Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity codified by Council, rezoning concerns addressed

Today the Birmingham City Council approved an item codifying the newly-minted Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity (IEO).

The item was on the agenda during two prior meetings but was withdrawn at the request of Councilor Steven Hoyt to add a position within the department to address issues dealing with diversity and minority inclusion.

Josh Carpenter, who was tapped by Mayor Randall Woodfin to head IEO, has laid out his vision for what he hopes to accomplish for the citizens of Birmingham and how the department is dedicated to creating a more inclusive economy in Birmingham.

“Our vision is to make Birmingham a hub for qualified and diverse talent and a premier destination for small businesses, startups and businesses looking to expand — propelling shared prosperity through inclusive growth,” Carpenter wrote in the Birmingham Times. “When a woman of color wants to start a business anywhere in the nation, we hope she chooses to launch in Birmingham because it has earned a reputation for being the best place for women and minorities to start a business.”

While Birmingham has experienced unprecedented growth in the last several years, there is still much work to be done, according to Carpenter who explained that 40 percent of adults have left the workforce in Birmingham, a city that is ranked 178 out of 182 in the United States when it comes to how easy it is to find a job. Also, nearly 30 percent of residents in Birmingham live at or below the poverty line, many of them are families with children.

In recent weeks, the newly-established Community Revitalization Fund has allocated $1.6 million to redevelopment efforts in Birmingham’s neighborhoods. Woodfin said that as additional economic development efforts begin to pay off, his office will deploy those resources as soon as they are identified and committed to the fund. The initial investment went toward partnering with the Neighborhood Housing Services of Birmingham to renovate 100 homes in 100 days — that investment totaled $1.4 million. The $200,000 remaining in the Neighborhood Revitalization Fund will go toward intake, applications, demolition, and Land Bank acquisitions.

West End Community Rezoning Plan

For the second straight week, a debate surrounding rezoning in the city took center stage at the Birmingham City Council meeting.

The discussion was focused on the West End Community Rezoning Plan, with several community members speaking against the proposed changes, specifically in the area surrounding Princeton Hospital.

“We don’t want it to be rezoned because we have a lot of residents in that area,” West End resident Samuel Mills said during the public hearing. His concern was regarding an area that was slated to be rezoned for mixed use. “We were told that the changes would be made before we got here and I’m here to verify that it was changed. We would like this area to remain residential. I received my letter on July 21. In the past the city has always sent out a flyer notifying the people on the date of the neighborhood meeting. That has ceased.”

Several Councilors spoke to the fact that the previous administration decided there was no longer a need to distribute newsletters to the neighborhoods, and that the decision has potentially led to a decrease in neighborhood involvement with rezoning and other localized issues.

“It seems to me that we need to deal with the issue internally,” Councilor Lashunda Scales said. “Last week [during a prolonged discussion about rezoning] people felt like they weren’t getting information. It’s costing the city each time the information isn’t distributed properly. Republishing always costs money. It concerns me. I don’t know why in the world we can’t do a newsletter. These residents don’t even know when their neighborhood meetings are.”

Councilor Steven Hoyt, who has been a vocal opponent of spot zoning, said the the framework plan is aimed at fixing some of the issues that have developed after spot zoning was implemented some residential areas. “Rezoning is necessary because in the past we have had spot zoning and its impeded on the quality of life for the residents,” Hoyt said. “Both businesses and residents would benefit from this framework plan. We’ve done this same exercise in every community that has participated in the framework plan.”

The item was eventually withdrawn so that the Planning, Engineering and Permits Department to address the issues that were brought up by the residents who opposed some of the rezoning changes.

Link to the Western Area Framework Plan: https://www.imaginebham.com/uploads/1/4/4/7/14479416/wa_final_plan_20170403.pdf

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