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City adopts policy for rear yard special assessments

By Grace Lovins

Properties with rear yard driveway access to a road being converted from unimproved to improved streets will now be assessed for the construction after Birmingham city commissioners voted to adopt a new policy during the Monday, April 15, meeting.

The move comes after the road reconstruction and improvements on Shirley Road and Arlington Street were approved by the commission earlier this year. A unique situation of seven properties raised the question on how the city should move forward if properties have a rear yard that abuts a street being assessed.

According to city engineer Melissa Coatta, multiple properties on Linden Road have rear properties that back up to Shirley. Only one of the houses, however, actually has direct ingress and egress to the street, since the driveway is at the rear of the house.

Coatta stated that there is no record of previous projects having a scenario where the rear yard of a property abutted a street being improved. There are instances, and a policy already in place, for properties that have frontage and side yards that abut a street being assessed for an improvement project.

Currently, the city pays 15 percent of the cost for updating an unimproved road to an improved road while properties fronting the improvement are assessed for 85 percent of the cost. If the longer side of a single family residential property faces the street being constructed, said Coatta, the city pays two-thirds of the cost and the property owners pays the remaining third.

In cases where the short side of a corner property faces the street being improved, the property owner is assessed for 100 percent of the cost.

While the properties and Linden Road served as an example for the commission to review, city manager Jana Ecker emphasized that commissioners are determining the policy for rear yard assessments going forward, and they should not focus on the Shirley and Arlington project specifically.

Several commissioners said they were concerned about the equity of assessing properties for both the front and back of the properties, but were conflicted if the property had driveway access, such as the house on Linden.

Others said that they don’t see a difference between assessing the rear yard versus the side yard. “I’m certainly not in favor of doing nothing, but …these aren’t really different other than that it’s the back of the house rather than the front of the house,” said commissioner Anthony Long.

Before coming to a consensus, a motion exempting all properties from a rear yard assessment failed and a motion establishing a policy that said property owners should be assessed 25 percent for the rear yard never came to life.

Ultimately, the commission voted 5-2 to establish a policy for residential properties with a year yard located on a road being converted to an improved street to be exempt from assessment only if they do not have allowed ingress and egress at the time of the assessment. Commissioners Baller and Andrew Haig voted against the policy.


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