By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
After tense questioning for developers, Birmingham City Council approved construction of a new 259-unit apartment building in Glen Iris during a recent meeting.
The project’s proximity to the city of Homewood sparked lengthy discussion and concern by the council, which passed the item 5-1. Councilor Valerie Abbott was the only no vote, Councilors Crystal Smitherman and Steven Hoyt abstained and Clinton Woods was not present at the meeting.
The project will be a one-story building on Beacon Parkway East, containing studio apartments, as well as one, two and three-bedroom units. The estimated cost of rent for the one and two-bedroom units is between $1,400 and $1,600 per month.
While the complex will be within Birmingham, its site nears the border of Homewood.
Ryan Bourque, a representative for the developers Rise Real Estate, said Homewood and the area around University of Alabama at Birmingham are two places he expects to draw people to live at the complex.
Councilor Hunter Williams told developers they are in Birmingham, not Homewood.
“To the entire development team, I heard great things about the city of Homewood six times in your presentation,” Williams said. “You all are in Birmingham City Hall and not Homewood City Hall, so if you have a development to come before us, please know at least what city you’re in and what council you are in front of.”
Hoyt said the developers seemed to be “building for Homewood.”
“You’re not building for Birmingham,” Hoyt said. “I know we’ve got inter-governmental relations, but I think Homewood would be raising hell with Birmingham if we were going to impact them the way they’re going to possibly impact us.”
Smitherman raised the issue of rent prices before the council knew it would be between $1,400 and $1,600. After adding estimated utilities and other bills, Smitherman came to a total of $1,700 and said that price seems steep for Birmingham residents.
“You’re asking somebody to pay $1,700 when almost two thirds of our city is in poverty,” Smitherman said. “I understand you referred to Homewood, but Homewood is a completely different city from Birmingham.”
Hoyt said there “is no affordable housing for this project.” Later he said segregating poor people is “unfair.”
“Most developers at least allocate at least five to 10 percent of their apartments to affordable housing,” Hoyt said. “When you think about housing on a larger scale, in other cities, it’s working when you do mixed housing.”
Abbott said the developers had not answered questions from residents of the Glen Iris community, which she represents to their “satisfaction.” She also pointed out concerns with the stormwater runoff plan and traffic.
“[The residents] live there, and they see what goes on. They already have some problems . . .,” Abbott said. “They’re just worried because these are their homes, and they live there 24/7, and developers come and go.”
Eric Backensto, a Glen Iris resident on Beacon Parkway East, said, “I’m not sure how they’re going to be able to take the top of that wooded area off and control that water coming down Beacon Parkway and not overwhelm an already heavily-used water drainage system there.”
As for traffic, Backensto said, “I can’t imagine adding 300 parking spots and it not impacting the drive and the traffic going up, especially during the times when the buses are offloading the kids on Beacon Parkway East.”
Bob McCann of Haines, Gipson & Associates, the company responsible for the storm water drainage, said developers have planned to use multiple methods to slow the rate of water flowing into sewer systems, including detention ponds which collect runoff before sending them into the system or the ground on the property.
Randall Minor, a lawyer speaking on behalf of the owner, said he would meet with COO of Birmingham City Schools Matthew Alexander to discuss school bus traffic on Beacon Parkway East.
Councilor John Hilliard, who voted in favor, said the project was an example of Birmingham’s growth.
Speaking to the developers, Hilliard, who chairs the council’s Economic Development Committee, said, “I like the project, I like what you said you are trying to do and put in place, I welcome all great development to Birmingham and thank you for what you have been doing.”
Williams, who also voted in favor, said recent 2020 Census data is a reminder that Birmingham has “been bleeding residents” for 20 years and that “options” are important for Birmingham.
“It is extremely important that we continue to have developers bring options for residents to move into the city of Birmingham,” he said, “hopefully move into the city of Birmingham from the city of Homewood.”