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).

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The New City of Mobile Zoning Code: Kudos and Concerns

The Africatown community faces huge changes through proposed revisions to the City of Mobile Zoning Code. Advocates have released the following responses to the Planning Department. There is much to potentially be excited for, but unfortunately, there also appears to be many unnecessary and inappropriate zoning designations proposed, as well. As complex as this issue is, Africatown advocates agree that the City must wrestle with the contradictions in the current land use designations, how properties are being used, and the interests of the Africatown community to protect both its residential integrity and respect its many environmental concerns.

Build Mobile’s proposed Unified Development Code (UDC) Background

Africatown residents and regional advocates, as well as many environmental justice community leaders from around Mobile provided significant participation during the Map for Mobile project. This resulted in the creation of a Future Land Use Map (FLUM) of the entire city that provided a non-binding sketch of what a comprehensive zoning map could look like.

The next step taken in the process to modernize the City of Mobile’s long-range planning processes was to examine all of the rules around getting “planning approval” for real estate developers, businesses, and residents in the city.

This culminated as the City of Mobile’s Build Mobile program. Its mission is ostensibly to consolidate and, in some places, “streamline” the planing approval process to make the land use rules that bind developers, business owners, and residents more transparent, modern, and less cumbersome. The Build Mobile process basically exists today as a sub-organization within the city’s Planning Department.

Cover Page of the Build Mobile proposed UDCIn January 2019, Build Mobile submitted a draft of what they are calling the Unified Development Code (UDC) for public consideration, and it’s time to PROVIDE FEEDBACK. The original deadline for this general public comment period ended Friday, March 8, but the deadline has been extended another 30 days to April 8, 2019.

The entire 386 pages of the Build Mobile UDC code is available for review here. Continue reading

Down the Bay & Orange Grove EJ Petitions Delivered to US Army Corps of Engineers

MEJAC delivered a petition with 101 local citizen signatures requesting the US Army Corps of Engineers Mobile District to adhere to the environmental justice consultation process it has publicly promised would happen with the Down the Bay and Orange Grove communities during its Mobile Harbor GRR process of considering the impacts of enlarging the Mobile Harbor ship channel to expand Port of Mobile commerce.

Our organization still hasn’t received a reply to any part of the letter MEJAC sent in early April 2018 formally requesting a response to these and other concerns. But come to think of it, MEJAC has never received a formal response regarding the first letter we sent back in February 2016 about the Mobile Harbor GRR/SEIS scoping process, either. Continue reading

US Senator Cory Booker Encourages Resistance while in Africatown to Study Regional Environmental Concerns

Anderson Flen addresses the Senator Booker and those gathered to host him in Africatown

Mobile County Training High School Alumni Association President Anderson Flen addresses New Jersey US Senator Cory Booker and those gathered to host him in Africatown, Joe Womack of MEJAC and Colette Pichon-Battle of the US Human Rights Network, “Ours is a powerful story.” (MEJAC)

US Senator Cory Booker Encourages Resistance while in Africatown to Study Regional Environmental Concerns
Historic significance and environmental justice attracted the national figure’s attention

6/29/2017 –  Africatown’s internationally prestigious history of being the first landfall for the last African slaves brought into North America during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade inspired US Senator Cory Booker to come to the Mobile community last weekend expressly to connect with Africatown and regional environmental justice advocates as part of a learning and listening tour to better understand the real issues of environmental and climate justice impacts in the Gulf South. Continue reading

Protect Historic Mobile from Bulk Petrochemical Tanks, Tues 3/22 @ 10:30am

It’s not a done deal! Africatown deserves permanent protection from expansions of oil storage tanks! Attend Tuesday’s City Council public hearing to say it loud!
ProtectHistoricMobile

Next Tuesday, the Mobile City Council will hold a public hearing on zoning rules that govern petrochemical storage tanks in the kinds of I-2 Heavy Industry zones that surround Africatown (downloadable as a PDF here: Proposed Oil Tank Ordinance tracking changes from Draft). These are almost the same rules that outraged over 100 Africatown community members back on December 1, 2015 at the Robert Hope Community Center.

We need you there to guarantee that the City Council will do the right thing and protect Africatown and downtown Mobile permanently from any more bulk hazardous and toxic infrastructure!

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