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March 4, 1997


Although this buffer area between the baseball field and Spring Hill Estates is supposed to be reforested, it remains, since 1991, void of trees.

City codes require parking facilities be paved and one tree planted per 20 parking spaces, but this treeless, red-dirt area has been serving as the parking facility for Municipal Park Baseball Association.

HOW GOOD IS A RULE ON THE BOOK?

by Edmund Tsang

In a letter written to the Mobile daily last month concerning the Mobile City Council's decision to grant permission to Saad Development to build a steakhouse in the former Jewish Community Center in west Mobile over the objection of the neighboring residents, councilwoman Bess Rich said the developers got what they want even though the rules on the book governing development say otherwise.

Previously, Saad Development said it planned to build only retail shops in that location. As a result of this controversy, a developer now has to spell out specifically the types of development in question in a brand-new form created by the city's planning department.

Can a new form prevent similar incidents from occuring in the Azalea City in the future? The example of developing athletic facilities in Municipal Park (Langan Park) in the early 1990's shows that a written document provides no guarantee that city codes regarding planning and land use will be followed.

In this 1991 case, an official report spelled out how the expansion of athletic fields was to proceed. But because it has no enforcement power, the actual development did not follow all the recommendations outlined in the report and did little to remedy the environmental destruction in the naturally wooded area of Municipal Park. Now six years later, the land still bears the scars of that assault.

The Official & Unofficial Reports

The official report was released on February 19, 1991 by then City Council member John Peavy, who chaired the Langan Park Committee charged by the City Council to make recommendations regarding expansion of athletic facilities as well as future plans for park development. The committee was formed when residents of Spring Hill Estates, which lies adjacent to the area, complained they were not notified of the playing-field expansion until bulldozing had already begun in the park by a private group.

According to the official final report, "the cleared area between the fields and the neighborhood [will] be reforested under the direction of the City's urban forester." Today, this area remains denuded of trees -- see attached photograph.

Regarding parking, the official report stated that "the use of the Water Board property for additional parking...will meet the needs of the expansion and addresses Mr. McSwain's concerns." Victor McSwain, the City of Mobile's Traffic Engineer, was cited by the report earlier as arguing that expansion of the playing facilities without adding additional parking spaces would add to existing traffic problem.

The official report also stated that the removal of trees would not create any adverse runoff problem for Three Mile Creek. "According to Mr. Hudson McDonald of the City Engineering Department, the clearing of this property in no way increases the water runoff to Three Mile Creek. If paved parking is added to the facility, steps to provide retention will have to be taken. Because the area will be grassed, runoff will be equal to previous conditions, if not decreased," the report said.

[In Spring and Summer 1991, heavy rainfall led to several mud slides caused by the clearing, and police had to close Museum Drive on several occasions for safety reason. The mud slide in May, 1991 carved a steep slope on the side of Municipal Park near Ziegler Blvd., providing a short-cut linking Museum Drive to the new ball fields. Today, the slope is paved.]

Residents of Spring Hill Estates who served on the committee chaired by Peavy released their final report on March 17, 1991, which disagreed substantially from that released by Peavy on a number of issues. Concerning stormwater runoff, the neighborhood group contacted Dr. James Langdon, an University of South Alabama ecologist, who determined that, using U.S. Soil Conservation Services procedures and formulae, "a conservative estimate of increased run-off (for a 5- year flood) would increase by 750,000 gallons and that erosion would increase 10,000 times for a loss of over 1,000,000 pounds of soil." The neighborhood also recommended the creation of "a minimum of 546 parking spaces," with the spaces following City codes.

City codes require parking facilities be paved with either asphalt or cement and one tree be planted for every 20 parking spaces. Today, the area designated for parking remains unpaved -- a red-dirt area without a single tree -- see attached photograph.


The Harbinger, Mobile, AL