Birmingham City Council

Water Board Asks to Oversee Housing Construction Near the Cahaba, Despite Its Fight for the Ability to Lighten Water Protection Rules

Cahaba River. Photo Credit: Hank Black

The Birmingham Water Works Board has asked the city to require developers of a property near the Cahaba River watershed to submit to board approval before beginning construction.

Arlington Properties plans to build a multi-family housing development at 4641 U.S. 280, a property that is directly adjacent to BWWB-owned Cahaba watershed lands. The Birmingham City Council on Tuesday approved rezoning the property from an agricultural district to a general commercial district. The BWWB is asking to have a say in the development’s permitting process.

“If this development is being considered for approval, we would request that the city require the developers to comply with Birmingham Water Works’ watershed protection policy and to submit the proposed plans and associated documentation to the BWWB prior to such approval,” April Nabors, the BWWB’s environmental engineer, told the council. “We just want to be part of the approval process.”

District 2 Councilor Hunter Williams expressed some skepticism about this request, in light of the board’s recent attempt to have conservation restrictions on its own watershed properties loosened.

The board has long failed to comply with a 2001 agreement requiring its watershed property to be protected by a permanent conservation easement enforced by a third party and is now asking a Jefferson County Court judge to change that agreement to require a more malleable “watershed protection agreement” that the board and the state attorney general can agree to change at any time.

“Can you comment on why (Arlington Properties) should go through this while y’all are arguing in state court to have your restrictions released?” Williams asked.

Patrick Flannelly, an independent engineer for the BWWB, assured Williams that the board “takes watershed protection very seriously.”

“The BWWB does have protective covenants on its existing property,” he said, adding that the board’s recent lawsuit “is not about commitment to protecting the watershed, it’s just about the administration of those protective covenants” and “does not represent any diminished commitment to protecting that watershed.”

Williams said that response did not address his question, but acquiesced to Councilor Valerie Abbott’s request for discussion to stay strictly focused on the property’s rezoning. The issue will likely be raised again later in a council committee meeting.