Residents in two different Midtown neighborhoods have concerns over the future use of property the city has put on the market, after the Mobile City Council voted Tuesday to sell vacant land to residents of the Delwood subdivision by a 6-1 vote.
Local developer John Vallas, principal in Vallas Realty, and some residents along Durande Drive have pushed back against a deal that would allow the city to sell property to residents in the Delwood neighborhood.
Councilman C.J. Small, the only dissenter, said that while he supports the residents, he believes the way the sale was handled was a bit unfair to Vallas, who worked to secure the sale for almost a year.
Vallas said he had a deal with the city to purchase 3.4 acres to build 12 to 15 single-family homes in an effort to revive the street. He described the structures as “patio homes.”
“Durande residents want to see new homes built,” Vallas said. “They want to bring new life to the street.”
According to Vallas, some misinformation has been reported by neighbors in the area. He says there have been “inaccurate” claims of him wanting to put apartments on the lots. Vallas did say he considered townhouses for the property at one point, but ultimately decided against it.
“As I got deeper into that plan, I realized the residents were opposed to the density,” he said. “So, I decided to build single-family homes.”
Patio homes are similar to townhouses, as they typically share a wall with other residences; however, the density is lower because they only have one floor, according to a realtor.com definition.
Vallas also questioned why the city never issued a request for proposals once there were multiple offers on the table. He said the city historically has been inconsistent in this regard. He referenced the recent sale of the Ashland Place fire station, which went through an RFP process.
“I still feel the best use for the (Delwood) property would be for development of single-family homes, which would greatly help the area,” Vallas wrote in an email to Lagniappe.
Some Delwood residents have teamed up and offered the city $38,000 — the appraised value — for the property. Councilman Joel Daves, who represents the area, was in favor of the sale to the neighborhood.
“I think it’s a good outcome for the city,” he said. “The city gets the property off the books, the property can stay [residential] forever and the citizens get to extend their backyards.”
Carl Dekle, president of the Delwood Neighborhood Association, told councilors Tuesday the residents adjacent to the vacant property want to leave it as green space. T. Bruce McKinnon, a Delwood resident, said the group would survey the property and divide it to match the adjacent lots to extend the impacted residents’ backyards.
Jeremy Neff, whose home is across the street from the property in question, said he is concerned about where the sale is headed and asked the council to delay its vote for a month.
At issue for Neff is that he and neighbors were not notified about the property being for sale until his wife talked to Councilwoman Bess Rich about it while the District 6 representative was researching the possible sale. He later received a letter from a resident about it.
Neff said he was not in favor of Vallas getting the property, or of the Delwood residents getting it.
Lots for sale in Chateauguay
Residents of the Chateauguay neighborhood also began raising questions after the city placed “for sale” signs on a number of long-vacant lots there.
The lots, which the city bought between 1975 and 1984 because of flooding issues, were put back on the market earlier this week after a developer inquired about them, city spokesman George Talbot said.
Talbot said real estate agent Vallas showed interest in the properties and that triggered the city’s sale process, which included the placement of the signs and the placement of an advertisement in a local newspaper.
“It doesn’t mean he will be the buyer,” he said. “It just triggers the sale process.”
Because the properties were purchased initially with Community Development Block Grants, the city is submitting a request for proposals for the lots, Talbot said. Proposals are due back by Thursday, May 2. The city is also in the process of getting appraisals done on the properties, but the average tax-assessed value of the lots is $30,000, he said.
“We are in the process of getting appraisals for each lot prior to closing,” Talbot wrote in an email message. “The tax assessor should give a good estimate for pricing prior to those being finished. Any final sale will have to be approved by the City Council.”
Some of the properties have been tagged by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and can’t be sold, Senior Director of Neighborhood Development Jamey Roberts said. While the others are in a 100-year floodplain, Roberts said they have been told by developers that engineers can find ways to build on those properties.
Any sale would include a condition that what is built on the land reflect the neighborhood, Roberts said. Specifically, he said, the city would be looking for developers or individuals who would build single-family homes on the lots. Despite being originally purchased with CDBG funds, Roberts said the lots would have no income restrictions if sold for fair market value. In other words, the structures built on the lots would be market rate.
There are no plans to change the zoning of the property from its current single-family residential status and the city would not support a change, Roberts said.
Council Vice President Levon Manzie has referred the issue of public property disposition to a committee. Councilman Fred Richardson, who represents the Chateauguay neighborhood, suggested the city put a moratorium on any public property sales until the council committee has met.
Richardson added that the city will not sell the property until the council deems it not necessary for municipal use.
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