Thursday, 2/29/24 @ 5:30-8pm: Africatown Railyard Expansion Town Hall

Africatown Railyard Expansion Town Hall flyerOn Thursday, February 29 from 5:30-8pm at the Robert Hope Community Center in the historic Africatown community, the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Alabama State Port Authority’s Port of Mobile (ASPA), the Volkert project engineering firm, and CSX railroad will conduct a town hall about the proposed Africatown railyard expansion project they named the “Chickasaw Lead Line”.

If you are a member of the public who CAN’T ATTEND THIS MEETING but you or your organization cares to submit a question, concern, or comment about the impacts this proposed railyard expansion might have on the Africatown Historic District, you can submit your questions, concerns, and comments to be delivered to the FRA and ASPA via Volkert by following the instructions on this flyer from the FRA and ASPA:

ASPA & FRA Public Involvement details

As explored in MEJAC’s “Key Concerns about the Port of Mobile’s Africatown Railyard Expansion Project” brief, many shocking revelations have been made about the nature of the project since the Africatown Heritage Preservation Foundation (AHPF) was made aware of its existence by the FRA in Augustin 2023. Continue reading

Africatown Bridge Challenge 5K and Fun Run 2022 Recap

Joycelyn after winning 2nd place in her age division

This year’s Africatown Bridge Challenge 5K and Fun Run is in the books, and a great time was had by everyone – especially the winners!

Clotilda Descendants Association and Africatown~CHESS organizer Joycelyn Davis came in second place in her division!

Joycelyn said that her success in this 5K is a testament to her determination to regain what her battles with cancer threatened to take away. How her personal story connects the fights against cancer and environmental racism in Africatown will be featured in the forthcoming award-winning documentary Descendant by Mobile-born Margaret Brown, set to release worldwide this fall on Netflix under the Obamas’ production banner.

Along with plenty of representation from Africatown community groups like the Africatown CDC, which hosted the event, some of the runners taking part in this weekend’s annual Africatown Bridge Challenge 5K and Fun Run dedicated their run over the Mobile River to raising awareness about its status as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers.

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Will Africatown be a Safe Zone in Future Decades? De-Coding the UDC, still – Concerns about Mobile’s Zoning Code Rewrite Linger

Why Should Africatown be a Safe Zone and How Do We Get There?

Zoning has been a hot-button issue for years in Africatown with most advocates clearly wanting Africatown’s future to be a Safe Zone and not a HazMat Zone. Sadly, the way the City of Mobile has failed to capture the spirit of residential concerns in its proposed Unified Development Code (UDC) is disappointing to many.

The World Monuments Fund recently included the Africatown community on its 2022 World Monuments Watch, a selection of “25 of the world’s most significant heritage sites in need of immediate attention.”

With its contributions to World Heritage just now becoming widely recognized and its vulnerable, low-income, and predominantly African-American population, its current development patterns warrant much scrutiny.

Africatown deserves surety that it will change from a HazMat Zone to become a Safe Zone in future decades.

MEJAC along with Africatown residents and stakeholders were yet again present to provide Public Comment about the UDC Version 6 (the February 2022 version) to the Mobile Planning Commission earlier this month on March, 10, 2022.

The Public Comment opportunities during City Council and Planning Commission deliberations of the UDC adoption process have proven the best opportunities to share zoning concerns from Africatown residents, stakeholders, and advocates who have been tragically left out of the loop with the City of Mobile concerning the development of their community, despite their having provided tens of thousands of words of Public Commentary previously in the process. Continue reading

1490 Telegraph Road Rezoning UPDATE and Future Meeting Info

There have been many updates to the 1490 Telegraph Road Rezoning Application in the City of Mobile’s Africatown Planning Area that MEJAC wrote about in October.

October 19, 2021 – The Mobile City Council Rezoning Application Public Hearing. The Application was held over to allow for the swearing-in for the District 2 Councilor-elect William Carroll who had been elected to replace former Councilor Levon Manzie, who tragically passed away unexpectedly on September 19, 2021.

November 12, 2021 – Councilor Carroll hosted a Neighborhood Meeting Meeting at the Robert Hope Community Center in the hear of Plateau Africatown. Applicant Marty Norden of Norden Realty offered to place dozens of volunteer use restrictions on both his Rezoning Application and the deed for the property. Continue reading

MEJAC’s UDC Version 5 Public Comment

MEJAC provided the following verbal and written Public Comments to the Mobile City Council during its Unified Development Code version 5 (UDCv5) Public Hearing on October 19, 2021.

“Good morning.

My name is Ramsey Sprague. I reside at [. . .].

I am President of the Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition, or MEJAC, as it’s been called since its founding by Africatown residents over eight years ago in partnership with regional advocates to address environmental justice concerns in and around Mobile.

I am also the Mobile NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Committee Chair.

Environmental racism is an everyday occurrence in Mobile, and the UDC represents an opportunity to address the zoning sins of the past that must not be repeated in the future.

While we’ve seen valuable progress on many of our concerns, we still have some fundamental differences with both the public participation process and the text itself.

Now, the UDC’s Neighborhood Meeting standards are thoroughly reasonable. We feel encouraged by the creation of the UDC’s Low-Impact Development and Riparian Buffer standards, as well as the fact of the creation of the Africatown Overlay itself.

Unfortunately, the Africatown Overlay and other elements fall short of our expectations and in some cases offend the sensibilities of our organizations and partners. For instance, the Administration declined to respond in writing about any concerns raised about the Africatown Overlay at all, but not so with other Overlay districts, which gives a cursory impression that no concerns were raised about the Africatown Overlay at all.

But Africatown residents have been engaged over the last 3 years at every public participation opportunity regarding Industrial zoning standards, the Africatown Overlay, Protection Buffer standards, and landscaping requirements, the latter two of which have improved significantly in our estimation, but the following items represent areas yet to be appropriately addressed:

1) The Africatown Overlay district, which is surrounded by water on three sides, doesn’t include any provision for waterfront conservation despite the City ostensibly supporting two water-based heritage tourism efforts in Africatown. The proposed “water dependent maritime use” exemption to all Riparian Buffer standards is too broad, and if unchanged, effectively all of Africatown’s waterfront will be exempt from potential waterfront conservation standards in future development along Three Mile Creek, the Mobile River, Chickasaw Creek, and Hog Bayou. And that would be a crime against Africatown’s future.

2) The Africatown Overlay must prohibit new, non-replacement Above Ground Oil and Hazardous Substance Storage Tank creation in Africatown. If we all agree that we should be past the petrochemical tank farm expansion episode, then, please, let’s be completely past it.

And finally 3) In 2017, in its current Assessment of Fair Housing report to HUD, the City declared its intent to “accommodate and encourage access to innovative affordable housing” via then-anticipated zoning code revisions, but today’s proposed UDC standards are very often divergent from too many of the AFH report’s Metrics. Assertions to HUD about federal dollars designated for affordable housing efforts in such reports are generally considered binding, and transparency around the lack of alignment between the UDC and AFH is warranted.

In conclusion, the pandemic may have complicated every aspect of life, but the urgency of Environmental Justice in Mobile has not diminished. Thank you for your time and careful consideration of our agencies’ concerns.