Following the recommendations of city staff, the Mobile Planning Commission approved at least three notable developments this afternoon. Perhaps most visible would be the redevelopment of the former Old Shell Road School in Midtown into a moderately sized apartment complex.
Real estate developer Pace Burt, who has shown interest in the property since the Mobile County Public School System vacated it 2010, returned to the Commission with a smaller plan than was initially pitched in February 2013.
Proposing to renovate rather than demolish the historic school, Burt is asking to build four, three-story buildings in a vacant lot next to the school that will house a total of 48 units, or 12 units each. The school building itself will house 24 units, according to the new plan.
The total number of 72 units is down from 134 units another developer initially proposed at the site. The 3.69 acres will also provide room for 116 parking spaces and a swimming pool.
While parking at the proposed apartments was an early concern for some neighbors, Andrea Moore, a resident of Levert Avenue, spoke at the meeting to report that a group of residents have been working with investors on the plan.
“If you consider the traffic that used to take place at the school, you’re probably looking at equal to or less number of cars,” she said.
Moore also told the commission residents were in agreement with a staff recommendation to perform a traffic engineering study at the school.
Burt is seeking to rezone the property from R-1 Single Family Residential District to R-3 Multiple Family District.
“The next step will be taking it before the City Council and if we get approval, there are still several conditions that have been placed on the property and some architectural considerations before we can build,” Burt said after the meeting, hesitant to suggest a timeline. “We will close on the property in the next six months and take it from there.”
Burt and other investors will be using historical redevelopment tax credits on the project. He said he remains interested in doing the same at the former Russell School building on Broad Street. His residential redevelopment of the nine-story former office building at 951 Government St. is under construction now, he reported, with workers preparing to install sheetrock in some of the lower floors.
Across Midtown, developers are proposing to demolish the former Kmart building at 2570 Government Blvd. to construct a new 41,000-square-foot grocery store with a 176-space parking lot and an adjacent six-pump gas station and convenience store. The applicant, Gonzalez, Strength & Associates, of Birmingham, did not immediately return a call today seeking information about a possible tenant, but the application did note the store would be open “24 hours a day.”
While the Planning Commission did approve the Planned Unit Development and rezoning applications, it also denied a request for a waiver to construct a sidewalk in front of or beside the new building. Although a sidewalk does not exist now, city staff cited the “complete streets” program and suggested the grocery store would likely attract pedestrians from the Greyhound bus terminal across the street as well as from a neighboring motel and the WAVE municipal bus route.
Downtown, chef Chakli Diggs of NoJa applied for a new restaurant at 455 Dauphin St., formerly the Alabama Music Box. According to the application, “the final use of the renovated property will be a restaurant with a maximum building occupancy of 148 persons … Renovations will include a new commercial kitchen, a new free-standing bar, new bathrooms and all associated mechanical, electrical and plumbing items. Exterior work is limited to new signage and paint colors (pending approval).”
Contacted before the meeting, Diggs said the venture was still in a “prospective phase.”
“It’s kind of backwards and we’re not at a point where we can say much, but we’re trying to find out whether we can or want to put a restaurant in there possibly,” Diggs said. “If the Planning Commission has any problems, or there are any major obstacles, we won’t do it. Even if it passes the Planning Commission, we have to go through many other negotiations with the building owners and others.”
Diggs said he was not moving or abandoning NoJa, his only restaurant.