Commission votes to move ahead with street plan
By Grace Lovins
After several city meetings, including a special meeting held on location, Birmingham city commissioners voted on Monday, February 5, to move ahead with proposed plans for water, sewer and road improvements on Shirley and Arlington.
Shirley and Arlington have been a contentious topic at city commission meetings for the last few months, with numerous residents expressing their opposition to the project in person, through social media and emails sent to commissioners and city staff.
Before hearing the staff presentation, mayor Elaine McLain and commissioner Anthony Long took the time to note the troubling messages they’ve received. McLain stated that she, along with other commissioners she did not name, have received professional and personal threats due to public opposition to the project.
“I have served the city for nearly 20 years. … I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed the deterioration of behavior that has occurred around this issue including personal threats, including misinformation, name calling, where city staff are insulted, where people are accused of being stupid or idiots,” said commissioner Therese Longe.
Commissioners stated they hoped for a civil discussion for the item, turning the conversation over to city planner Brooks Cowan.
According to Cowan, the road improvements are part of a final report accepted by the commission from the city’s ad hoc unimproved street study committee, which met from 2018 to 2020.
Cowan said the report provided three key recommendations: the initiation process for road improvements should come from the city instead of homeowners; to use concrete, rather than asphalt, for new improved streets; and use the same funding mechanism of paying from the general fund and recouping the cost through special assessments.
Commissioners approved an amendment to the city’s code to allow for city staff to initiate road improvements, which brought Shirley and Arlington to the city commission’s table. Cowan also explained that one of the themes of the city’s recently adopted master plan was focusing on the neighborhoods, with one of the goals being to ensure streets remain pedestrian oriented.
Shirley Road and Arlington Street were chosen by the city’s engineering department for a water main replacement and sewer improvements, stated city engineer Melissa Coatta. Noted in the meeting packet, the water main is nearly 100 years old. Birmingham fire chief Paul Wells stated at a previous meeting and explained in a memorandum included in the packet that the water pressure for the streets is insufficient for their firefighting standards.
Cowan explained that the multi-modal transportation board reviewed the project over multiple sessions and came up with the design for the streets. The roads themselves would be narrowed from a 33-foot width to 26 feet, the current city standard, to allow for sidewalk installations on both sides of the streets. The city’s engineering department would replace the water main and make sewer improvements at the same time.
Therese Longe and Anthony Long both stated that they felt Shirley and Arlington were a unique citation, Long using the comparison of a square peg in a round hole. After a long discussion, the commissioners considered a different option proposed by Long.
Long suggested that the city move forward with the necessary water and sewer repairs and to cover the streets in asphalt and new curbs.
Commissioners voted 5-1 to approve the water, sewer and road improvements without the plan for installing sidewalks and narrowing the roads. Commissioner Brad Host voted against the motion. Clinton Baller recused himself from the discussion and vote as he lives on one of the affected streets.