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Councillors Talk Rezoning in Latest City Council Meeting

Photo by Patriarca12 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

By Dylan Baggiano

Rezoning an Ensley district from Single-Family Residential District to General Commercial District will enable novel businesses to contribute to Birmingham’s economy, said members of Birmingham City Council, except for one member, Tuesday.

“We have two non-local institutions that have justified injecting $15 million into the local market,” said Varnie Barker, a representative for Birmingham City Schools. “Subsequent business would inject additional capital into the community, as well.”

With the rezoning of Single-Family Residential District to General Commercial District, the old Ensley High School building could be used as a facility for home-acquiring enterprises, said Barker. The building has not been used since it burned down in July 2018. Barker said sister companies have shown interest in occupying the building, as well.

Injecting substantial capital into the local community could help ease Ensley’s suffering, according to Councilman Stephen Hoyt.

“The reality is that we need to do something for Ensley,” Hoyt said. “The people in Ensley have been suffering for a long time. I’m hopeful for the future.”

With eight “Yes” votes and one “abstain”, The majority of the council voted to rezone this Birmingham City Schools’ property. Councilwoman Valerie Abbot abstained from voting on this item.

Members of the council addressed the issue of the lack of park and recreational center funding. As a consequence of the coronavirus and budgeting, operations of parks and recreational centers have ceased across the city’s districts, according to the President Pro Tempore, Councilwoman Wardine Alexander. Alexander said she was shocked to discover that most of the rec. centers were closed in District 7.

“The city has a $63 million shortfall in the budget,” Alexander said. “What I was deeply saddened and quite surprised for was that four out of five of the rec. centers in District 7 were proposed to be closed. Additionally, only senior citizen services were being provided at the center. We need to have equity in the services that we provide.”

The council needs to be proactive in looking at ways to make budget cuts to address this rec. issue, said Councilwoman Crystal Smitherman.

“I believe in solutions,” Smitherman said. “We need to be looking for places in the budget that we can propose some cuts. The main issue is they don’t have enough money to pay the people working at the centers. The recs. that are closed are in the hearts of two neighborhoods. We need to take into account the rec. centers in all neighborhoods.”

Improper COVID furloughs within the parks and rec. centers have taken place, as well, according to Councilman Darrell O’Quinn.

“What was suggested was that they were based on seniority, not performance evaluations,” O’Quinn said. “We need to be focused on the deliverance of services to these communities. Those providing more service should be held higher than those of seniority who don’t address what is needed.”

Budgeting decisions to address funding for the parks and rec. centers will be looked into at the next budgeting meeting, said City Council President William Parker. It will be held Sep. 21 at 3:30 pm on the third floor of Birmingham City Hall.

Edited by Hannah Warren & Ryan Michaels

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