About three weeks after the Mobile Planning Commission approved plans for a Publix shopping center in Midtown — what some called a failed test case for the Map for Mobile planning framework — the city’s zoning consultants are looking at ways to give the comprehensive plan more teeth.
According to Mayor Sandy Stimpson, there will potentially be a two-year delay before the zoning overhaul adopts corresponding ordinances.
“We’ve laid out the vision, but there are no tools to implement it,” Stimpson said. “There will be more rough spots.”
Publix is an example of why the city hired the planning and law firm White & Smith LLC, Stimpson said, which will help the city establish codes based on the Map for Mobile.
“Publix shows you why you need this process,” said Mark White of White & Smith. “Developers need guidance and neighborhoods need to weigh in. You have to have more than a plan.”
White said he understands compromises were made in order to get the Publix approved. As his team works on a new general land use map and major streets plan, the true vision behind the Map for Mobile framework will begin to come into focus.
“The problem is we haven’t said what Map for Mobile means for every site in the city right now,” he said. “That’s what the general land use map and zoning ordinance is going to do, is fill in those gaps so that once we get to something like Publix it’s not that kind of fight anymore. We’ll have standards in place that dictate how a site like that is going to build out.”
Without the standards in place, White said, he doesn’t know if the center’s current plans would have been approved.
“That’s the conversation this community is going to have over the next two years,” he explained.
White and other planners were in town last week taking “snapshot” tours and meeting with city staff members ahead of community meetings on the subject. One area of concern for White during a tour of Airport Boulevard was a gap in sidewalk connectivity.
“We want to create more opportunities for people to walk but on Airport, for example, there were really significant gaps in the sidewalk network,” he said. “On one side you’ve got a big parking lot and the other side you’ve got a major arterial road.”
Pinebrook Shopping Center is an example of the sidewalk problem, White said. While the landscaping is nice and the signs are designed well, he said there is very little sidewalk infrastructure.
“The city needs to start threading that needle and connecting,” he said. “That’s long term. That’s not something the city can do in the next year or five. It’s a long-term process and it has to start and the city has started it with its long-term capital improvement plan.”
Obviously, walkability won’t be important everywhere, he said. There will be areas of the city where industrial buildings will be located in order to boost economic development.
Various communities in the city will be able to decide what’s appropriate for them, White said. A number of community meetings will get residents involved in helping to make some of the key decision in the plans created by the team of consultants.