By Shayla Beaco, Senior Director of City Planning Contributors: City Planning Staff
Everywhere you turn, Mobile is showing positive signs of growth in each corner of our city. A new Publix grocery store in Midtown, an improved Bel Air Mall, a hotel at McGowin Park, and the Federal Courthouse construction on St. Joseph Street in our downtown are just a few examples of the many projects that adorn our great city. These new developments represent confidence in our local economy, expanding business opportunities, and underscore flourishing local market conditions. While Mobile has greatly benefitted from a number of key community and economic development wins in recent years, what we’ve lacked during the last several decades is a long-range growth plan that provides a clear course for development and reinvestment.
Beginning in March of 2015, the City initiated efforts to formulate the Map for Mobile: Framework for Growth. During this process, we received input from almost every area of Mobile, ranging from very organized neighborhood groups to active involvement from our development community. The Map for Mobile is the first all-inclusive plan initiated in over 20 years. It identifies core critical needs for Mobile, shaping a long-term vision of the community, while offering practical growth solutions that align with our core development principles.
Designed to function as a living document, Map for Mobile outlines a multi-year action plan. The associated action plan outlines four planning horizons: ongoing, near-term, mid-term and long-term horizons which help us to ensure progress as well as to stay in concert with the City’s capital improvement plans and other focused planning studies and district plans. Many of these studies and special plans are currently underway – providing specific strategies to achieve Mobile’s vision for growth. This plan is updated on an annual basis to review strategies and actions for implementation and is then presented to the Mobile Planning Commission for approval.
Led by the City’s long-range planning team, our many department heads along with key staff meet on a regular basis to review the progress of implementation. This cross functional team tracks over 71 initiatives identified in the plan to ensure measurable results and outcomes. One of the very first steps in implementing the vision and principles set forth in the plan now focuses on the reform of City codes and ordinances, particularly land use, zoning and subdivision regulations – most of which date back to the 1950’s and 60’s. In June of this year, the City engaged White & Smith, LLC, a nationally recognized planning firm to conduct a complete overhaul of our development regulations. Organized as a law firm, White & Smith has completed over 150 planning and code projects in 36 states across the country. Understanding our changing market conditions, particularly as we benefit from new growth opportunities in this post-recession era, it is evident that our primary objective should now focus on creating realistic planning Map for Mobile – Focus on the Future Workshop: March 30, 2015 outcomes that will support our local market. Ultimately, we look to create a simplified user experience that is easily navigable, offering predictability in the overall regulatory review process.
As an “early win” for this 24-month process, the City is in the process of reevaluating our current landscaping requirements. Known as a “Tree City” we are certainly proud of the heritage oaks that line our historic corridors. However, they create very costly challenges in our efforts to maintain our already crumbling infrastructure. In short, our sidewalks, storm water systems, and in some instances road conditions, are compromised by the root systems of aging trees. To ensure that we are now making the right long-term decisions regarding tree selection and placement, the Right-Tree Right-Place Taskforce was established by Mayor Stimpson to inform decisions regarding enhancements to our current landscaping ordinances. When completed, this newly revised code will precede the adoption of the zoning overhaul to address current landscaping issues, but will also illustrate the City’s efforts to ensure an all-inclusive and practical decision-making process.
We are also committed to continuing our efforts to ensure ongoing citizen and stakeholder engagement as this expectation has been set by the many Mobilians that have participated in the Map for Mobile process thus far. As a 300-year- old city, quality urban design is a very important component of our plan. Citizens throughout Mobile have stressed the importance of preserving our unique character and neighborhood identity; therefore, our final product will reflect this community priority. Stay tuned for neighborhood workshops to be held in November. Visit www.mapformobile.org for forth coming meeting details and announcements
We consider this overall effort to be a once-in- a-lifetime opportunity for our community in that we are currently living with the decisions of our planning leadership made over 50 years ago. With community input and buy in, our planning team has now been given the responsibility of creating policies and regulations that will impact our community for years to come. We do not take this task lightly and look forward to the opportunity to bridge our efforts to grow and build a better Mobile!