More De-Coding the City of Mobile’s proposed Unified Development Code (UDC)

De-Coding the City of Mobile's proposed UDC theme banner "More De-Coding: UDC Version 5 Update Breakdown"The City of Mobile’s proposed Unified Development Code (UDC) zoning code rewrite has changed yet again. For environmental justice advocates, there is some great news and some very disappointing news.

During its first Public Hearing at the Mobile Planning Commission on February 25, 2021, Africatown stakeholders and environmental justice advocates from across the City of Mobile came together to raise serious concerns with the fourth version of the UDC (UDCv4).

The Planning Commission then convened two “business meetings” on March 8 and March 29 to consider changes to UDCv4, which effectively modified it to a fifth version of the UDC (UDCv5). The final recommendation of passage of the UDCv5 by the Mobile City Council was voted on at the April 1, 2021 Planning Commission meeting, which saw a few small additional changes made to UDCv5 just before the vote to recommend adoption of the zoning code rewrite to City Council. The Mobile City Council has now received UDCv5, but to-date no Public Comment opportunities have been set.

Back at the February 25th Public Hearing, MEJAC and the Mobile Alabama NAACP continued their environmental justice partnership to make specific recommendations to the Planning Commission in writing. To provide context for the changes partly resulting from environmental justice engagement and advocacy in the code adoption process from UDCv4 to UDCv5, our 10 CONCERNS about UDCv4 are provided below along with 10 UDCv5 UPDATES.

Use this chart for quick reference and to click through to more documentation of our UDCv4 CONCERNS below and how they were or were not addressed in the UDCv5 UPDATES:

v4 Concern 1) Protection Buffers – Partially addressed by UDCv5
v4 Concern 2) Africatown Tank Farm Expansion – Not addressed by UDCv5
v4 Concern 3) Industrial Blight in Africatown – Partially addressed by UDCv5
v4 Concern 4) CPTED limited to Africatown – Not addressed by UDCv5
v4 Concern 5) Industrial Landscaping in Africatown – Resolved by UDCv5
v4 Concern 6) Riparian Buffer exemptions – Not addressed by UDCv5
v4 Concern 7) Water conservation in Africatown – Not addressed by UDCv5
v4 Concern 8) Coal ordinance concerns – Partially addressed by UDCv5
v4 Concern 9) Oil tank design standards – Not addressed by UDCv5
v4 Concern 10) Affordable housing concerns – Not addressed by UDCv5

A summary of all changes from UDCv4 to UDCv5 has been provided by City of Mobile here (https://mapformobile.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Summary-of-Changes-Post-Feb-25-2021-Public-Hearing-2.pdf).


1/10 UDCv4 Concern)

“Residential/Industrial District “Protection Buffer” standards in the proposed UDC fail residents across Mobile in vulnerable communities. Residents are suffering because the existing code is a travesty to common sense and decency and must not remain unchanged in the UDC, as is currently proposed.

UDCv4 § Article 3, Development Standards, Sec. 64-3-8 Buffers must amend “Wall or Fence” height requirements to 10 Feet where Industrial or Maritime Districts border Residential Districts. Additionally, “Protection Buffer” standards must require a Conditional Use permit for chain link Fencing in Protection Buffers where Industrial or Maritime Heavy Districts border Residential Districts.”

1/10 UDCv5 Update)

Citywide, for all B-2, B-3, CW, B-4, B-5, ML, MH, I-1, or I-2 zoned properties that adjoin residentially-zoned properties, Protection Buffer standards were amended to require additional evergreen tree plantings every 5-feet on center in a staggered pattern within the already-required 10-feet width “Protection Buffer” and already-required 6-feet high fence or wall. This includes Maritime and Industrial zoned properties that adjoin any residentially-zoned or used property, like many in the Africatown community. The text also now includes clear responsibilities of property owners to maintain their Protection Buffers continuously.

In the proposed Africatown Overlay specifically, for all CW, B-4, B-5, ML, MH, I-1, or I-2 zoned properties that adjoin residentially-zoned properties, Protection Buffer standards were heightened and strengthened to:

• triple the buffer width from 10 to 30 feet,
• add additional landscaping requirements for berms where fences or walls are not constructed and for the additional 20 feet of vegetative planting,
• require the 30-feet Protection Buffers width where residentially-zoned properties are located across a street from the applicable commercially-zoned property,
• prohibit the use of chain link in any form as part of a Protection Buffer, and
• clarify responsibilities of the applicable commercially-zoned property owners to maintain their Protection Buffers continuously.

What the new Africatown Overlay Protection Buffer standards don’t do is raise the height of buffer wall or fencing for the purposes of a greater limiting of nuisance light, noise, and dust, all of which have been very irritating for many industrial fenceline residents such as those along Chin Street in the Magazine Point neighborhood of Africatown.

 


2/10 UDCv4 Concern)

“The Africatown Overlay still allows for the potential of Above-Ground Oil Storage Tank expansion in the neighborhood, against citywide concern and support for Africatown’s permanent exemption from potential Above Ground Oil Storage Tank expansion.

During the Map for Mobile development process, the well-being of the Africatown community was cited as being of high concern by independent Mobile residents from across the city. UDCv4 § Article 11, Africatown Overlay, Sec. 64-11 must be amended to remove “Oil & Gas Storage*” and “Hazardous Substance Storage*” from Conditional Uses in the Africatown Overlay for all sites not currently permitted as conforming or Conditional Uses by the UDCv4 § Article 4, Use Regulations, Sec. 64-4-8 Above-Ground Oil Storage Tanks (p. 119) & UDCv4 § Article 4, Use Regulations, Sec. 64-4-9 Hazardous Substance Storage Tanks (p. 124).”

2/10 UDCv5 Update)

There were no relevant changes made that affected our outstanding concerns regarding our suggestion to limit the expansion of Above Ground Petrochemical and Hazardous Substance Storage tank farms in the Africatown Overlay.

 


3/10 UDCv4 Concern)

“The Africatown Overlay doesn’t do enough to address lingering residential concerns with Industrial Blight.

Like the Village of Spring Hill Overlay, UDCv4 § Article 11, Africatown Overlay, Sec. 64-11 must be amended to clearly address the Intent and Purpose of the overlay, which also must include decreasing nuisance Industrial encroachment upon residential Africatown that too often robs residents of the full enjoyment of their property and community, simply to make it cheaper for non-residential developers to move into Africatown. Africatown deserves an Overlay that provides clear control of future non-residential development with respect to historic cohesion, its residential character, and its interest in heritage and eco-tourism destination. That control must include clarity on the many Residentially-zoned properties in the Africatown Overlay that are currently used for Industrial activity, in clear non-compliance with both the existing and proposed City of Mobile zoning code.”

3/10 UDCv5 Update)

A new “Intent and Purpose” section was added to the proposed Africatown Overlay in UDCv5:

“B. Purpose and Intent
1. The Africatown Overlay as approved by the Planning Commission in April 2016, establishes an overall strategy for improving the Africatown community in ways that will encourage sustained reinvestment, enhance economic opportunity and provide a better quality of life for residents.
2. These standards are intended to:
(a) Provide reasonable protection fo rthe Africatown community’s cultural heritage,
(b) Encourage compatible redevelopment within the Africatown community,
(c) Foster new development within the Africatown community, and
(d) Provide development standards in the Africatown Overlay that accommodate the existing development pattern of the community.”

This new section does not address most of the myriad outstanding concerns with what we feel the Africatown Overlay’s Intent and Purpose lacks.

 


4/10 UDCv4 Concern)

“The Africatown Overlay’s CPTED requirements curiously only apply in Africatown.

We have some doubt about Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) efficacy and its ability to be measured over time for usefulness. However, if the City of Mobile believes CPTED is an effective crime-prevention strategy and not just a non-binding engineering design exercise for future non-residential developers and thus little more than fluff left over from the Africatown Neighborhood Plan consultants’ suggestions to the community, then CPTED should be applied consistently across the City of Mobile and not just in Africatown.”

4/10 UDCv5 Update)

There were no relevant changes made that affected our outstanding concerns regarding the singular application of CPTED standards in the Africatown Overlay and nowhere else in the City of Mobile.

 


5/10 UDCv4 Concern)

“The Africatown Overlay’s landscaping requirements are too weak.

Given the unsightliness of large, sparsely landscaped parking lots in the Africatown Overlay district, some of which are as large as some of the community’s historic neighborhood enclaves, UDC § Article 11, Africatown Overlay, Sec. 64-11 must be amended to not exempt Maritime and Industrial Districts from Parking Lot Tree Requirements for future developments, as is currently proposed as a continuation of policy from the existing zoning code.”

5/10 UDCv5 Update)

Citywide, the previous exclusion for Maritime and Industrial Districts from “Perimeter Tree” requirements was amended to require Perimeter Tree plantings where Maritime and Industrial Districts adjoin residentially-zoned districts. This corrects a potential loophole in the code.

Additionally, the Parking Lot Tree exemption for Maritime and Industrial Districts was removed completely and will now apply for all future development in Africatown’s Maritime and Industrial Districts. This requirement also now triggers certain landscaping requirements for the green spaces where Parking Lot Trees will now be required.

 


6/10 UDCv4 Concern)

“Exemptions from Riparian Buffer standards are overly permissive.

UDCv4 § Article 3, Development Standards, Section 64-3-10 Natural Resource Protection, C Riparian Buffers, 5 Standards for Riparian Buffer Application, (d) Water Dependent Maritime Uses (p.84) must be amended to require that any “Water Dependent Maritime Use” exemption be tailored as necessary on an applicant-by-applicant basis in order to apply as much of the Riparian Buffer standards as is possible to parts of shoreline that have no “Water Dependent Maritime Uses” on them but are part of a larger facility footprint. It is unacceptable that entire neighborhoods like Africatown could effectively have zero Riparian Buffering along its developed waterfronts due to this overly permissive exemption.”

6/10 UDCv5 Update)

There were no relevant changes made that affected our outstanding concerns regarding Riparian Buffer applicability and how the proposed exemptions leave practically then entire shoreline of Africatown without compliant Riparian Buffers for both water quality preservation and beautification.

 


7/10 UDCv4 Concern)

“The Africatown Overlay omits waterfront conservation consideration entirely.

UDC § Article 11, Africatown Overlay, Sec. 64-11 must be amended to include Riparian Buffer application to all Zoning Districts in the Africatown Overlay, including “Water Dependent Maritime Uses”, where exemption must be tailored as necessary on an applicant-by-applicant basis to apply as much of the Riparian Buffer standards to otherwise impacted but unutilized shoreline as possible. It is unacceptable that entire neighborhoods like Africatown could effectively have zero Riparian Buffering along its developed waterfronts due to this overly permissive exemption. The proposed Africatown Overlay must not ignore the opportunities afforded by potential heritage and eco tourism of its storied waterfronts when the City of Mobile is on record as otherwise supporting such efforts.”

7/10 UDCv5 Update)

There were no relevant changes made that affected our outstanding concerns regarding our suggestion to include waterfront conservation standards in the Africatown Overlay. The newly included reference to existing stormwater management requirements is not a statutory improvement or strengthening of water conservation in the Africatown community.

 


8, 8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4/10 UDCv4 Concern)

“The proposed Coal Handling Operations Code is too consequential to include in the proposed UDC and must be handled in a separate ordinance adoption process.

If it cannot be amended per the our related recommended changes (8.1-8.4), the proposed UDCv4 § Article 4, Use Regulations, Sec. 64-4-6 Coal Handling Operations (p.116) should be removed from the proposed UDC in its entirety and a separate public hearing on the proposed new ordinance should be held instead as was the case during the Above Ground Oil Storage Tank ordinance adoption process.”

8.1) “The proposed Coal Handling Operations code retroactively changes Use Permit terms for and rewards one (very bad) Industrial developer. The only facility this section could apply to behaved in a manner reasonable people could describe as deceptive and corrupt. That facility has already been issued a Conditional Use permit, and changing the terms of that permit through the proposed UDC legislative process may appear to reasonable people as an improper service to a single entity. And because retroactively benefiting one industrial developer isn’t what the Map For Mobile UDC process should be about, UDCv4 § Article 4, Use Regulations, Sec. 64-4-6 Coal Handling Operations code must be amended to delete Sec. 64-4-6, A, 2, (a) (p. 116) entirely.”

8.2) “The proposed Coal Handling Operations code’s perpetual permit to expand applies to and rewards one (very bad) Industrial developer and is capriciously permissive. Again, the only facility this section could apply to behaved in a manner reasonable people could describe as deceptive and corrupt. That facility has already been issued a Conditional Use permit, and changing the terms of that permit through the proposed UDC legislative process may appear to reasonable people as an improper service to a single entity. And because retroactive perpetual use permits for singular entities is an extraordinary governmental power and must not reward bad behavior, UDCv4 § Article 4, Use Regulations, Sec. 64-4-6 Coal Handling Operations, A, 2, (b) & (c) (p.116) must be deleted in its entirety.”

8.3) “The proposed Coal Handling Operations code appears to permit development of Coal Handling Operations on legacy parcels without Council oversight. The UDCv4 and Map for Mobile processes must not be used to permit Coal Handling Operations to propagate across the city without Conditional Use permitting processes for each and every facility, as might be interpreted as the intent of UDCv4 § Article 4, Use Regulations, Sec. 64-4-6 Coal Handling Operations, B, 1 (p.117), so that section must be deleted in its entirety or amended to clarify its intent to not grant use permission without Council and Planning oversight.”

8.4) “The proposed Coal Handling Operations Code does too little to protect neighboring properties from trespass and nuisance. All new and existing Coal Handling Operations must store their coal indoors and move coal piles on site using only conveyor systems to prevent nuisance dust and debris from being blown or washed off-site, so UDCv4 § Article 4, Use Regulations, Sec. 64-4-6 Coal Handling Operations (p.116) must be amended to require that both new and existing Coal Handling Operations store their coal piles indoors and that Coal Handling Operations be forbidden to move coal piles in bulk by any mechanism other than a conveyor system.”

8, 8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4/10 UDCv5 Update)

The new Coal Handling Operations ordinance was kept intact, however, the Definition of “Marine Cargo and Freight Handling” was amended to include the following phrase, “This does not include Coal Handling facilities or operations.” This change addresses and resolves our Concern 8.3 that the city may be unintentionally promoting a proliferation of new Coal Handling Operations along waterfront properties with Marine Cargo and Freight Handling facilities.

The other outstanding concerns were not addressed, including an otherwise excellent opportunity to require popular design standards to protect communities from potential environmental harms and property trespasses from future Coal Handling Operations (forbid they happen).

 


9/10 UDCv4 Concern)

“Above Ground Oil Storage Tanks don’t need to release noxious vapors into neighborhoods, yet the proposed code’s Design Standards for Above Ground Oil Storage Tanks don’t include nuisance vapor capture on new and re-developed tanks.

Above Ground Oil Storage Tanks release vapors from the activity of emptying and refilling tanks with oil product. These vapors, some of them heavier then air and all of them very disgusting in odor, migrate into the neighborhoods and homes of nearby residents, which causes in some cases severe loss of enjoyment of property in addition to public health impacts. Both newly developed and re-developed Above-Ground Oil Storage Tanks must be equipped with nuisance vapor capture systems to mitigate exposure onto neighboring properties, so UDCv4 § Article 4, Use Regulations, Sec. 64-4-8 C. Siting and Design Requirements (p. 122) must be amended to require these design standards for new and re- developed tanks.”

9/10 UDCv5 Update)

There were no relevant changes made that affected our outstanding concerns regarding our design standard improvements for Above Ground Oil Storage Tanks to limit noxious and hazardous nuisance vapor trespass and exposure in the Africatown Overlay.

 


10/10 UDCv4 Concern)

“UDCv4 fails to meet many of the City of Mobile’s zoning code revision Metrics for its Fair Housing Goals and Priorities, as declared to the US HUD in the City’s current Assessment of Fair Housing 2018-2023 (AFH) Report.

The AFH filed with US HUD in 2017 by the City of Mobile commits the city to specific zoning code changes so the city may “accommodate and encourage access to innovative affordable housing”, the stated purpose for the rCity of Mobile’s AFH Metrics in the report. By not following through, an opportunity to ensure our most vulnerable neighbors do not face extreme hardship in finding emergency shelter and affordable housing in our city during an economic crisis and global pandemic may be missed. As a federal grant recipient, the City must amend all Residential zone dimensional standards and the Use Table in UDCv4 § Article 2, Zoning Districts to meet the City’s Metrics for its Fair Housing Goals and Priorities as declared to HUD in the City’s current AFH report.”

10/10 UDCv5 Update)

There were no relevant changes made that affected our outstanding concerns regarding our concerns with the City of Mobile’s previous commitments to “accommodate and encourage access to innovative affordable housing” through zoning code amendment opportunities such as the UDC.

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