Africatown Residents Oppose Industrial Rezoning for Steel Warehouse

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Planning Commission Denies Rezoning

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An aerial view of Africatown and the site of the proposed tar sands crude oil tank farm

By Glynn Wilson –

MOBILE, Ala. — More than 140 residents of Africatown turned out at a town hall public meeting Tuesday night to oppose an industrial rezoning that would open the way for a steel storage warehouse right across the street from a proposed tar sands crude oil tank city that is so controversial it is on hold in a moratorium imposed by the Mobile City Council.

Bob Collins, owner of Bay Steel and a friend of Alabama State Port Authority director James K. “Jimmy” Lyons, told the residents in attendance that his business would cause no pollution or harm the health of people in the community.

But for two hours, resident after resident stood up to oppose it anyway, making it clear that the struggling historic neighborhood does not want any more heavy industry in the area where the last African slave ship came to America to sell human beings as property.

International Paper had a plant in the neighborhood for many years, until the company pulled and out and moved to Russia when the Soviet Union collapsed and opened the Siberian forests up for cutting.

District 2 City Council Representative Levon Manzie moderated the meeting and introduced Collins to the crowd, vowing that he would be on the peoples’ side no matter what.

The Mobile Planning Commission is set to vote on the rezoning on Thursday in a meeting that starts at 2 p.m. Many residents urged Mr. Collins to voluntarily delay the vote to give residents time to study the proposal and come up with an alternative.

Planning Commission Refuses to Rezone

Confronted by one businessman seeking a zoning change and a resistant community, the Mobile planning commission denied the request on a 9-1 vote Thursday, December 18.

After the owner of the contested acreage, Bob Collins, made his pitch to the commission four opponents, backed by dozens of attending supporters, asserted that changing the zoning from residential to industrial would continue a chopping and squeezing process that has shrunk the size and vitality of the neighborhood. Eventually this industrialization would defeat any hopes of developing Africatown into a tribute to its unique history.

To advance that vision they again offered to enter into negotiations with Collins for purchase of the land, as they had done at the community meeting two days before. And he declined again, preferring an immediate vote by the commission rather than a delay for any such negotiations.

They voted decisively against him. Most offered no explanation of their reasons, but among those who did the historical status of the area seemed to weigh heavily. Although the tract in question lies just outside the boundary of the locally and nationally recognized Africatown historic district, the commissioners acknowledged that industry crowding against it would diminish its quality. And they acknowledged the efforts to expand the district’s formal boundaries, which would then include this tract.

The vote is final unless the owner exercises his right of appeal to the city council. Or he might try to sell the parcel back to the party he bought it from, the port authority. Then he might lease it from them and continue with his same project. Or any other heavy industry might arrive under similar arrangements because the port authority, as a state agency, is exempt from local zoning regulations.

But meanwhile the community, after months of planning and mobilizing, has won a major battle, if not yet complete victory.

To see our previous coverage of related stories, this is a good place to start.

Mobile Alabama’s Historic Africatown At Risk From Tar Sands Oil Storage Tanks, Pipelines

© 2014 – 2015, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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