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The candidates: Where they stand on the issues


Eight candidates are competing to fill four four-year seats on the Birmingham City Commission in the Tuesday, November 5, election.

The names of two incumbents whose terms are expiring, Patty Bordman and Carroll DeWeese, will appear on the ballot, along with the names of candidates Clinton Baller, Jake German, Brad Host, Therese Longe and Matt Wilde. Although the name of current incumbent Pierre Boutros will not appear on the ballot, he has filed to be an official write-in candidate.

Candidates were asked by Downtown newsmagazine to address a number of issues facing the city and their responses appear below.

CANDIDATE QUESTIONS

Parking solution post-bond vote

Voters in August turned down what was proposed as a possible solution to a perceived parking shortage in the immediate downtown area. Do you think parking in the immediate downtown area is an issue? If so, how do you think the city commission should now proceed to address the problem? Please be specific.

Possible new location for RH

Although there was strong opposition to the ballot proposal for a new parking structure and the extension of Bates Street, one of the side benefits to the proposal was the commitment by Restoration Hardware to locate their popular RH store in Birmingham. Should the city be working toward a goal of proposing a new location in the downtown area to retain the RH store?

Affordable housing in downtown area

One of the components of a successful downtown is maximizing residential density in the immediate downtown area but at more affordable levels than offered by some of the recent developments. Do you think more affordable housing in the downtown area is an issue and if so, is that even an achievable goal?

New Birmingham master plan

Urban planner Andres Duany of DPZ partners is expected at the start of next year to present preliminary results of a new master plan for Birmingham, which will include recommendations for the neighborhoods, among other areas. This past spring Duany gave an update on some concepts that may be part of the final master plan product. Based on that update from Duany, were there any concepts that caught your interest. Please be specific.

Economic development liquor licenses

Birmingham created a specific area of the city to award economic development liquor licenses to help spur major development – generally along the Woodward Avenue corridor. Do you think the economic development area should be expanded into other areas like the Rail District to help spur development?

Change in city hall administration

At least one of the candidates running for city commission has called for a change in the city manager position in Birmingham. Do you think there is a need for replacing the city manager or other members of the administration? Why or why not? If you think change in administrative positions is needed, if elected, what ones would you like to see changed and why?

Senior citizen center

There have been suggestions in recent years that perhaps the city should look at building a senior citizen center. Do you agree or disagree, and why? If you think a center is necessary, how would you suggest construction and ongoing operations be funded?

Your special plans for city

What do you consider your special concerns that should be addressed if you are elected?

Why vote for you

Why should a voter select you over other contenders for the open seats on the city commission?

 

CLINTON BALLER

Clinton Baller is the founder/president of Avid Pay Solutions, and previously was on the city’s Corridor Improvement Authority.

Parking solution post-bond vote

Parking has long been, and most definitely remains, an issue downtown. One year ago, a national parking consultant delivered a comprehensive Downtown Parking Plan. It has received little attention. It made many recommendations for increasing supply, increasing capacity, decreasing demand and reallocating existing resources. Incredibly, the report noted, “The City has contracted with SP+ for facility maintenance and operations for its five parking structures since 1991. The service agreement has not been subject to competitive bidding or amendment since the original signing date.” That has since been done, but it tells you something: We need to run a much tighter parking ship. Many of the report’s recommendations have not been implemented, and should be. If we expand the system, it should be into the Triangle District, where an all-new, above-ground deck would be less expensive, serve the needs of downtown, and spur much-needed development in the Triangle.

Possible new location for RH

Let’s be clear: The city had no commitment from RH. The developers had a non-binding letter of intent, not a commitment. After the election, I spoke to representatives of RH, who said they wanted an iconic location downtown and gave me specifications. Within days, I offered the Birmingham Theatre. It had everything they wanted, and more: frontage on two streets and parking decks on both sides. That was early August. As of early September: crickets. Makes you wonder. But for sure, we should be talking to RH and any entity that can contribute to the city’s prosperity. At one of the master planning sessions, city officials were told they needed to talk to developers. They were asked: “Do you call developers?” The sheepish answer: “We call them back.” That’s not good enough. To get what we want, we need strong relationships and ongoing dialogue with developers and property owners.

Affordable housing in downtown area

More, and less-expensive, downtown housing is important not only to the health of the downtown, but to the city as a whole, because that is what will a) attract the younger demographic we need to stay vital and b) allow seniors to age in place. It is achievable. It’s all in the planning. Our master planners have suggested loosening the amount of on-site parking we require for residential buildings downtown, and allowing use of our parking system instead. It’s not a new idea; it has been raised before. We should try it on a limited basis. There are other things we can do to tip the balance away from office toward residential. Again, we need to talk to property owners and find out what would encourage them to build smaller, less expensive condos and apartments downtown. Then we need to adjust the regulations to match the planning objectives.

New Birmingham master plan

The suggestion that we legitimize neighborhood associations by facilitating their organization is a terrific idea. It aligns perfectly with my theme of doing a better job engaging residents in government. The ideas for taming big Woodward, and knitting together east and west, are a great start in that department. That’s a problem we have ignored for far too long based largely on the false notion that MDOT is unwilling to consider creative solutions. Several years ago, I helped debunk that falsehood by bringing together property owners and others, including MDOT, to discuss a possible bridge across Woodward just south of Maple. The great thing about planners is that they get people thinking, talking and developing visions. But it is important to note that the new plan is nowhere near finalized. I want to hear what residents have to say before anything is finalized.

Economic development liquor licenses

Liquor licensing is a reasonable tool for spurring certain kinds of development. But it is just one tool in our toolbox, and unless a property owner (and the city) wants booze to be part of a project, it’s worthless. I think we constantly need to study the tools available to us, and grow our toolbox, for encouraging the kind of development we want, and for discouraging the kind of development we don’t want.

Change in city hall administration

We need a change in culture, if not people. Let’s address three issues: Fear, arrogance and the proper roles of those in government. Fear guides too much at City Hall. Morale is down at every level. No one, least of all commissioners, should fear speaking to one another, to staff, or to constituents. We can’t eliminate fear, but we can recognize and tame it. I tried to find a kinder word than “arrogance” to describe city leadership in the Bates fiasco. But when the administration and commission are virtually unanimous, and 68 percent of voters disagree, the shoe fits. But we can cure the “out-of-touch” syndrome. Finally, the cure to fear and arrogance may start with getting everyone on the same page: The manager (our COO) works for the mayor and commission (our CEO and board of directors), which serves at the pleasure, and represents the interests, of residents.

Senior citizen center

What the city needs to do is follow through on its commitment to lead a group of communities in assuring that the growing demand for senior services is met. Our senior center, Next, does a terrific job, and its biggest contributor is not the city, but the Birmingham School District, which allows Next to occupy a portion of Midvale School rent-free. But those quarters are tight, and the district could pull the plug any time. The Ad Hoc Joint Senior Services Committee, on which Mayor Bordman and City Manager Joe Valentine sit, is supposed to be working on a solution. But it hasn’t met in nearly a year. Next needs a permanent home. It doesn’t need to be elaborate. It may eventually mean simply purchasing Midvale. But the ball stopped rolling nine months ago, and if I have anything to say about it, the committee will resume its work.

Your special plans for city

If I go to another city meeting where the same handful of people show up and comment, my head is going to explode. So my three biggest concerns are resident engagement, resident engagement and resident engagement. In that order. But it’s a tall order. It starts with a belief that our highly educated, affluent community wants to be engaged, and will be if we give them the opportunity. It continues with an understanding that it’s not easy, that you have to give it more than lip-service. And it involves a variety of tools based in both the virtual and real worlds. We have a gigantic untapped reservoir of talent and resources here, and we can and should take much greater advantage of them than we do now.

Why vote for you

Because of the concerns I mentioned above. I want to engage you in city government. That’s what I did when I created the Birmingham Buzz 18 years ago. It’s what I did when I recruited and led a design team for Booth Park in 2004. It’s what I did a few years later when I researched and made a convincing case for the bistro ordinance. It’s what I did when I brought together property owners, city officials, MDOT and others to discuss a bridge across Woodward a few years ago. And it’s what I did this summer when I prompted debate about the Bates project. I didn’t do those things myself. I made them happen by engaging the community. That’s what leadership is all about. So if you want a proven leader who will offer you more and better opportunities for engagement in city government, honor me with your vote.

 

PATTY BORDMAN

Patty Bordman is finishing her first term as a city commissioner, and is currently Birmingham’s mayor. She is a retired attorney, liaison to Birmingham Next and served on the city’s Parks and Recreation Board.

Parking solution post-bond vote

The lead-up to the election was very divisive, and the city needs a pause, time to take a breath and reflect. At the same time, downtown parking remains frustrating to residents, businesses and visitors. The city has already assigned to the Advisory Parking Committee (APC) the task of studying alternative ways to manage the parking squeeze. During the pause, however, the commission should prioritize matters that protect the quality of our neighborhoods, and that maintain Birmingham as a desirable community. Once the APC delivers its suggestions, the commission should present these suggestions to the residents through an online and/or mailed survey so that the commission has a fuller understanding of community interests prior to considering any parking remedies, and to ensure that all are heard.

Possible new location for RH

Having successful businesses is important for any downtown. Following the bond vote, the city administration contacted RH, and RH indicated continued interest in a Birmingham location. The challenge is identifying another location that accommodates RH’s desired footprint. Discussions with RH, its brokers and downtown property owners are ongoing, a process the city follows with any retailer that shows interest in locating in Birmingham.

Affordable housing in downtown area

Yes, reasonably priced housing is crucial to a vibrant community. One of the best tools for the commission to use to encourage reasonable housing prices is the zoning code. Current downtown zoning limits building height to five stories and 80 feet. By allowing more stories within the same 80-foot height, say seven stories, more units can be built which could reduce the price of each unit. Additionally, the city should consider incentives to encourage smaller units which mean more units per floor, and therefore, result in lower unit prices. We also need to study the parking requirement for residential units in the downtown core to see if eliminating it would result in a lower unit price.

Entry-level housing in the neighborhoods is also becoming a concern. Birmingham should be a place where anyone, at any stage of life, can find a place to live.

New Birmingham master plan

I am concerned that Birmingham is losing its entry-level priced housing. Andres Duany proposed changing Birmingham’s zoning to allow small apartment buildings, limited to six units, along neighborhood “seams” or edges. This idea might allow for entry-level family units while not having a significant effect on the feel of the neighborhoods. This plan deserves study and discussion.

Also worthy of further study and discussion are Duany’s ideas to blend Birmingham’s east and west neighborhoods along big Woodward. Duany suggested merging districts, so that the Triangle and South Old Woodward districts would be known as “Haynes Square.” Duany also recommended adding many more pedestrian crossings across big Woodward to help unify our City.

These ideas caught my interest, and I am interested in hearing our residents reactions to them.

Economic development liquor licenses

Expansion to the Rail and Triangle Districts occurred on November 20, 2017, when the commission voted to expand the economic development liquor license option to those areas. I voted in favor of that expansion. A few parcels in the Rail District, however, were not part of the expansion. An applicant is currently seeking to have his property included in the Rail District economic development boundaries. This applicant is likely to come before the commission within the next few months, and I, together with the other commissioners, will examine the request carefully to determine whether it is in the community’s interest to approve it.

Change in city hall administration

As a current commissioner, I have closely observed Joe Valentine’s work, and I find him to be an exceptional asset to our town. For those who don’t know, Joe manages the staff and day-to-day city operations. In contrast to managers in other communities, there has never been a hint of impropriety concerning Joe. He is not only trustworthy, Joe is also hard working, knowledgeable about municipal government, financially savvy regarding municipal matters and unusually capable in relating to our residents. Birmingham is a model city that has received many awards, and is the envy of municipalities in this state. In fact, Birmingham is one of the very few communities that can manage capital projects without seeking a special millage to pay for it. This doesn’t happen without an excellent manager of a staff that provides first-rate services. No change in management will be sought by me.