A seemingly innocuous rezoning application near a heavily industrialized area has, in the past, received approval with little public concern.
But 1490 Telegraph Road is close to the heart of the community of Africatown, an area state and local authorities covet for international tourism following the discovery in 2019 of a piece of the slave ship Clotilda. A museum is under construction and is slated to open next spring and, as of last week, $ 150,000 of county money is now being spent on the design of an interpretive center inside the second building in the city. ‘Africatown: a future reception center of 3.95 million dollars near the cemetery of the Old Plateau.
Environmental justice watchdogs and residents of the small community north of downtown Mobile say the scrutiny of the rezoning request will serve as a sort of model for the future of Africatown, which adjoins heavy industry for generations along the Mobile River.
Watchdogs and some affected residents joined on Tuesday with City Councilor William Carroll and Property Officer Marty Norden to discuss a rezoning request to reclassify the property from residential to “I-2,” which allows heavy industrial activity.
The meeting, held at Government Plaza, resulted in an agreement that would ban more than 90 industrialized uses of the property. The prohibitions, as proposed, would be written into the deed of ownership. Most of these prohibited uses include heavy industrial uses such as chemical plants, landfills, refineries, elevators, etc.
Norton verbally agreed to the demands at Tuesday’s meeting, but it is not expected to be voted on by Mobile City Council until January. The property’s past use, according to Norton, was for making and storing flowerpots, but it’s unclear what its future use might be. Norden did not respond to calls for comment.
âFor this particular site, we found a consensus,â said Ramsey Sprague, president of the Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition (MEJAC). âIt gives us a good model. “
Careful consideration of the Telegraph Road application precedes a proposed industrial rezoning of 1250 Woodland Avenue. Both rezoning proposals have been approved by the city’s planning commission, but still need to get city council approval before they can be approved.
The Woodland Avenue property is owned by Chippewa Lakes LLC, an entity owned by the Meaher family, descendants of the wealthy Irish slave trader who owned the Clotilda and who orchestrated Clotilda’s illegal journey from Africa to the United States in 1860 .
Sprague said representatives of the Woodland Avenue rezoning request were not pushing it any further until his organizations and others within Africatown “felt comfortable” about it. He has classified this rezoning issue as âpendingâ at this time.
âThey made it clear to us that they did not want to go into an adversarial hearing process,â Sprague said.
The timing of zoning change requests is unique to MEJAC and others advocating for the revitalization of Africatown into a cultural heritage tourist site that could rival some of Alabama’s most popular attractions. The Africatown Heritage House, the first museum dedicated to the Clotilda and the survivors who settled north of Mobile, is slated to open in May 2022. Aquatic and land tours are expected to follow, and a host of other activities may soon follow. follow, including plays. , festivals, among others.
It should also be noted that the Visitor Center is expected to be under construction by the end of 2022. The facility is funded by the money RESTORE Act which is available for the Alabama coast from legal regulations related to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010.
The facility could be open by spring 2023 and would be located across from the Vieux Plateau cemetery which serves as a historic cemetery for those aboard the Clotilda.
Jennifer Greene, director of programs and project management for the city of Mobile, said the visitor center will be different from the heritage house in that it will not serve as a museum. It aims to be a tourist resort and âlanding pointâ for visitors to Africatown, in order to understand the type of attractions they might see within the community.
âIf you come to Africatown and want to find out what there is to do and see there including something like Heritage House, this would be the jumping off point for people,â Greene said. .
The $ 150,000 in county money, appropriated by Commissioner Merceria Ludgood, will go towards a design project for the interior of the visitor center. The city, owner of the land where the reception center will be built, is overseeing the project.
âI think it will be an integral part of the community once we build it,â said Greene. âIt will be a place for local, national and international visitors who wish to live an experience in Africatown to be able to establish their course there. It is in front of the cemetery. It is a good place.
Greene said a request for qualifications will be launched in the coming weeks for the design work. She said it will take a six to eight week process before a designer is selected.
She said that a ‘community engagement’ process will then take place that will help generate ideas about what the building will look like and what will be included inside. She also said the design process will help determine the building’s square footage and determine parking needs.
There is also no estimated timeline for the inauguration. But she said that around the same time next year, details on the visitor center will be “100% sewn”.