Commissioner Questions Spending for Hospital Move if Land Is to Be Annexed

Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens. (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Jimmie Stephens said “it wouldn’t be right” for Jefferson County to spend money preparing for the move of UAB West Hospital to McCalla only to have the hospital annexed by neighboring Bessemer.

“It wouldn’t be right for the county to expend all those dollars on infrastructure in unincorporated Jefferson County for them to reap those benefits and then go away,” Stephens said following Thursday’s Jefferson County Commission meeting.

“We want to work with our municipalities,” the commission president said. “If the CEO of UAB West wants to go into Bessemer, that’s fine. But they should do the infrastructure. If you do the infrastructure with the county, it should be in the (unincorporated part of the) county.”

Stephens noted that Hoover sought incentives from Jefferson County as it tried to lure UAB West from Bessemer.

“We declined to give them any economic incentives … because it was located within a municipality,” he said. “It wouldn’t be right to deny Hoover and to grant Bessemer’s request. We have to be consistent.”

The subject arose after commissioners approved rezoning property owned by Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church in McCalla. The property lies between the church campus and the proposed site of the new UAB West Hospital.

The change from institutional to commercial permits the building of a hotel and commercial outparcels in that space. Stephens said there’s no news concerning the new hospital.

“It’s still planning to be moved,” the commission president said. “We haven’t gotten any drawings. We haven’t gotten any of the infrastructure work that will be done.”

Stephens said the coming hospital ushers a change of that McCalla area from heavy residential to commercial. Infrastructure will have to change to accommodate that, he said.

“The pathway of the road, the infrastructure surrounding it … we’ve required sidewalks to be placed there. It’s going to have to be walkable. What we want to do is improve the quality of life in the area and not detract from it.”

Sewer capacity is another factor that must be considered, Stephens said.

“It’s up to the county to make sure that infrastructure is in place and will handle it properly. We want to make sure that’s done before any building takes place.”

Stephens said he’s heard in meetings of UAB’s intent to move beds from its psychiatric facility in Birmingham to the current UAB West Hospital location on Bessemer Superhighway. He said there’s a huge need for that, which would free more space on the main UAB campus in its critical care infrastructure.

“They’ve got a pretty good plan,” he said. “Whether any of that comes to fruition, we’ll have to wait and see. This would actually grow jobs in the area.”

Zoning for Dollar General Rejected

Commissioners heard two other requests for rezoning, including efforts to zone property at 7710 Bagley Road in Dora to C-1 commercial to make way for a Dollar General.

As commissioners Lashunda Scales and Sheila Tyson were absent, the no vote of commissioner Joe Knight meant the motion failed. Three commissioners must vote in favor for a motion to rezone a property to pass.

Knight said he was moved by the appeal of residents who neighbor the property, who again attended the commission meeting to object.

“I sided with the guy who was going to be directly affected by Dollar General,” the commissioner said. “He was here before and he made a passionate plea about what this does to the immediate area. I’m not adverse to having a Dollar General out there. There’s an alternative right down the street that they have looked at.”

 Non-Stop Flights Expanded

Commissioner Steve Ammons acknowledged the Wednesday announcement that Via Airlines will begin non-stop flights to four cities from Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. Flights to Austin, Texas, Mobile, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Raleigh, North Carolina, will begin in April.

That, Ammons said, aids in corporate development.

“Direct flights give CEOs better opportunities to make one trip – and a direct trip – instead of having to go to many different terminals and wasting parts of their day,” the commissioner said. “It enables folks to come in on a single flight and go back the same day if they want. We always say that time is money and to them it’s especially important.

“If we get them here, we can show them what a beautiful city it is,” Ammons continued. “Direct flights mean more commerce. It’s super important.”