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Birmingham awaits court ruling on road project

By David Hohendorf

Birmingham officials are still waiting for a federal district court judge to rule on a lawsuit brought in May over the current reconstruction of S. Old Woodward Avenue and alleged violations of the American Disabilities Act (ADA).

The lawsuit, with a request for injunctive relief, was filed May 18 by John Reinhart, managing partner of the 555 Building on S. Old Woodward, along with Anthony Wenzel, who said he frequents an exercise studio in the building, and architect Robert Ziegelman, who has an office in the building. The case has been assigned to Federal District Court Judge Mark A. Goldsmith.

All three plaintiffs claim physical disabilities and that the final design for the completed road project will make it difficult for handicapped persons to access the 555 Building due to the loss of 60 parking spaces in the overall project area and well as the relocation of a bus stop, now on Bowers Street, to the front of the 555 Building.

In its answer to the lawsuit, the city of Birmingham raised a number of points, including the fact that the final design of the road reconstruction project provides for two ADA-compliant parking spaces which the city said will replace one non-compliant space at the 555 Building. Further, the city's response said that the completed project will provide 19 parking spaces between Hazel and Haynes streets, noting that the ADA guidelines do not require on-street parking, only that ADA compliant parking spaces must be provided, which they are.

Further, the city noted that the issues raised in the current lawsuit had already for the most part been addressed in a 2019 federal district court lawsuit against the city over lack of compliance with ADA guidelines on overall accessibility in the city when it came to parking spaces for visitors with disabilities and crosswalks in the city. As a result, Birmingham has been addressing issues in the 2019 lawsuit, with a court-ordered annual report to the judge in that case.

The city's response also noted that the 555 Building itself was not ADA-compliant, with visitors having to either climb or descend stairs to reach any of the businesses housed there.

Lastly, the issue of relocating the bus stop to the front of the 555 Building appears to possibly be a key consideration in the lawsuit.

The city responded to the complaint on this issue by pointing out that the current bus stop location is poorly lit and its proximity to Woodward created risks with vehicular traffic. According to the city's response, the placement of the bus stop at the front of the 555 Building was determined by a city engineering consultant to meet general industry standards in terms of safety protocols for bus stop locations relative to street intersections and pedestrian crossings.

Birmingham's response also included an affidavit from assistant city engineer Scott Zielinski that said Reinhart from the 555 Building, following an April 2022 city commission meeting, made a disparaging comment about those using the bus service and spoke to him in a threatening manner. Specifically, Reinhart is reported to have said, “Once they learn the bus schedules, they will steal things and hop right on.” When the employee said he expressed surprise at the statement, Reinhart responded: “You know what I am talking about.” Some persons familiar with the lawsuit classified the comments as racist code language.

Against the background of this comment and other witnesses who heard “derogatory comments” about bus riders made by Reinhart, the city response said, “the proposed bus stop may just be a pretext for plaintiff Reinhart's lawsuit.”

The city filed a motion on June 23 for the case to be dismissed and a settlement conference was held on June 30, but no settlement was reached, according to court documents.


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