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Birmingham City Council approves proposal to bring 244 apartment units to Ensley

The Birmingham Times 

The old Ensley High campus in Birmingham will soon be home to hundreds of families under a planned $54.6 million new apartment and housing development in partnership with the Housing Authority of the Birmingham District.

The campus has been abandoned since 2006, when the last students moved to Jackson-Olin High School. In 2018, the main school building was gutted by fire.

This week, the Birmingham City Council authorized committing $1.25 million of the city’s HUD HOME Investment Partnership to Zimmerman Properties for the development of up to 244 apartment units in Ensley.

The first phase on the Ensley campus will be construction of a three-story apartment building adjacent to Tuxedo Park, with its own community center and a three-story parking deck.

The second phase of the project calls for building another 78 housing units of stacked flats in carriage houses between Avenue J and Avenue K, between 22nd and 25th streets, reports AL.com. “You’ll have a unit on the bottom and a unit on the top,” said Tab Bullard, vice president of development for the Southeast region for Zimmerman Properties, which is overseeing development.

The old school gymnasium would be converted to a “fresh food grocer space,” Bullard said. “Hopefully we can identify someone (to run the grocery) with city support.”

“This is a great project,” said City Council member John Hilliard, whose district it is in. “It will be very well received.”

The apartment units are available to people in the $16,000 to $45,000 annual income range.

“For a $16,000 earner, these homes will be really nice,” said City Council member Valerie Abbott, during the meeting.

Although the resolution was adopted without opposition, City Council member Steven Hoyt expressed reservations, saying he would have preferred detached single-family homes.

“That concept, I don’t know if it’s a good fit for that community,” Hoyt said. “I just want to see us do better. When it comes to housing, that’s really not the best concept that we could’ve had for that amount of property.”

Demolition Of Old Banks School

Last week, the city council took steps to refurbish another former school property. Thanks to a unanimous vote, the city extended a loan agreement with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s brownfields revolving loan program that will enable the city to move forward this summer with demolishing the old Banks High School in the East Lake community.

“It is dilapidated and it is a nuisance to the community,” said Councilor Hunter Williams, who represents the district where the school is located. “It is something that the East Lake community has been asking for about 10 years . . . it’s just a torn down building that is a complete nuisance to the neighborhood.” 

The $467,000 loan, part of the state’s brownfields loan program to clean up contaminated properties, initially had been issued in March 2018. But multiple factors, including COVID-19 and several unsuccessful requests for proposals, meant that the project had failed to meet the loan’s deadline.

The extended loan will pay for a $397,700 contract with the Montgomery-based South East Demolition and Environmental Services. Now, officials say, the demolition is on track to be completed by July.

Remediation of the Banks site is a step in the right direction for the community, Williams said. 

“We have an opportunity to change something that the city owns, it’s a blighted property where we’re allowing things we shouldn’t be. We should be adding to the East Lake Community and Roebuck Community…instead of having city-owned blighted properties that are taking away from the community.” 

Al.com contributed to this report