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Birmingham sued over streetscape project on Old South Woodward

Three men are suing the City of Birmingham over a $12 million streetscape project the city began on Old South Woodward earlier this month, saying that it violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan Southern Division, the plaintiffs, which include a general partner of the mixed-use 555 Building on Old South Woodward, claim that the streetscape configuration and the loss of parking spots will hinder disabled patrons from accessing the businesses in the area.

“In its planning process for the Project, the City never asked the owners of these businesses how removing street parking would affect their disabled customers,” wrote the plaintiff's attorney, Kenneth F. Neuman of Atlior Law. “Likewise, the City never solicited input from the owners of these businesses about the impact the Project would have on their disabled patrons. In fact, the area in which the City is constructing the Project, is one of the only places in the City zoned for fitness and exercise facilities, many of which are patronized by people (like Plaintiffs) that have disabilities and seek treatment for those disabilities.”

The plaintiffs in the case state that they each have physical disabilities, were issued handicap parking permits and claim that the project will impact their ability to visit downtown Birmingham. They are: John Reinhart, a Florida resident and general partner of the 555 Building on Old South Woodward; Anthony Wenzel, an Arizona resident who lives in Oakland County part of the year and frequents Birmingham Ultimate Fitness; and Robert Ziegelman, a Birmingham resident who has an office in the 555 Building.

The men have requested a jury trial on the matter.

The City of Birmingham declined to comment on the case.

“The city attorney does not feel it is appropriate to discuss pending litigation,” city spokeswoman Marianne Gamboa wrote in an email to the News. “Communication about litigation is best through our pleadings to the court.”

The lawsuit comes less than a month after the City of Birmingham began its $12 million reconstruction project that will reconfigure a half-mile stretch of the downtown street on Old South Woodward. 

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The project entails removing 60 parking spaces and relocating a bus stop that sits on Bowers near Old South Woodward to in front of the 555 Building. Preparation work began earlier this month and construction began Monday, according to the city. The project is expected to be complete in October. 

The lawsuit claims that reduction in on-street parking and the relocation of the bus stop will eliminate "the closest and safest location for disabled people and other patients of the medical practices in the 555 Building to be dropped off and picked up." The lawsuit also expressed concerns regarding the impact the loss of parking could have on the demand for parking as new development takes place in the downtown.

"The City discriminated against Plaintiffs, on the basis of their disability, by intentionally designing the Project so that it promoted aesthetics at the expense of accessibility; so that it would force the public to walk more to access the retail, dining, fitness and exercise facilities, and lifestyle establishments located on South Old Woodward Avenue within the boundaries of the Project," Neuman wrote. 

The project on South Old Woodward is the third of a three-phase project the city says is designed to improve pedestrian safety from Brown to Landon streets and upgrade aging infrastructure downtown.

Phase one was the Old Woodward Reconstruction Project in 2018 and phase two was the Maple Road reconstruction project in 2020. The contractor for all phases of the work is Warren-based Angelo Iafrate Construction Co.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN