As More Dilapidated Structures Are Demolished, Jefferson Commissioners Discuss Ways to Redevelop the Properties

Mike Thomas, building inspection services manager with Jefferson County’s Department of Developmental Services. (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

During its committee meeting Tuesday, the Jefferson County Commission applauded the demolition of public nuisance properties but expressed concern for blight that could follow.

Mike Thomas, building inspection services manager with the county’s Department of Developmental Services, presented a resolution for about 30 nuisance properties to be torn down. County Manager Cal Markert commended Thomas, who has 17 demolitions under bid already and another 30 in line.

“That’ll be 77 within 24 months,” Markert said, “so I’m superexcited.”

Said Thomas: “We’ve always been reactive, looking at when we have complaints. Now we’ve had the opportunity to go proactive and try to clean up some communities and make things better for the people who live there.

“What we want to do is make an impact. We don’t want to do one house here and one house there.”

Commission President Jimmie Stephens called the increased demolitions “a good first step.”

“We need to go a step further and rehab these neighborhoods,” he said. “We have investors that without any cost to the county will come in and build up. But they’re going to need property.

“I’ve had two different investors come by and say, ‘We’re looking for areas to rehab,’” the commission president said. “Not government housing (but places) where people can have a beginning, affordable home and move forward.”

Stephens challenged the county’s Legal Department to create an environment in which cleared property can be acquired by investors.

“Once we’ve cleaned it up, that’s great,” he said. “But we want that neighborhood, wherever it is in Jefferson County, we want it to be better.”

County Attorney Theo Lawson said Jefferson County has not historically considered a Land Bank, as Stephens and other commissioners suggested.

“We didn’t have a significant amount of vacant houses,” he said. “I think maybe during the course of tornadoes and that kind of thing, it may be worth us revisiting, establishing a land bank. It may be time to revisit that.”

The commission heard a presentation from Southern Research CEO Josh Carpenter about the work that’s going on at the company on Birmingham’s Southside. Southern Research is seeking $7.5 million over three years from Jefferson County as it looks to construct a building that would bring 150 jobs to the area.

Also, Commissioner Joe Knight, chair of the commission’s finance and budget committees, expressed concern about recently rising travel expenses.

“I don’t want to call anybody out,” he said. “It was just kind of a general statement. Some departments have higher bills than others. I’m just making an observation. I don’t want it to trend to where we make sure it’s a working meeting.

“I’m just trying to be fiscally conservative,” Knight continued. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves because we don’t know what’s coming down the road with the economy. We see what’s happening with inflation. We keep hearing the R word, recession. Let’s just be mindful of our expenditures, that’s all I’m saying.”