Despite misgivings from neighborhood residents and the councilor for the district, the Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to vacate 56,672 square feet of a road atop Red Mountain on behalf of a private developer.
The stretch of road is on Henrietta Road between 22nd Street South and the Red Mountain Expressway. The resolution also includes a 15-foot-wide alley off 22nd Street South. As a result of the resolution, both areas will no longer be designated for public use. George W. Barber Jr. — who owns Barber Companies, a commercial real estate company, as well as the property surrounding the road and alley in question — will pay the city $146,717.25 in vacation fees.
Don Erwin, the vice president of corporate development at Barber Companies, did not share what future plans Barber has for the property. But he did point out to councilors that, in addition to the initial vacation fee, the city would be able to collect thousands of dollars in yearly property tax.
Ervin also said the city would no longer be obligated to maintain that road, which he argued “essentially serves no public purpose anymore” after being cut off by the construction of the Elton B. Stephens Expressway.
Citizens of the surrounding neighborhood appeared at the meeting to voice concerns about potential effects construction could have on the property.
Cathy Adams, president of the Redmont Park neighborhood association, told councilors that residents had voted 43-0 to oppose the measure.
“It is our understanding that the next step when this is vacated is to put up a gate,” she said. “We think of ourselves as an inclusive neighborhood.”
Erwin responded that Barber “may or may not put a gate up there,” and stressed that the resolution before the council did not concern potential construction projects.
Adams urged the council to postpone the item until after the Birmingham framework plan, which allows residents to have input on land use, developments and zoning, is implemented in District 3 next year.
Council President Valerie Abbott, who represents the district, also voiced her opposition to the project.
“It’s interesting to me that we are suddenly asking for the vacation of these city streets,” she said. “It just seems like it’s due to the fact that the framework plan is coming up (and) residents will have a say … This seems premature to me.”
Abbott found an unlikely ally in District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt, who has been one of her most vocal critics on the council. Hoyt disliked the idea of a fence.
“I’m not in favor of folks getting their own island in a city where we really need to be working together,” he said. He also said he was “leery” of voting yes without knowing Barber’s development plans.
But other councilors seemed unmoved by the neighborhood association’s arguments. District 9 Councilor John Hilliard said that while he is “normally inclined to listen to the neighborhood,” he did not understand their arguments.
“Somebody explain to me, what is the problem about someone trying to do something on their property?” he asked. “It sounds like property values are about to go up … It sounds like something good is going to happen up there.”
Eventually, Mayor Randall Woodfin said that the city’s law department had additional information about the proposal that could only be discussed in a private, executive session. Melissa Smiley, a member of the law department, concurred that the discussion “could reasonably lead to litigation.”
When the council returned from the executive session, it voted down a motion to postpone the item indefinitely, instead voting to approve it immediately. Hoyt and Abbott were the only dissenting votes, while Hilliard, Darrell O’Quinn, Hunter Williams and Wardine Alexander all voted yes.
But the strangeness of Abbott and Hoyt — who are often diametrically opposed — voting together against the rest of the council, did not go unnoticed.
“I’m with you when you’re right,” Hoyt said, laughing.
Human Rights Commission
The council also voted to restructure the Human Rights Commission, which was established last September by a pair of nondiscrimination ordinances. The commission’s stated purpose would be to investigate and arbitrate complaints of discriminatory practices.
No one has been appointed to the commission yet, but councilors said they plan to begin the appointment process within the next few weeks.
Before that, though, the council increased the number of seats on the commission from 11 to 15 — one from each of the city’s nine districts, appointed by the council; three representatives of human rights-focused nonprofits, appointed by the mayor; and three representatives of local businesses, also appointed by the mayor.
Before the changes, the commission would have included one nonprofit representative and one business representative.
The amendment also staggered terms for appointees to the commission. District 1, 2, and 3’s representatives will serve an initial one year term; District 4, 5, and 6’s representatives will serve an initial two-year term, and District 7, 8, and 9’s representatives will serve an initial three-year term. The nonprofit and business representatives “shall be distributed evenly across the staggered terms.” After these initial terms, commissioners’ terms will last three years.