From Vacant Industrial Land to Puppy Palace? Residents Debate Use of Old Trinity Steel Land in Titusville

Greater Birmingham Human Society development plan, by Birchfield Penuel & Associates, architects.

Sixty Titusville residents sat in the sweltering gymnasium of Memorial Park Recreation Center to consider giving their support for the old Trinity Steel property going to the Greater Birmingham Humane Society.

“It is so hot in here,” said Greater Birmingham Humane Society President and CEO Allison Black Cornelius, “but they stayed.”

When each side had made its case, 52 residents voted for the Humane Society to move to the long idle property from its Snow Drive location in Homewood. Eight voted no.

That relocation plan calls for creating a dog park and moving the K9 division of the Birmingham Police Department. Also, there will be facilities for veterinary students from Auburn and Tuskegee universities to be able to perform surgeries needed to complete their training.

Birmingham City Councilwoman Sheila Tyson, whose council district includes Titusville, was present for the discussion and counted the raised hands of residents.

“I don’t want nobody saying I tried to talk them into something,” she said. “I have been neutral through this thing. The neighborhood wanted to meet with them to see so they’ve got the plan. I just did what they asked me to do.

Birmingham City Councilwoman Sheila Tyson speaks to Titusville residents during a meeting at Memorial Park Recreation Center on Friday, April 20, 2017.

“The community said they were for it,” Tyson said.

The 27-acre property has been unused for more than a decade. It was sold to the Jefferson County Economic and Industrial Development Authority on behalf of Jefferson County and the City of Birmingham in 2005. Two vacant office buildings on the site were damaged by an intentionally set fire in 2007.

The Development Authority cleared the rubble and performed a general clean-up across the site, but it was unable to attract a developer.

Restrictions are in place that limit how the property can be used. It is a Brownfields property because of environmental contamination when it was used for a steel plant.

Donna DeLoach, office manager of the Development Authority, said in an interview that Trinity Steel has “cradle to grave covenants” on the property to protect the company in case anything comes up in the future.

“We have cleaned it up,” DeLoach said. “But Trinity still has the covenants on it even though they are no longer the owner.”

Cornelius said she met with the head of Trinity Steel and was able to get covenants and restrictions lifted as long as the site is developed as spelled out in the Humane Society plan.

Allison Black Cornelius speaks with a Titusville Community resident following a meeting at Memorial Park Recreation Center. She is the president and CEO of the Greater Birmingham Humane Society.

That plan includes a dormitory, even though the covenant forbids that. Cornelius said Trinity relaxed a restriction that would have barred the land from being used for residences because the students wouldn’t live there permanently.

“They only stay 11 days each rotation,” Cornelius said. “They do not stay/live long enough in the building to have any meaningful exposure compared to months and months or years.”

North Titusville Neighborhood John C. Harris remains the most vocal opponent to the Humane Society plan. During the recent meeting, he repeated that he has a petition with more than 300 signatures of residents against the move.

North Titusville Neighborhood President John C. Harris makes his case following a meeting of Titusville Community residents at Memorial Park Recreation Center.

Harris cited renderings that were done for a plan that would revolve around building a new Birmingham City Jail.

“At some point, the city’s got to build a new jail,” he said. “Our plan talks about multiple businesses. Just like Southside, you’ll have sidewalks, you’ve got businesses on the street (and) you’ve got townhomes on top.”

Cornelius said the plan Harris presented is not viable.

“The covenants and restrictions on the property severely limit, severely limit the quality of any project that could go on it,” she said. “We’re very fortunate that (Trinity Steel) agreed to us. They made it clear that they would only agree to us.”

The Trinity Steel property is owned jointly by Jefferson County and the City of Birmingham. Jefferson County commissioners voted April 6 to turn their share of the property over to Birmingham to make way for the Humane Society move.

Tyson said the matter should go onto the Birmingham City Council agenda on May 2.

Harris said the vote of neighbors was not binding.

“It’s (up to) the mayor and council,” he said.