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Hearing held on two motions in suit against city

By David Hohendorf

Federal District Court Judge Mark A. Goldsmith held a hearing August 22 on two motions before the court in an American Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit against the city of Birmingham over the S. Old Woodward Road project but has yet to issue a ruling in the case.

The federal lawsuit was first filed on May 18 by 555 Building managing partner John Reinhart, Anthony Wenzel, who says he frequents an exercise studio in the building, and architect Robert Ziegelman, who has an office in the 555 Building.

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 they are contesting 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 an ADA-compliant parking space 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.

The city has also 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.

The plaintiffs in this case have asked the court to provide an injunction on the city's plans and the city in June had requested a ruling on its motion to have the case dismissed.

Both motions were before Goldsmith in August but no time frame for issuing a ruling on either motion was given by the court, according to Birmingham City Attorney Mary M. Kucharek, who said it could be weeks before the judge's ruling is issued.

What is shaping up to be the real issue in the case is the city's plan for placing a bus stop in front of the 555 Building.

In its response to the original lawsuit, Birmingham has noted that the current bus stop location near the 555 Building is poorly lit and its proximity to Woodward creates 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.

However, 555 managing partner and plaintiff John Reinhart, according to the city's response to the lawsuit, has made a number of disparaging comments about the likely make-up of the potential riders on the bus, including, “Once they learn the bus schedules, they will steal things and hop right on, “ considered by a number of observers as racist code language.


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