The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to rezone the current location of Sherman Industries, the concrete batch manufacturer that earlier this month drew controversy over its announced plans to relocate from downtown to Five Points West.
Sherman Industries’ current location already has been sold to Birmingham POD, LLC, a developer that plans to turn the property at 1100 Second Ave. S into a mixed-use development that includes restaurants, shops and a walkable pedestrian area.
But that plan would first require the council’s approval to rezone the property — and several residents called on councilors to table the measure until the future of Sherman Industries could be determined.
The concrete plant’s planned relocation to Five Points West has attracted significant controversy over potential health hazards, leading both the Birmingham City Council and Mayor Randall Woodfin to formally oppose the relocation.
Jefferson County Health Officer Mark E. Wilson has downplayed the potential dangers of the concrete plant, saying that, while he understands concerns, “the environmental impact of (Sherman’s) proposed operation is quite minor as far as air permitted operations go … . They are simply planning to transport gravel, sand and (already-produced) cement to the site where it will be stored and then conveyed into concrete mixer trucks, along with water, to make ready-mix concrete,” he wrote in an email to BirminghamWatch. “These batch facilities tend to be placed near areas where construction is anticipated, because they can only transport concrete so far before it starts setting up.”
According to an Environmental Protection Agency report, the only pollutant “of concern” emitted by concrete batch plants is particulate matter, which consists “primarily of cement dust but (includes) some aggregate and sand dust emissions.” Those emissions are largely controllable, the report adds.
A public hearing about the proposed relocation has been scheduled for June 6 at the Birmingham CrossPlex; several residents told councilors Tuesday that any decision regarding Sherman’s current location should wait until that hearing had occurred.
But councilors pushed back against this; arguing that Birmingham POD’s plans should not be held up because of controversy surrounding the previous property owner.
“From a business standpoint, I’m trying to see, how do we penalize someone who’s purchased property?” asked District 9 Councilor John Hilliard.
District 5 Councilor Darrell O’Quinn added that the rezoning of the downtown property was “really a separate issue” from Sherman Industries’ Five Points West plans. “This doesn’t really have anything to do with Sherman Concrete,” he said. “The property has been purchased; they will be moving. It’s up to them to determine where they will move.”
Ultimately, the council voted to approve the downtown property being rezoned, with Hilliard and District 6 Councilor Crystal Smitherman voting against it.
“My vote today reflects the conscience of the community,” Hilliard said via email when asked about the apparent discrepancy between his comments during the meeting and his vote. “As chair of (the) Economic Development (committee), I have a responsibility to think about the city’s tax base at all times, but as a representative of the people, and a citizen myself I seek to amplify the voice of the constituents and to make sure that my platform here as a councilor is used to their benefit.”