Leinkauf supports DeTonti at Board of Adjustment - Board rules in favor of DeTonti
A number of Leinkauf and Church Street East Board members and residents attended the August 6 Board of Adjustment meeting and one resident spoke to support DeTonti's appeal of city approvals to allow a full city block of paved surface parking lots on St. Joseph Street adjoining DeTonti's east boundary line.
The Downtown Development District zoning code disallows new surface parking lots. Further, the lots are in DDD zoning areas, T5.1, which also disallows surface parking lots. However, the developer received an exception by administrative approval and DeTonti district appealed.
The Map for Mobile, the DDD, and DeTonti all agree that great neighborhoods and a progressive downtown core require walkable streets, activity that energizes an area, green spaces and attractive streetscapes - and surface parking lots are contrary to those goals. A full city block of asphalt parking lots creates an auto desert blocking more compatible developments. After a 40 hour work week, downtown parking lots are vacant seas of asphalt for 128 hours of every 168 hour week, empty and creepy after dark, contributing nothing to a neighborhood.
Neighbors argued that the existing parking lots in their area are typically 50% vacant, disproving the myth that downtown lacks parking. The fact is that visitors to downtown can find parking, but they prefer free parking, which is less available. Parking lots do not solve that problem.
The legal argument in this case had nothing to do with improving the neighborhood for neighbors, but hinged entirely on the question of what is an allowable, legal nonconforming use. Defendents argued they had the right for the parking lots because "at various times" the vacant parcels had allowed cars to park on them. However, there is no documentation of business licensing or tax records to document that, and the only documentation they could offer were some aerial photos that showed a few cars on the vacant lots. The attorney for DeTonti successfully argued this was not sufficient evidence to demonstrate a legal prior use as a parking lot, and the Board members agreed.
The lead DeTonti resident, Kelly Baker, has invested her own money to the tune of over four thousand dollars for city appeal fees and an attorney, to preserve the correct use of the land by the DDD code. Anyone who shares her interest in supporting the DDD code who wants to help defray her legal costs can visit her Go Fund Me page to contribute any amount however small. Find Kelly Baker on Facebook, where she has posted her Go Fund Me link.