Birmingham approves altered Arlington Street, Shirley Road project

By: Mary Genson | Birmingham-Bloomfield Eagle | Published February 20, 2024

 A long discussion with the City Commission resulted in a 5-1 vote on the Arlington Street and Shirley Road project. Many residents had varying opinions on what the city’s priority should be.

A long discussion with the City Commission resulted in a 5-1 vote on the Arlington Street and Shirley Road project. Many residents had varying opinions on what the city’s priority should be.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


BIRMINGHAM — A controversy over a planned road, sewer and sidewalk project sparked by low water pressure for fire hydrants on two residential streets bubbled over into allegations of political attacks recently.

At a meeting Feb. 5, the Birmingham City Commission approved a new plan for Arlington Street and Shirley Road.

It had been a topic of discussion during multiple meetings. Officials conducted a walking tour of Shirley Road, Arlington Street and Brandon Road Jan. 30, stopping at five locations along these streets.

At the Feb. 5 meeting, Mayor Elaine McLain said, “I will begin by saying that this has always been about health and safety for a 97-year-old infrastructure.”

She said that the initial proposed plan to improve the sewer and water systems was driven by the lack of water pressure necessary in the fire hydrants in the area. According to a report from the Birmingham Fire Department, the fire hydrants in this area do not meet the bare minimum requirements needed for a residential fire, which is 1,000 gallons per minute. This water pressure issue affected the city’s Insurance Services Office rating in the water supply category.

McLain outlined some of the main points and communications between the commission and the public, including a “personal, professional and political threat” made towards her and other commissioners. McLain asked the audience to carry out the discussion during the meeting with respect for the exchange of ideas that was in progress.

“Let us show the community and let us show everyone that we can work together and collaborate for best practices and move forward with safety for all, because it’s not about the trees, it’s not about the width, it’s not about the cape seal, it’s not about any of that, in the end. It’s about safety for people that live on Arlington and Shirley, and others who spend time on Arlington and Shirley,” McLain said.

Many residents were concerned about what would happen to the 136 trees along the right-of-way along Shirley and Arlington if sidewalks were added. Of those trees, 93 were considered prohibited or in “poor to fair condition.” However, the city did approve sidewalks at the meeting. A city document called “Understanding the Shirley and Arlington Unimproved Street Project” stated that this project would not result in fewer trees because some would be relocated and 200-250 trees would have been replanted in the area.

The official resolution at hand was to “direct the Engineering Department to proceed with final design of the Arlington Street and Shirley Project to include the planned improvements to the sewer and water systems, and the full reconstruction of the streets within the project area that will meet the City standards for an improved street with a 5-foot sidewalk on each side of the road.”

However, after some discussion within the commission and presentations from city staff, a new motion was approved, as proposed by Commissioner Anthony Long.

“My motion is that we go forward with the water and sewer, that we replace the roadway and the curbs, and the roadway is asphalt and the roadway remains the same width that it is right now,” Long said.

The current road width is 33 feet. Prior to this motion, the city was considering narrowing the road to 26 feet.

Several community members were in attendance to share their voice about this topic. During public comment, most residents shared their support for the new motion.

However, throughout this entire process, there have been many varying opinions from the community: Some residents were in favor of adding sidewalks to improve safety on these roads, while others were against the removal of the streets’ trees.

During the meeting on the streets of Birmingham Jan. 30, resident Jim Mirro shared his opinion on the topic and commented on the character of the neighborhood.

He referenced a new family that is moving into the area, stating that they are moving there because of its character.

“He’s moving here for the character of the neighborhood, which will be eternally, forever changed and destroyed if the commissioners vote to approve the plan for this street,” Mirro said.

On the other side, at the Feb. 5 meeting, resident Vanessa Durham said, “I am for improved roads and I am for sidewalks. I have three little kids, and I worry about them. And I know we are all just thinking about ‘oh the people of Shirley and Arlington,’ but I know there are a lot of people who would like sidewalks but just don’t say anything because some voices are so loud that others can’t be heard.”

Commissioner Brad Host asked a question that he said was important to his vote.

“Is this road ‘unimproved’ or is it ‘improved’?” he asked. “And the reason I need to know that is if it’s unimproved, then this motion will cost each neighbor approximately $40,000-$60,000, and I’m not sure that they want that. But I want to know if it’s unimproved versus improved.”

As the maker of the motion, Long confirmed that his impression was that it is going from unimproved to improved status. McLain confirmed immediately after that this was her impression as well.

According to the document “Understanding the Shirley and Arlington Unimproved Street Project,” a majority of the cost will be paid by the city and taxpayers. The cost of road reconstruction is subject to a special assessment to adjoining property owners.

When it came to the vote, the results were 5-1 with Host dissenting.