Eight West Birmingham properties have been rezoned to make way for a federally funded “transformation plan” in the city’s Graymont, Smithfield and College Hills neighborhoods.
The properties rezoned by the City Council Tuesday include the Smithfield Library, the Smithfield Court Housing Community, the former Hill Elementary School and the former Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity headquarters, all of which were redesignated as either “mixed-use medium” or “multiple-dwelling districts” on Tuesday.
The rezoning is intended to support the city’s bid for a Choice Neighborhood Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The city has been announced as a finalist for the $50 million grant, which would be used to redevelop much of the area surrounding Legion Field.
The city’s plan for the grant is to construct more than 1,000 new housing units alongside new commercial and community spaces. The former JCCEO headquarters, for example, would be converted into approximately 100 senior housing units, while the former Hill Elementary School site would be redeveloped into approximately 75 multi-family residential units. The Smithfield Court Housing Community, meanwhile, would be redeveloped into 400 multi-family residential units, with ground-floor commercial spaces as well as open areas and recreational amenities.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, several residents spoke in opposition to one aspect of the redevelopment plan, in which the Smithfield Library would move across the street, with its current site being redeveloped into approximately 50 multi-family residential units.
“History shows that the Smithfield Library is the first African American library (in the city),” said Willine Body, president of the Graymont Neighborhood Association. “The Smithfield Library is located in a predominantly Black neighborhood. To move it from where it is to where you want to take it, (will take away) that identity.”
Betty Miles, former secretary for the Graymont Neighborhood Association, added that the library is “the only thing we have in this area. We don’t have places for young people to go as it is, and I think it would be a grave injustice to move that library.”
Cory Stallworth, the senior deputy director for the city’s department of community development, said that the relocated library would be the “crown jewel of the transformation plan” and that the planned redevelopment would double the library’s square footage. The library would be placed next to a “social innovation center” and a “workforce development center” and would include “space for them to have exhibits of a lot of the historical artifacts and oral history of Smithfield.”
Stallworth also assured residents that the library’s old location would not close until its new location was ready.
If HUD awards the choice housing grant to the city — an announcement that’s expected later this summer — then all of the developments would have to be completed within eight years. The city has committed up to $35 million in matching funds for the project.