"Midtown group advocating for quality of life improvements"

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By Dale Liesch: A new grassroots organization is putting together a comprehensive plan for Midtown and encouraging residents’ input. Ashley Dukes, a co-founder of the Midtown Mobile Movement, said the group wants to improve walkability and quality of life in the neighborhoods between Broad Street and Interstate 65 by adding sidewalks, lighting, shops and other amenities defined in a developing long-range plan.

The goal, she said, would be similar to what was achieved farther west on Old Shell Road by another resident advocacy group known as The Village of Spring Hill.

“Our goal is to make Midtown more walkable,” Dukes said, suggesting additional sidewalks, lighting and commercial space, while also revisiting zoning ordinances on proposed development. As an example, she said, a 40,000-square-foot building with a parking lot may not conform with neighborhood ambitions.

The group intends to develop a comprehensive plan for Midtown, similar to the recently approved Map for Mobile, only more detailed. The plan would include ordinances for historic districts that would tell developers what Midtown residents wanted in their backyards.

Generally, the group aims to “support systems neighborhoods can run through,” Dukes said, adding they have also begun the process to register as a nonprofit.

Dukes, who lives near Murphy High School, said while she and a few neighbors began talking about starting the organization about a year ago, they really “got serious” over the summer. The group plans to initially focus on a swath of Old Shell Road from Broad Street to I-65 in order to connect to existing sidewalks in the Spring Hill area.

“We’re starting on Old Shell because of Spring Hill,” she explained, where “you have green and sidewalks and go under the Interstate and it’s like, ‘where am I now?’ We want to make it look like a place people care about, because it is.”

For guidance, the group has enlisted Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood, the same engineering firm the city contracted with for the Map for Mobile. Additionally, Dukes said Midtown Mobile Movement received about $65,000 in combined discretionary funds from City Councilmen Levon Manzie and Fred Richardson, as well as County Commissioners Merceria Ludgood and Jerry Carl.

Manzie, who represents a large portion of Midtown, said he gave $12,500 in District 2 discretionary funds for the project in order to “help get the plans off the ground.”

“It is a great group of interested citizens, who’ve seen the success in Spring Hill and realize the success could be copied,” he said. “I gave them capital improvement funds … to hire a planner.”

Carl, who also contributed $12,500 toward four to five blocks of the targeted area he represents on Old Shell Road, explained, “It would be cleaning Old Shell up so it’s more people friendly. It would add lights and sidewalks. They’ve put a good plan put together.”

Midtown Mobile Movement is asking for as much community participation as possible to develop the plan. Dukes encourages interested parties to attend a planning meeting kickoff scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 18, from 8 to 10 a.m. at the Junior League of Mobile building at 57 N. Sage Ave.

There will also be an opportunity to “drop in” for various one-on-one sessions with planners the same day, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and again from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. The group will plan another drop-in studio day with planners on Thursday, Nov. 19, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The individual sessions Nov. 19 will be followed by a presentation from the planners from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

“It can’t just be what I want, or what my neighbors want,” Dukes said. “It has to be what the community wants.”

Following improvements to Old Shell Road, the group will turn its focus to areas of Airport Boulevard and Dauphin Street.

Much as the Spring Hill group did to earn matching funds for additional sidewalks, Dukes said Midtown Mobile Movement intends to hold fundraisers and apply for grants.

In a separate mission, the Movement has already made efforts to support and oppose various developments in the Midtown area.

“Of course people are concerned,” Dukes said. “They don’t want it to be a drawback. Whatever we do will make neighborhoods more attractive.”

One proposal receiving the group’s endorsement is the possible development of a grocery store at the site of the old Augusta Evans School, just north of the intersection of Old Shell Road and Florida Street. In a survey, Dukes said, nearly 89 percent of Midtown residents were in favor of the development. She said the developer would know by the end of the month if a company considering the location chooses it.

More recently, Midtown Mobile Movement joined with residents in the Loop area to oppose the development of a gas station and 24-hour convenience store on Airport Boulevard, on property most recently home to Benjamin’s and Antiques at the Loop.

“I learned about it through neighbors on nextdoor.com,” Dukes said. “As far as opposition, [we] opposed it because it’s development that doesn’t support walkability.”

Dukes said she attended a meeting with the developer at Little Flower Catholic Church last week before the plan was scheduled for consideration by the Planning Commission. She said almost 95 percent of the residents at the meeting were opposed to it. Apparently the developer subsequently withdrew the application.

“That’s going to be the key with moving forward,” Dukes said. “If we could have meetings with developers before it gets to the Planning Commission stage, it would be beneficial for everyone.”

Full original story published here.