The Mobile Planning Commission on Thursday unanimously approved the rezoning and planned unit development for a Midtown shopping center anchored by Publix.
Because the plans include a rezoning from residential to business, the Mobile City Council will have final say on the development. Planning Commission Chairman Jay Watkins recused himself from the vote along with commission members John Vallas, Shirley Sessions and Thomas Doyle, leaving eight members to vote in favor of the plan.
The development at the site of the former Augusta Evans School was approved on the recommendation of planning staff, despite calls from neighbors and a Midtown advocacy group to move some of the buildings on the site plan closer to the street. The move, opponents said, would block a number of parking spaces and fall in line with both the new Map for Mobile guidelines and the character of the neighborhood.
“We want streetside shops with parking parking lots behind the buildings,” Grand Boulevard resident Betsy Swinson told the commission. “The shops are too close to our homes.”
Swinson said the proximity of the buildings in one section of the plans and an added drive-through would create too much noise. She asked for a residential buffer along Grand Boulevard, similar to the brick wall proposed along Edington Drive, another adjacent street lined with homes.
“We’re not against Publix, or the development,” Swinson said. “We’re against this PUD, as it’s planned.”
Casey Pipes, an attorney representing developer John Argo, said there’s already a 150-foot buffer between the back of the commercial buildings in question and the residential properties. In addition, the developer will add an 8-foot wooden privacy fence.
Ashley Dukes, president of the Midtown Mobile Movement, said some changes to the plans could result in more adherence to the guidelines highlighted in the new Map for Mobile comprehensive plan.
For instance, Dukes said parking spaces in front of the proposed retail buildings closest to Old Shell Road could be removed and a wider sidewalk could be added to aid in the walkability of the development. Dukes also recommended moving the three shops closest to residential areas west, along Florida Street to help further hide the parking lot.
Pipes argued movement of the parking spaces or the buildings would likely cause a conflict with Publix, as it would result in a loss of parking spaces at the anchor building and space to move delivery trucks in and out.
Pipes told commissioners Publix requires a certain number of parking spots and that the plans meet those requirements. Any change in parking could cause a problem, he said.
Planner Bert Hoffman defended the staff recommendation for approval during the hearing, suggesting the existing plans would increase the walkability of the site and noted it includes outdoor seating and more green space than is required by the zoning ordinance.
He added the drive-throughs in question did not include menu boards and no additional lanes would be added to either Old Shell Road or Florida Street, except for adjustments for better turning.
The proposal will likely be held over by the City Council to allow for more public participation.