Birmingham City Council

Giving It Away or Only Fair? Bham Council Debates Ceding Rights-of-Way

Birmingham City Councilor Steven Hoyt (Source: Sam Prickett)

A little less of Birmingham will be accessible to the public in the wake of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, in which the council ceded two rights-of-way to private companies.

The council also voted to close portions of two downtown streets to make way for the construction of the BJCC’s new open-air stadium.

Of the two rights-of-way discussions, the first — which focused on a stretch of property on the corner of 13th Street South and First Avenue South, near Railroad Park — proved to be the more controversial. The ordinance would waive the vacation fee for the right-of-way — meaning the company in question, Corporate Realty, would not have to pay the city to make the corner private.

Rebecca Carpenter, an attorney for Corporate Realty, said the process of vacating the property was a formality since the company owned it already.

But District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt argued that the city needed the money generated by that fee — $14,741.83, according to notes from the council’s economic development committee — and that Corporate Realty could likely afford the costs.

“If we’re saying we don’t have the money to pay for a public election, how can we just give right-of-way away?” he asked, referencing concerns that voters may have to wait years to elect replacements for three outgoing councilors. “The two just don’t go together. … We need to think some of this stuff through.”

He openly speculated that the company in question had “friends” in city government, though he did not say to whom he was referring.

The council ultimately passed the measure. District 5 Councilor Darrell O’Quinn, who had expressed concern that giving the company the right-of-way would give them full control of an entire city block, joined Hoyt as the only dissenting votes.

BNSF Railway

Hoyt also expressed dismay with the next proposed vacation of a right-of-way along Fourth Street West running perpendicular to Finley Boulevard. The BNSF Railway Company has fenced off the area. Like the previous measure, the vacation of the property was largely presented as a formality. But Hoyt took issue with the proposal.

“These railway companies block our streets and impede our quality of life, and we’re going to vacate something for them?” he asked, referencing lengthy train stoppages that can obstruct traffic. “When are we going to wake up?”

As he had with the previous measure, Hoyt suggested that some officials — without naming anyone — were colluding with the company in question. “I know some folk receive campaign contributions and what have you from these folk,” he said. “But I’m not inclined to give them anything.”

After Mayor Randall Woodfin clarified that BNSF Railway would be paying the requisite fee, the motion passed, with Hoyt and District 4 Councilor William Parker voting no.

BJCC Pays for Right-of-Way

Hoyt was not opposed, however, to a proposal to vacate stretches of road surrounding the BJCC to accommodate construction. Upon hearing that the BJCC would be paying vacation fees — a total of $262,761.01 — Hoyt declared that it was “music to my ears.”

“Move the item!” he cried. “Baby needs some milk!”

James Fowler, Birmingham’s traffic engineer, acknowledged that the construction, paired with ongoing construction of Interstate 20-59, would have “some impacts” on traffic. Currently, interstate construction routes traffic through the stretch of 11th Avenue South that BJCC construction will close.

“We are studying how best to mitigate the impacts,” Fowler said. “I do think we can accommodate the traffic, and it will be a little uncomfortable, but I do not think we should hold up the construction because of that… . The economic considerations are too great.”

The council voted unanimously to for the road closures.