director Dwayne Vaughn reminded Cummings that the plan had no zoning attached to it at this time and was just a “vision of what it can be.”
Vaughn said the development partners on the southside have hired retail experts to help. He said if retail development comes in first, it would give the developer partners a better shot at receiving the maximum tax credits from the Alabama Housing Finance Authority.
“Right now the area is not close enough to a grocery store to get those points,” Vaughn said.
Cummings again told Vaughn that expecting retail to come in before development was “the opposite of the way things work.”
“I don’t know how much of our area that is,” Cummings said, referring to the plan’s proposed retail space. “I’d want a lot of detail from the developer … It seems a little backward from the typical idea.”
Tyronda Bethune, the local project manager for the Three Mile Trace plan, said façades in the area would be improved, as well as sidewalks and streetscapes, as part of the plan. The master plan, which will be executed by the Hunt Companies, will require infill housing, not managed by the board, in the neighborhood surrounding where Roger Williams Homes currently sits.
Bethune said as part of the plan, they surveyed “many” of the more than 100 businesses in the area around the area.
“All are very excited about the changes and what could be,” Bethune said.
MHB Chairwoman Kimberly Pettway asked about the percentage of businesses that were actually surveyed. Bethune said all the area businesses were invited to several different meetings, but she did not have the percentages that attended.
MHB Vice-Chairman Reid Cummings asked Bethune if the plans fit into the city’s larger Map for Mobile framework. He also asked about the price attached to some of the features shown in the sketches, like proposed signalization improvements on Martin Luther King Drive.
“That kind of thing is very, very expensive,” Cummings said. “It’s really pretty. I like it.”
Mobile Development Enterprises President Adline Clarke told Cummings that several city officials have been involved in the planning stages of this and given input.
Bethune said the group would have to identify more resources along the way. She said they were developing strategies to help small businesses in the area get grant funds to help with façade improvements.
Clarke said the city has a revolving fund that can help small businesses make some of these proposed improvements.
Pettway and Commissioner Norman Hill had concerns with possible pushback from residents and business owners in both communities on the changes. Pettway and Hill both told the project managers to make sure all the stakeholders are involved.
“At some point in time we’re going to hear from them and they’re going to complain we didn’t reach out,” Hill said. “From the businesses, they’ll first claim no one contacted them and that we’re trying to take their property. Some are concerned about what’s going to happen to their property.”
Pettway said she’s already hearing from people concerned they’ll have their property taken through gentrification.
“I tell them … gentrification will happen if you allow it to happen,” Pettway said. “There’s a responsibility of those who live there.”
Despite the questions, the commissioners unanimously approved both plans to be sent to HUD for approval.
In other business, the commissioners passed the entity’s budgets at the meeting. The Low Income Public Housing budget was approved. It’s projected to have a net income of $1.4 million, CFO Lori Shackelford said. The same budget suffered a $687,901 loss last year. The Central Office Cost Center Budget was approved with a projected loss of $544,429. In 2016, the same budget had a $590,318 income. The entity’s 2017 voucher budget was also approved with a projected loss of $65,862. The 2016 budget came in at income of $42,000.
Pettway was also re-elected board chairwoman and Cummings was elected vice-chairman. In a breakdown of the votes, Pettway nominated Hill for vice-chairman, but Clarke nominated Cummings. Cummings edged out Hill by a 3-2 vote from the five-member board. Pettway and Cummings are the two newest members of the board and were both appointed by Mayor Sandy Stimpson.