Budget approved for S. Old Woodward project
By Kevin Elliott
The removal of more than 60 parking spaces along S. Old Woodward is necessary to improve pedestrian and vehicle safety in the area of downtown Woodward, Birmingham officials said on Monday, April 11, as the city commission approved the budget and special assessment district for the $10 million phase III construction project.
The project is the third phase of the city’s downtown streetscape redevelopment project, which includes installing new water and sewer lines along S. Old Woodward, as well as a reconstruction of the streetscape. Phase I of the project included the reconstruction of N. Old Woodward, with the second phase being Maple Road.
The third phase of the project runs from Brown to Landon Streets, and is intended to enhance both the northbound gateway into the city from Woodward Avenue, as well as safety related to southbound traffic. However, the new design calls for the removal of 66 parking spaces along the street in order to meet state and federal transportation requirements. The loss of parking was a point of contention for about a dozen individuals who spoke during at the city commission meeting.
“When it comes to this project, we didn’t rush into it. Although not all parties are going to be happy with every design factor that came into it, there are limitations for safety that we truly had to follow that resulted in a lot of spaces being removed,” said Scott Zielinski, assistant city engineer. “We didn’t remove these without putting great consideration into it. There are some that by state and federal requirements we have to remove. Additionally, to allow for ADA compliance, we had to remove parts.”
Zielinski said the state vehicle code no longer allows new designs to place parking directly across from an intersection, such as those that only connect to one side of S. Old Woodward. Further, parking spaces that would require vehicles to back up into pedestrian crosswalks aren’t permitted. Additionally, disabled parking spots require additional space to meet federal American with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements.
Several representatives from the 555 Building’s commercial and residential interests, as well as business owners operating in and near the building, asked commissioners to reconsider the plan to retain some of the parking targeted for removal.
Jodie Croft, who owns and operates Beauty Fusion Aesthetics in the 555 building, said she is a new business owner concerned with the loss of parking and how it will impact her clients.
“My clients come in from 15 minutes to an hour,” she said. “As a new business I’m concerned,” she said. “Please keep some of the parking spots available for businesses.”
Jack Reinhart, managing partner of 555 LLC, said many of his occupants, particularly business owners, are concerned about the loss of parking, as well as safety for pedestrians in the area.
Molly Baran, owner of Studio M Pilates, said her business has been on the lower level of the building for 13 years. She said it's imperative for the city to address parking so she can prepare her clients as soon as possible. She said her concerns are for during and after construction.
“If we make parking easy and clear, we can all get through the construction,” she said. “If I lose money again over this summer, I will have to close after having a thriving business in Birmingham for 13 years. I was shut down for six months just 18 months ago. My business is just starting to make money, again.”
Brad Strader, with the city’s engineering consultant, MKSK, said the design plans must meet state and federal standards, which the current design doesn’t do. He also said the design includes relocating a bus stop to S. Old Woodward from Bower Street, between S. Old Woodward and Woodward Avenue, to improve traffic and safety.
Strader said of the spaces being removed, about a quarter are too close to crosswalks to meet design standards; another quarter are located across from terminating intersections; about 40 percent will be removed for bump-outs to increase visibility and the distance of crosswalks; with others removed for ADA compliance, valet for the forthcoming Restoration Hardware development, and three for the bus stop.
Former city commissioner Mark Nickita, who spoke during the public hearing, commended staff for their work on the project, which he said he fully supports.
“A lot of the comments were talking about safety, which is incredibly important and a concern,” Nickita said. “I live about 100 feet from this project, and safety is a concern. It’s very unsafe. I’ve almost been run over several times. This project will, and the design elements in it, will diminish concerns for safety. It will narrow the street and create circumstances that will slow traffic. Slower traffic by design creates a safer street. That’s absolutely proven fact.”
Nickita, who works as an architect and urban designer, also reminded the commission that the items they were considering were only related to the approval of the special assessment district and budget, and the award of the construction project, as the design plans were approved months ago.
Birmingham commissioners in October 2021 approved the design plan for the third phase of the project. Commissioners then voted 6-1 to approve the project design, with only former commissioner Rackeline Hoff opposing, citing her concerns for the loss of parking. Commissioners Clinton Baller, Pierre Boutros, Brad Host and Therese Longe, who served on the previous commission, voted in favor of the plans.
Former commissioner Stuart Sherman, who also supported the project plans, spoke to the commission on Monday to urge them to approve the contract and budget item.
“The issue on the agenda tonight isn’t to redo the plan,” Sherman said. “That plan has already been analyzed and approved. The agenda item is to award the contract. The project has already been carefully designed. It’s a continuation of phases one and two of updating our downtown. There have been multiple hearings and reviews.
“My question is: where was everyone during phases one and two? They didn’t notice that the streets were torn up? That they were replaced and moving that way? I don’t understand. Everyone has to be aware this is going on.”
Birmingham resident Paul Regan, who was often at odds with the former commissioners, noted he concurred with them. However, he also said he is concerned about parking in the area as it continues to be developed.
“We are about to see three new major buildings,” he said “So, those of you on the southern end, if you think it’s bad now, just wait.”
Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the special assessment districts within the project area, as well as the budget for the project.