Frustrations mount at new industrial land in Africatown where slave tourism is underway

The Africatown “Heritage House” was delivered last week and is under construction next to the Robert L. Hope Community Center.

Auditions took place on Saturday for a staging of the last voyage of the Clotilda. On Monday, a media event is scheduled at Yorktown Baptist Church to announce that 40 Africatown families will receive $ 250 gift cards to support their Thanksgiving meals.

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It has been an eventful week for the community of Africatown north of Mobile, where officials covet future tourist and residential redevelopment after the 2019 discovery of the slave ship Clotilda.

But frustrations persist with recent rezoning requests which lack a few details but require more industrial properties. Environmental justice watchdogs are calling for greater public participation and while calling for a halt to rezoning requests for more industrial zoned properties.

“I think anytime anything wants to do something that has major industrial impacts on this community and this region, they should have the approval of the people there,” said Councilor William Carroll, newly elected for. serve the municipal district which represents the community of Africatown. .

One of the properties appeared on the Mobile City Council’s agenda for approval about three months after the city’s planning commission recommended it be OK. This property, 1490 Telegraph Road, is zoned residential but surrounded by industrial properties.

Property agent Marty Norden did not respond to a call for comment.

Under the proposal, the property would be rezoned to “I-2”, which is the city’s heaviest industrial classification in its zoning code.

Carroll said Norden is willing to add restrictions to the act that would ban polluting industries or chemical plants that would otherwise be allowed in an I-2 zoning.

“What is happening is that it allows the community to move beyond the vision of a chemical plant or a chimney industry that is beyond a warehouse or the occasional storage bin that is (licensed) in an I-2 zoning, ”Carroll said.

The property, located on a busy road, houses a vacant warehouse.

Carroll said, “The property behind is I-2. It should be obvious.

But it’s not so easy in Africatown, where the Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition (MEJAC) is closely monitoring activity surfacing in front of the city government and wondering why heavy zoning considerations are unfolding at a time when Africatown faces a potential renaissance. which could distance future development from its industrial past.

“It’s confusing to me that a person with legal rights to do whatever they want on the property, why would they ask for rezoning if it wasn’t to do something that is already currently allowed on the property.” said Ramsey Sprague, Chairman of MEJAC and Chairman of the Mobile NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Committee. “There are many reasons to be skeptical about rezoning and eroding residential properties for any reason. “

He added: “If the city has embarked on a 30-40-50 year future with more residential and tourism-rich Africatown, the level of industrial activity is expected to experience a period of shutdown and (who) should appear in writing as a clear direction for development in the neighborhood.

MEJAC and others are shocked by the lack of a comprehensive public hearing that would outline the rationale for zoning change requests.

The other main rezoning proposal is at 1250 Woodland Avenue – which also got approval from the Planning Commission. This zoning change raises eyebrows because its owner is Chippewa Lakes LLC, an entity owned by the Meaher family, who are descendants of the wealthy Irish slave trader who owned the Clotilda and orchestrated Clotilda’s illegal journey from Africa. in the United States in 1860.

“If the community tells everyone that the industry is a problem, then industrial trade groups have a responsibility to deal with these accusations constructively,” Sprague said. “(City leaders) need to get used to the fact that holding public community meetings is the only sensible way to start tackling the intergenerational abuse of Africatown. “

Joe Womack, an Africatown native and community activist, said he didn’t know why there was any interest in the I-2 rezoner. He also believes that the lack of feedback from the community, in the form of a public meeting between Norden and residents of the community, should have been enough for the planning commission to delay its approval at a meeting in early September. .

Carroll said the increased attention to rezoning issues is indicative of the attention the community has garnered in recent years, as the story of Clotilda’s discovery has garnered international attention.

He said the heavy industry that is near Africatown has helped boost the city’s economy over the years, but any future industrial use will require community discussion.

“They should be able to have a say in what is next to them and how it affects their quality of life,” he said.

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