City Council meeting, Sept. 22, 2014

Mayor's budgets 2014 (current) compared to 2015. The mayor's budget is amended and adopted by the city council before the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year.

Mayor’s budgets 2014 (current) compared to 2015. The mayor’s budget is amended and adopted by the city council before the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year.

With final numbers unavailable, the FY2015 budget passed tonight varies probably no more than $100,000 from the $55.7 million budget the mayor presented Aug. 25, councilmen estimate, with council cuts taken mainly from the Capital Fund and $1.06 million “borrowed” from the city’s $10+million reserves to balance the General Fund. Here is a link to the mayor’s proposed budget, presented Aug. 25. http://www.homewoodal.net/city/budget/bud15.pdf

Despite their united congratulations on the final budget and praise for the mayor and Finance Director Melody Salter, members split 6-5 in a tense vote to reward the city’s full-time employees with an end-of-year bonus rather than pay annual longevity, a COLA, or some combination of the three. The historic break from paying longevity–which the state’s retirement system has so far agreed to use to compute pension benefits–could mean the RSA will no longer recognize longevity pay as part of Homewood’s compensation package, even if it were restored in following years.

Department heads and employees sitting in on hearings this month pointed out that bonuses were one-time “thank yous,” while longevity and COLAs became part of employees’ salaries. They complained that the city–which was once at the top of the county’s Personnel Board list for compensation–had fallen to sixth on the list, hurting recruitment. The mayor and others, however, argued that recruitment didn’t seem to be a problem, since with 504 employees, Homewood ranks at the top of county municipalities in employees per capita (and third in retirees collecting pensions).

Some argued for a combination of tiered bonuses and longevity, as longevity was tied to salary level and didn’t represent much reward to lower-paid workers even with decades of tenure. Also, longevity pay alone wouldn’t have applied to employees with less than 6 years’ tenure.

MONEYBAGThe decision to pay bonuses only, but based on years of service, will reward tenure and include employees working less than six years, but not add to employee “base pay” for future increases or pensions. Arguments earlier in the hearings indicated the mayor was concerned that the city couldn’t absorb the ever increasing payrolls next year if extra pay took the form of COLAs or longevity this year. There is no expectation that revenues will increase this coming year.

Bonuses would be paid in mid-October out of an expected $700,000+/- surplus to be found  by the end of the budget year Sept. 30, with an estimated pay-out of $337,000 and a $350,000 cap. Bonuses, tenure, and number of full-time employees per each tier, would be paid as follows:

$350.00 for 1-3 years – 67 employees
$500.00 for 4-6 years – 47 employees
$750.00 for 7-9 years – 41 employees
$1,000 for 10-15 years – 62 employees
$1,500 for 10-20 years – 51 employees
$2,000 for 20+ years – 40 employees

These weren’t the only contested votes. Transit funding took a 50% cut, with one councilman objecting. Other votes failed immediate passage for lack of unanimous consent.

Members present: All–Michael Hallman, Britt Thames, Fred Hawkins, Vance Moody, Patrick McClusky, Walter Jones, Barry Smith, Heather Reid, Richard Laws, Peter Wright, and council president Bruce Limbaugh. Mayor Scott McBrayer was also present.

Staff present: City clerk Linda Cook, city attorney Mike Kendrick, mayor’s chief of staff J. J. Bischoff, city code enforcement officer Scott Cook, city Building, Engineering and Zoning manager Greg Cobb, and planner Vanessa McGrath.

Audience attendance: 30+

Approved minutes of the July 28, 2014, meeting minutes.

Declared a Carr Avenue property a public nuisance:  Fewer smiles came from the council in this continued hearing about conditions at 708 Carr Avenue, a vacant lot, whose owner inventoried how he was progressing in cleaning up each separate plant and fallen limb. The city’s code enforcement officer recommended the property be declared a nuisance, which was affirmed by Mr. Moody and passed with the advice that the city clean-up crews would give him another two weeks before coming in for a clean up.

Declared two properties public nuisances: Property owner Jean Byars had been given extra time to clear excessive weeds at her residence and property next door at 1628 and 1631 16th Place South. The council voted to declare both lots a public nuisance, advising that she would have extra time to finish clearing the properties before a city clean-up crew came out.

Google Maps aerial view of Dorothy McDaniel building, existing parking and grassy area to be converted to parking for a building tenant.

Google Maps aerial view of Dorothy McDaniel building, existing parking and grassy area to be converted to parking for a building tenant.

Postponed a rezoning vote for lack of unanimous consent: A “no” vote to pass a rezoning on a first reading failed on the first roll call vote, Michael Hallman. Because the vote failed the required “unanimous consent” for an early decision, it will be carried over to the next meeting for a second reading. The Planning Commission had recommended owner Larry Mantooth’s request to rezone vacant property at 1659 28th Avenue South from R-7 (Attached Dwelling Unit District) to C-2 (Neighborhood Shopping District) in order to expand parking for a prospective buyer of the former Dorothy McDaniel building.

Voting no: Mr. Hallman, saying he opposed rezoning cases in principle.

Concept of a mixed use structure and landscaping.

Concept of a mixed use structure and landscaping.

Failed unanimous consent to change a Final Development Plan: 1659 28th Avenue South and rezoned to MXD (Mixed Use District) to combine a residence and work space in one building. This vote to change the plan’s design, building materials, failed on a vote for immediate consideration, requiring the unanimous consent of all present.

Voting no:  Michael Hallman, saying he was opposed to rezoning cases in principle.

Agreed to annex a residence in West Homewood:  The council agreed on the first reading to annex a residence at 1709 Hillbrook Drive in Forest Brook Estates.

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The area outlined in blue shows the boundaries of the acreage the Islamic Academy is purchasing between the school and 18th Street. The school is asking the city to vacate the unopened right of way (for 18th Street) that runs through the middle of the property. It is also asking to rezone the property from commercial to institutional.

Carried over until October 13, 2014: The council will consider vacating unused portions of 18th Street South for the Islamic Academy, in Rosedale. The  unopened road lies within adjacent wooded acreage the school has purchased, and has asked to rezone. Both requests will be heard in October.

Approved a 2-way stop and cross walk: A pedestrian–not traffic–“stop” (whatever that is) was approved at Grace Street and Gainswood Road.

Approved a state off-premises beer license:  The council had no objection to an off-premise beer license for a Shell station at 2908 U.S. 31.

Highwy55logoApproved a sign ordinance variance: The council approved an extra sign for a nostalgia burger, fry and shake restaurant at the Publix shopping center.

Approved changing insurance providers: On the mayor’s recommendation, the city changed from AMIC to Traveler’s insurance at a yearly premium of $438,986 (increase of $2,200, but more coverage).

Authorized a contract to sell a Ladder truck: The mayor was authorized to sell a ladder truck to Brindlee Mountain Fire Apparatus.

Approved five extra street lights on Berry Road: The extra lighting will cost $640 per year.

Approved budget amendments: Unspecified amendments to the current budget were passed.

Approved, with one abstention, a contract for a staffing analysis:

Abstaining: Mr. Hallman abstained, giving no reason.

Approved 6-5 awarding employee bonuses subject to budget surplus:
The pros and cons of awarding bonuses, longevity pay or some permanent but small COLAs were debated in at least three separate budget hearings, including the session immediately preceding tonight’s council meeting. The decision to award bonuses only signaled the first time Homewood has not approved a yearly longevity pay-out, used to reward loyalty, but also significant because the state’s retirement system has accepted the regularity of the Homewood longevity pay as part of a traditional compensation package and therefore figured into pensions. Bonuses are not. Employees argued understandably for the surplus to be paid as longevity or COLA, with lasting impact, while others argued that this one departure might allow RSA to stop calculating Homewood’s longevity pay into retirement pensions even if reinstated the next year.

Voting no:  Michael Hallman, Fred Hawkins, Vance Moody, Peter Wright, Bruce Limbaugh. (A no vote in this instance is against dropping longevity, not against paying an increase.)

Not so fast, MAX. The city voted to slash the service hours and funding for metro transit to "get their attention." This picture by Joe Songer is from a 2010 Birmingham News story

Not so fast, MAX. Homewood’s city council thinks they’re being over-charged for bus service and can’t get straight answers from the Jefferson County Transit Authority. So tonight they voted to slash the service hours and funding to “get their attention.” This picture by Joe Songer is from a 2010 Birmingham News story on new MAX buses.

Approved 10-1 changes in transit funding: The city’s payment for MAX buses is based on number of hours of service in city limits and next year would increase from $263,000 to $274,172. On a motion from Mr. Wright based on advice from Mr. Kendrick, the Finance Committee voted to cut the hours of service — and therefore funding–in half next year. The Finance Committee also recommended paying the Jefferson County Transit authority by check rather than in an automatic draft from property taxes, as in the past. Mr. Wright said the move would get the attention of the transit authority to clear up questions. It seemed the committee was prepared to replace some or all of the amount cut, based on response from the transit authority.

Committee members said the city’s seat on the transit board had been eliminated and — even though Homewood is the second largest transit customer in the county–the city doesn’t get enough information about how the service is billed. Several also thought the authority was counting and charging Homewood for service hours spent in Palisades, which is in Birmingham city limits. Mr. Jones, who once served on the transit board, said in its defense it was the only system in the nation with no dedicated source of funding, so it had to go begging every year. However, only Mr. Hawkins voted against the cut when it was presented to the full council. It is likely that move will prompt the authority to announce reduced service hours and also produce a clearer audit of service hours. At that time, the budget might be reinstated.

Voting no – Mr. Hawkins, saying he thought someone should just call the transit authority and ask for information, rather than cutting service.

Approved 10-0 amended Mayor’s Fiscal Year 2014-2015 budget: The final approved budget will be posted on the city website as soon as possible. No one on the council had a summary of the approved budget or a comparison of the mayor’s budget and final council-passed budget. 

Not voting – Mr. Hallman, rather than abstaining in each of the dozen or so separate fund votes that make up the full budget, asked to sit out the vote in the audience. He said he had called the state ethics commission for an opinion due to his work with a contractor involved in the Oxmoor Road improvement project, and was advised not to take part in the vote.

Referred the following matters to committee:

To Special Issues – 1) To consider a sign ordinance variance at 185 Oxmoor Road, and 2) Consider changes to ZIP code, voting boundaries, etc., on the city website (???).

To Finance: To consider a life-insurance and long-term disability insurance plan for employees.

Set and Oct. 13 sign variance public hearing: For a sign variance at 185 Oxmoor Road.

Approved closing Brookwood Lane for band shows: The road will be closed from 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. on Oct. 11, 2014 at 780 Brookwood Village for Station 103.7Q “Just Show Up Show.” Set up begins early but the event runs 5-9 p.m.

Approved a training seminar for council, Planning Commission and BZA members: The city attorney will set up a training seminar for the council, Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Adjustment members.

Paid the bills: Invoices for Sept. 8-Sept. 19, 2014, were paid.

The meeting adjourned at about 8 p.m.

City Council meeting, Sept. 8, 2014

DIscussions posted in a local forum leaked unpleasantly into post-council announcements tonight.

DIscussions posted in a local forum leaked unpleasantly into post-council announcements tonight. Click image to enlarge.

Michael Hallman tonight, during an informal announcement period following council adjournment, surprised spectators and those on the dais by announcing that he was sick and tired of being discussed negatively in an unnamed “blog” by an unnamed fellow council member. As the council president was asking if he could please hear the personal dispute privately, Mr. Hallman shot back that he had not gotten any response to his previous emails about the matter. He had also complained, with no satisfactory answer, about unprofessional texts from this same council member, and was tired of it, he said.

Although Mr. Hallman didn’t name the accused council member, it would appear that the blog in question is al.com’s Homewood Forum http://www.al.com/forums/homewood/index.ssf, where councilman Fred Hawkins, using his real name as a handle, is a familiar commenter and most recently criticized Mr. Hallman’s habit of abstaining from votes relating to former employers (ALDOT) or people he knows through work. Mr. Hallman ended tonight’s awkward moment by basically saying he would vote any way he wanted. The issue didn’t play out further.

In other news, also involving Mr. Hawkins, a developer has shown interest in buying the city-owned property on Oxmoor and Oak Grove roads intended as project to showcase the new West Homewood Village building designs.

Members present: Michael Hallman, Britt Thames, Fred Hawkins, Vance Moody, Patrick McClusky, Walter Jones, Barry Smith, Heather Reid, Peter Wright, and council president Bruce Limbaugh. Mayor Scott McBrayer was also absent.

Members absent: Richard Laws.

Staff present: City clerk Linda Cook, city attorney Mike Kendrick, mayor’s chief of staff J. J. Bischoff, city code enforcement officer Scott Cook, and city Building, Engineering and Zoning manager Greg Cobb.

Audience attendance: About 26.

Filled a BZA board seat: The council approved the reappointment of Lauren Gwaltney to the Ward 1 of the Board of Zoning Adjustments.

Approved minutes of the July 14, 2014 meeting. 

Old business

Passed a variance for more and larger signs at Alabama Outdoors:
The long-standing outdoor outfitter on 3054 U.S. 31, near CVS, will be Alabamaoutdoorsremodeling the familiar building to add a tower on the south end, and more and larger signage. The business asked for four signs, including three replacements and one large sign facing the highway that spells out the name in brushed aluminum letters against a timber background. In all, the business requested nearly three times the square footage allowed, and one sign in addition to the three commonly allowed in that area. One of the fours signs will be over the entrance, which faces the back parking lot.

Dropped a request for a sign variance at a Chinese restaurant: A request for a variance at a storefront Chinese restaurant at 24 Green Springs Highway (near Pizza Hut) was dropped with no reason given. 

Allowed more time for a property owner to cut back weeds: While sometime stifling smiles, the council listened as Charles Thompson of Vestavia defended the presence of bamboo, monkey grass and privet at 708 Carr Avenue, a vacant parcel he co-owns and which acts as a back yard for a rental property, also owned by him. Mr. Thompson had cleared the offending overgrowth, he said, and read aloud the dictionary definition of “privet” as a plant affording privacy on the fence. The real issue was that he had cut back the overgrown area after the city took the most recent picture. He was given until the next meeting to clear up the property.

Postponed a public nuisance case to give time for clean up: The council carried over a pending public nuisance case at 2831 16th Place South and 2827 16th Place South, owned by the same person, to give time to finish a clean-up of overgrown weeds, in progress.

Google Maps aerial view of Dorothy McDaniel building, existing parking and grassy area to be converted to parking for a building tenant.

A Google Maps aerial view of Dorothy McDaniel building shows the existing parking and grassy area to be converted to parking for a new building tenant. Click image to enlarge.

Set a Sept. 22 hearing before two rezoning cases: The council and public will hear the justification for rezoning vacant property at 1728 26th Avenue South from R-7 (Attached Dwelling Unit District) to C-2 (Neighborhood Shopping District) to expand parking for a tenant of the former Dorothy McDaniel building; and to amend a Final Development Plan in the MXD (Mixed Use District) for a live/work structure being built at 1659  28th Avenue South. Both cases were approved for recommendation by the Planning Commission, although the second case had one dissenting vote.

Declared surplus police vehicles for auction on a first reading: After getting unanimous consent, the council declared a series of police vehicles surplus property to be auctioned.

Looking north to Oxmoor Road where the city owns a vacant corner lot, this section of Oak Grove Road by Patriot Park in West Homewood is slated for parking improvements.

Looking north to Oxmoor Road where the city owns a vacant corner lot, this section of Oak Grove Road by Patriot Park in West Homewood is slated for parking improvements. An unnamed developer has shown interest in purchasing the lot and a price will be negotiated by the city attorney. Click image to enlarge.

Approved pursuing a sale contract for property at Oak Grove Road: The city-owned property at the corner of Oxmoor Road and Oak Grove Road apparently has a buyer. The highly visible corner lot–a former gas station that was environmentally cleared from any underground tank leakage– was purchased by the city to be sold as a “catalyst development” in the new redevelopment. The motion approved allows the city attorney to negotiate a price. Meanwhile, engineering work is finally proceeding on parking improvements planned nearby on both sides of Oak Grove Road next to Patriot Park and a virtually vacant commercial building. The delay is due to the council’s conflict over the scope of work with the first firm, which led to a dispute over cost and a change of vendors.

Committee Referral Agenda

In one vote, the council referred several items to committees, as follows:

To Finance – 1) To consider funding street lights on Berry Road, 2) To consider funding longevity pay and bonuses for full-time employees, contingent on ending the year with a surplus, 3) To consider unspecified FY2014 budget amendments, and 4) To consider a transit funding project (added).

To Special Issues- To consider a sign variance at 411 Green Springs Highway.

A Google Maps image shows the location of a residence requesting annexation to Homewood.

A Google Maps image shows the location of a residence requesting annexation to Homewood. Click image to enlarge.

To Planning and Development – 1) To consider annexing a residence at 1709 Hillbrook Drive, 2) To consider vacating portions of 18th Street South between 2501, 2513 and 2517 addresses, (an unused road) and 3) To consider rezoning 4+ acres of wooded land at 2501, 2518 and 2517 18th Street South from C-2 (Commercial) to I-2 (Institutional) for the Islamic Academy, in Rosedale.

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The blue outline shows the acreage recently purchased just west of the Islamic Academy and subject of a rezoning request. No development plans have been made public at this point. Click image to enlarge.

Set an Oct. 13 public hearing for the Islamic Academy rezoning request.

Set a Sept. 22 public hearing for a sign variance at 411 Green Springs Highway (Public shopping center).

Paid the bills: The council approved paying invoices presented Aug. 25-Sept. 5, 2014.

Board of Zoning Adjustments, Sept. 4, 2014

 

BZAIt took almost 2 hours to dispatch eight cases, two of which pitted neighbor against neighbor. Most of the tonight’s attendance was for a new residence on Le Jeune Way–which passed–while two cases drawing less public attention drew denials.

*Members present: Valerie Askew (S), Hope Cannon, Brian Jarmon, Jeffrey Foster (S), Lauren Gwaltney, and Ross McCain, chairman.

Members absent: Trey Schaeffer.

Staff Present: Donna Bridges, board secretary, and Greg Cobb, Building, Engineering & Zoning Department

Attendance: 33

All votes were unanimous unless otherwise noted.

Approved minutes of the Aug. 7, 2014, meeting.

Approved variances to expand a second floor: The board approved  a 3.2-foot and a 4.2-foot right building setback variance for the first and second floors respectively at 3116 Whitehall Road to enlarge the interior space of the existing second floor, which is already non-conforming (varies from the current zoning code).

Approved a variance to allow a screened porch: A 6.5-foot front building setback variance was granted on the Hermosa Drive side of 2 Poinciana Drive to build a screened porch over an existing concrete patio. The owner proffered to not close in the porch (an accepted proffer is binding.)

Yes and no. The BZA approved part of a variance request and nixed another that would put a planned two-car garage too close to an alley.

Yes and no. The BZA approved part of a variance request and nixed another that would put a planned two-car garage too close to an alley.

Approved part and denied part of a variance request for an addition: Approved were a 4.2-foot and a 9.2-foot left side setback variance and a 3-foot height allowance at 307 Berkley Place, where owners planned to replace a one-car garage with a two-car garage with overhead storage, and connect it to the house via a breezeway.  Denied: However, the board didn’t allow a 3-foot height variance and an 18-inch rear building setback because it would put the new garage too close to the alley. The homeowners said the house has a basement that flooded, causing thousands of dollars worth of property damage, and a car that had to be parked on the street was vandalized. The new addition would have solved both issues. One neighbor wrote in favor of the project.

Denied.   Homeowners at 310 Poinciana want to rebuild on their double lot, adding a porte-cochere. The BZA requires combining the two lots and centering the house.

Approved. At last.
Homeowners at 310 Poinciana returned with an amended plan for a new residence with a porte cochere. Click image to enlarge.

Approved an amended request denied earlier: A 9-foot right building setback variance for a new house at 310 Poinciana Drive was approved. The case was denied in July because it is a double lot and the homeowners planned to rebuild on one side, adding a porte-cochere. The BZA, however, required combining the two lots and centering the house on the combined property. It is unclear what change made tonight’s request acceptable.

One neighbor spoke requesting that property lines be surveyed to ensure location. The owner and architect stated this would be done.

Approved a variance for a laundry room:  With letters of support from four neighbors, the board approved a 7-foot left building setback variance for a laundry room at 416 Crest Drive.

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A new house planned on Le Jeune Way attracted a lot of attendance, but little opposition. Click image to enlarge.

Approved, with one abstention, variances for a new house:  Approved was a 10-foot rear building setback at 314 LeJeune Way in order to build a new house with an attached garage and storage area, although a neighbor expressed concern over damaging tree roots. (The existing free-standing garage is even closer to the rear property line.) The variance request was prompted by the homeowner’s decision to set the house farther back from the street than required. By code, the front of the house must be 35 feet from the front property line. However, to improve appearances, the owner wanted to set that point at 42 feet to more closely align with other houses in the 250-foot zone used as a yardstick. As a result, the rear of the house will be set back even further.  After discussion, the board voted to approve the variance.

Abstaining:  Mr. Jarmon, giving no reason.

Approved a setback variance for an addition: A 4-foot variance on the building’s right side was granted for an addition at 1008 Irving Road. The lot is irregularly shaped and the owners had worked with neighbors on a design that would satisfy all.

Denied, on a split vote, a variance for an addition that would put houses too close together: The homeowner at 117 Bonita Drive was denied a request to build just 6.7 feet beyond of the required setback limit, possibly due to a neighbor’s persuasive complaint about noise from being in such close quarters already. The house sits on a triangular shaped lot and the plan included a one-story addition that would follow the angled property line, but over the setback limit. The next door neighbor, however, said he very much objected as 1) his house is already only 3 feet from the property line, 2) Noise from next door already wakes his son at 8 a.m. on Saturday mornings, and 3) The property values may fall as a result. Following the denial, when asked by the owner what the main problem was, Mr. Foster said it was primarily a fire concern. However, the Fire Marshal had already given the variance his blessing.

Voting no: Mr. Foster (S) and Mr. McCain. According to BZA rules, there must be a majority of the whole board membership (4) voting in favor of a variance for it to pass. In this case there were only three: Ms. Gwaltney, Ms. Cannon, and Mr. Jarmon. The BZA, unlike other boards, used “supernumeraries,” or extra members who vote in place of absent members. Absences can matter, as Mr. Foster stood in for the absent Trey Shaeffer.

The meeting was adjourned.

Park and Recreation Board, Sept. 4, 2014

WILL PROBABLY NOT BE PICNICKING SOON AT CENTRAL PARK.

Will probably NOT be picnicking at Homewood’s Central Park.

These days, even Paula Deen has to fill out paperwork to get a place at the table at Homewood Central Park. But the controversial Southern butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth cook waited too long before reserving space for, what–1,000 people? at a Sept. 16 “Picnic to End Hunger” benefit for the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama, according to tonight’s business. Well, that isn’t totally fair. Deen, who will be at the Alabama Theatre that night for a 90-minute Paula Deen Live show, didn’t personally contact the park board about the event. It was one of her people. And that person didn’t return emails, and didn’t want to wait for the board to meet and vote, and didn’t exactly have any plans for where those 1,000 people might park before coming to the picnic–but if she really wants to make an appearance, the board authorized Public Service Director Berkely Squires to make the decision without them. And other business in a 30-minute meeting.

Members present: Chris Meeks, chairman, Paula Smalley, vice chairman, Keith Stansell, Tom Walker, Marjorie Trimm, Tom Blake, and Tyler Vail. Also present was council liaison Richard Laws.

Members absent: Becky Morton and Michael Murray.

Staff present: Berkley Squires, public service director, Rusty Holley, park and recreation superintendent, Dianne Rice, board secretary.

Audience attendance: 1

Approved minutes of the Aug. 7, 2014, meeting.

Director’s report: Mr. Squires announced that pool attendance this summer was a record 65,000, or a 40,000-person increase over the last regular season.

Approved three events, with some questions and discussion: Approved were an April 24-25, 2015 Relay for Life walk benefitting the American Cancer Society, with an expected attendance of 2,000; and the longstanding MS Walk, set for April 11, 2015, and benefiting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Ala-Miss. Chapter, with set-up the Friday before and expected attendance of 900. Approved but awaiting a firm date next summer is a fundraising fish-fry dinner benefiting Reel Life International, a Christian nonprofit men’s group that somehow combines fishing trips with a ministry to orphans. The event expects 300-400 people to be eating picnic-style on the park grounds. The group was asked to set a weekday date after summer camp ended, or a weekend date.

Authorized the public services director to approve or deny any requests from the Paula Deen Picnic to End Hunger: Based on a hurried and high-handed request from a Paula Deen company to make the park available on two weeks’ notice for an estimated 1,000 people, the board voted to let Mr. Squires make the decision, if and when the company called to provide the logistic details. Mr. Holley said he thought the matter had been dropped as there was no publicity on Deen’s website about it.

The City Council--or some of it--took the ALS dunking challenge last week and paid it forward to the entire Park Board. The board will accept on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the main pool.

The City Council–or some of it–took the ALS dunking challenge last week and paid it forward to the entire Park Board. The board will accept on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the main pool.

There being no further business, the board adjourned, then heard and accepted an ALS dunking challenge issued a week ago from the city council. Mr. Squires and the board agreed to take the challenge at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 7, at the Central Park pool, with the ice-water-filled “tump bucket” doing the honors.

 

Planning Commission, Sept. 2, 2014

This vacant lot opposite Hall Kent Elementary, characterized as an "overgrown eyesore" by one commissioner, has been approved for four, two-story houses with driveways long enough to discourage any off-street parking.

This vacant lot opposite Hall Kent Elementary, characterized as an “overgrown eyesore” by one commissioner, has been approved for four, two-story houses with driveways long enough to discourage any off-street parking. Click image for a larger view.

After hearing more objections from neighbors, the Planning Commission tonight gave Twin Construction approval on a final development plan to build four houses on a lot opposite Hall Kent Elementary school, but with lengthened driveways to discourage off-street parking near school traffic. It also voted to recommend rezoning from commercial to institutional a 4+ acre wooded parcel the Islamic Academy of Alabama recently purchased adjacent to its school in Rosedale. The property–which lies adjacent to the school and between a Walgreen’s and the Embassy Suites parking lot–was originally purchased by a developer who abandoned his plan to build condominiums there.

Members present: Billy Higginbotham, chairman, Mike Brandt, vice-chairman, Fred Azbik, Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill, James Riddle, and Mark Woods.

Members absent: James Ponseti and Fred Hawkins (member and council liaison).

Commission vacancies: One seat.

Staff attendance: Donna Bridges, commission secretary; Greg Cobb, manager, Engineering, Planning & Zoning Department; and Vanessa McGrath, engineer, Engineering, Planning and Zoning Department.

Audience attendance: 11 (including several Boy Scouts working on a Citizenship badge).

All votes were unanimous. The City Council has the final vote on rezoning requests following a separate public hearing.

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The blue outline shows the three parcels and angled roadway purchased by the Islamic Academy and adjacent to its Rosedale campus. The school is asking to rezone the property from commercial to institutional, but has not yet made public any development plans. Click image for a larger view.

Voted to recommend rezoning land purchased by the Islamic Academy (pre-K-HS) in Rosedale: The commission’s vote tonight recommends that land acquired in April adjacent to the Islamic Academy of Alabama be changed from C-1 (Office District) to I-2 (Institutional District), and that a city right-of-way crossing the land be vacated. The property includes three parcels and an unused public road that the city will be asked to vacate.

Speaking on behalf of the school was engineer Joe Miller, who had originally been hired by a developer interested in putting condominiums next to the school. With that plan abandoned due to topography and access problems, the school bought the land but has not indicated any formal plans for it except for parking and a playground. Detailed plans will be forthcoming if the rezoning is approved.

During the public hearing a question came from homewoodatlarge about the applicability of the city’s tree preservation ordinance to any project developed on the acquired land. Mr. Cobb said that cutting trees is permitted for construction as long as a property ends up with a certain minimum number of trees per acre. (A review of the ordinance shows the tree density requirement is based on parcel size, or for parcels 1-5 acres, leaving at least 20 trees per acre.)

After the rezoning vote, the commission also approved combining the parcels into one parcel / lot (to include the city right of way), subject to favorable action on the road and rezoning from the City Council.

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The Final Development Plan approved tonight adds lengthened driveways to the four houses already slated for a shallow lot on Cobb Street. The change hopefully will discourage off-street parking by the school’s busy parking lot and loading area. Click image for a larger view.

Approved a final development plan for new housing construction on Cobb Street: This decision allows Twin Construction to build four houses at 816 Cobb Street, opposite Hall Kent Elementary school. The preliminary plan had been approved In July over the objection of several neighbors concerned about the number of houses on such a shallow lot. The final plan provides for longer driveways to allow two cars instead of one to be parked at each house, satisfying city planners’ parking concerns, but not those of some neighbors.

During the public hearing, Bill Lavender, facilities director for Homewood City Schools, stated that the driveways would be directly opposite the car access areas for Hall Kent and expressed concern about interference with traffic flow during car pool hours. An adjacent homeowner also spoke with reservations about the shallow setbacks for the proposed houses, the number of houses to be located on the property, and the possible (lack of) construction quality and appearance of the homes.

Mr. Higginbotham clarified that, indeed, the houses would be 15 feet closer to the street than those to their right and 10 feet closer to the street than the house to their left. In response to Mr. Lavender, Mr. Siegel said that the houses would have only three bedrooms (master suite downstairs, Jack and Jill bedrooms upstairs) and that parking was adequate. He also said he had confidence that the architect, Joe Ellis, was designing houses that would be attractive and complementary without having a cookie-cutter appearance.

Mr. Woods, the commissioner who also lives nearby the development, said he had spoken with both David and William Siegel of Twin Construction and was satisfied this latest project would be an improvement over the “overgrown eyesore” now found at the site. [The current plan benefits from comparison to that of the previous owner, who clear-cut the wooded lot three years ago with plans to build six houses, then moved a damaged house onto one end and started to dig a foundation before work was stopped by the city. The house was removed months later.]

Mr. Brandt thanked the commenters, but reminded them that the preliminary plan had already been approved and tonight’s decision related only to those changes on the final plan, i.e., lengthening of the driveways to accommodate more cars.

The commission also voted to approve the division of one tax parcel (and subdivision lot) at 816 Cobb Street into four parcels/lots.

With cases decided, the commission ended the meeting by voting to retain Mr. Higginbotham as chairman and Mr. Brandt as vice-chairman.

The meeting adjourned at 6:27.

City Council meeting, Aug. 25, 2014

Newly appointed council member Barry Smith goes over the swearing-in procedure with Jefferson County Probate Judge Alan King. City Clerk Linda Cook awaits, zinnias in hand.

Newly appointed council member Barry Smith goes over the swearing in procedure with Jefferson County Probate Judge Alan King. City Clerk Linda Cook awaits, zinnias in hand.

No current employees should worry about their jobs, down-sizing, or pay cuts, the mayor told the council tonight in his annual budget presentation. And that was the good news. The bad news was that the budget is a tight one, with no COLA, longevity or annual bonuses for employees unless the year finishes with a surplus. The news got a little worse for past employees when the council later denied by a 9-1 vote an optional lump-sum bonus payment to retirees the state Legislature approved earlier this year. See more, below.

Mayor's budgets 2014 (current) compared to 2015. The mayor's budget is amended and adopted by the city council before the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year.

Mayor’s budgets 2014 (current) compared to 2015. The mayor’s budget is amended and adopted by the city council before the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year.

With $9.7 million in community center expenses completed, the mayor’s overall $55,733,622 budget this year compares nearly identically to one presented last year at $63,832,344, and in which the $40,778,205 proposed General Fund spending is only slightly ahead of the $40,020,937 presented for FY 2014. The Finance Committee now has the month of September to review and amend the budget before the full council votes on the final version. The budget year begins Oct. 1.

With the budget review looming, the council took time tonight to welcome newly appointed member Barry Smith (who was appointed to the Public Safety, Special Issues and Planning & Development committees, but was excused from the Finance Committee).

Members present: Michael Hallman, Britt Thames, Fred Hawkins, Vance Moody, Patrick McClusky, Walter Jones, Barry Smith, Heather Reid, Richard Laws, and Peter Wright. Also present was mayor Scott McBrayer.

Members absent: Council president Bruce Limbaugh.

Staff present: City clerk Linda Cook, city attorney Mike Kendrick, mayor’s chief of staff J. J. Bischoff, and code enforcement officer Scott Cook.

Audience attendance: About 30.

Approved minutes of June 23, 2014.

Appointed an Industrial Development Board member: Jon Berkery was appointed to an at-large seat on the board.

Mayor's school revenue budgets compared by year.

Mayor’s school revenue budgets compared by year.

Heard the mayor’s annual budget presentation: The overview, posted on the city’s website, includes an estimated $15,146,910 for the school system, compared to $15,424,656 presented last August, in the current budget. The schools would receive $7,932,000 from dedicated sales tax and $7,214,910 from property tax, according to the estimate.

Passed the following measures in a single, “consent” vote:  Dropped a request for a pedestrian cross walk across Shades Creek Parkway following a funding denial by ALDOT; and dropped considering a traffic issue on Valley View Circle, which was resolved by prohibiting parking on both sides of the street.

Approved adding parking, lighting and sidewalks on “short” Saulter: This measure, costing $31,000 total, is meant to relieve parking congestion on Carr Avenue from GianMarco’s restaurant.

Postponed public nuisance proceeding against two properties: At the request of friends helping a homeowner clear overgrown conditions at 2831 and 22827 16th Pl. South, the council granted an extension to Sept. 22.

Sent a stop-sign request for Roseland Drive back to committee:  A traffic study didn’t warrant a 4-way stop at Roseland and East Glenwood Drive, but Mr. Thames seemed set to recommend it when it was decided to kick the matter back to the Public Safety Committee.

Approved a retail liquor license application: The council had no objection to Oak hill Bar & Grill’s state ABC Board application.

Approved hiring an investment consultant: After hearing several sales pitches, the council agreed to hire Raymond James Financial Advisors, to advise on city investments. Contract amount not discussed.

Denied 9-1 a lump-sum bonus to city retirees:  After an austere introduction to the budgeting process, words of caution words from the mayor, and despite expectant retirees present in the audience, the council with just one dissension opted not to grant the payment. The bonus for 171 Homewood retirees and beneficiaries of deceased retirees vested in the Retirement System of Alabama would have amounted to $107,656 — a sum the council didn’t think it could afford. Interestingly, Homewood is a stand-out compared to other Jefferson County cities, both in terms of its high numbers of retirees and its record of denying bonuses. This information sheet shows Homewood ranking second in 21 Jefferson County municipalities, second only to Bessemer. Its estimated lump sum payout (based on $2 per every month worked) averaged about $600 per retiree.

Voting yes: Fred Hawkins voted yes, saying he was persuaded by the number of years the city had voted down a bonus (see link, above)–which is meant to help retirees keep pace with inflation. Homewood had voted yes to only three of the past 11 years that increases were allowed, compared to, say, Hoover, which voted yes in seven.

Approved vacating an alley to sell:  After granting unanimous consent for an immediate vote, the council voted to surrender possession of an alley off of Kensington Road and authorized  the city attorney to negotiate a sale price to an adjacent homeowner.

Approved more than two dozen general fund transfers: The transfers move money from various funds into various other funds to meet financial needs.

Approved a cell phone contract: The mayor was authorized to sign a contract with Verizon for an unspecified number of lines and cell phones, amounting to $18,000 for the next year.

The latest sketch of parking and street improvements planned alongside Patriot Park and a small strip retail building on Oak Grove Road. An engineering plan proposed earlier by Walter Schoel was dropped because it was too broad in scope--and expensive.

The latest concept of parking and street improvements planned alongside Patriot Park and a small mostly-vacant strip retail building on Oak Grove Road. Most of the marked park-side spaces already exit. An engineering plan previously proposed by Walter Schoel was dropped because it was too broad in scope–and expensive.

Approved an engineering contract for work related to the first phase of the West Homewood (Village) redevelopment:  A contract with Engineering Design Technologies, Inc. was approved for professional consulting and design engineering services prior to construction. Later in the meeting, it was mentioned that a buyer may be interested in the city-owned property on Oxmoor Road at Oak Grove Road.

Abstaining: Mr. Hallman due to familiarity with company principals.

Moved the following items to committees, as follows:

To Planning and Development – Set a Sept. 22 hearing after the favorable Planning Commission recommendation to rezone vacant property  at 1728 – 26th Avenue South from R-7 (Attached Dwelling Unit District) to C-2 (Neighborhood Shopping District) by Larry Mantooth; and to consider the Planning Commission’s 6-1 favorable recommendation to amend the Final Development Plan in the MXD Zoning District at 1659 – 28th Avenue South to add a second story and other changes to a structure, by owner Abby Brock.

To Public Safety – To consider an off-premises beer license for Shell station at 2908 U.S 31; and add a two-way stop sign at Grace Street and Gainswood Road, and a third stop sign on Mecca Avenue at Frisco Street.

 

Who killed this oak tree?  Not I, said the city. But residents at 204 Broadway want the body removed, claiming the city's sidewalk installation damaged the trees root system.

Who killed this oak tree? Not I, said the city. But residents at 204 Broadway want the body removed, claiming the city’s sidewalk installation damaged the trees root system.

To Finance – To consider declaring six police cruisers surplus in order to sell at auction; and to pay for a tree removal at 204 Broadway on resident’s claim that a city sidewalk installation damaged tree’s root system; to review the mayor’s budget and set a public hearing schedule for September.

To Special Issues – To consider variances to sign ordinance at 3054 U.S. 31 and a Chinese restaurant at 24 Green Springs Highway.

New business

Set Sept. 8 public hearings for the following:  For the recommended rezoning of vacant land at 1728 – 26th Avenue South from R-7 (Attached Unit Dwelling District) to C-2 (Neighborhood Shopping District) and the 6-1 vote to amend the Final Development Plan in the MXD zoning district for a building planned at 1659 – 28th Avenue South. And for For sign variances at 3054 U.S. 31 and 24 Green Springs Highway; for a public nuisance hearing for property at 708 Carr Avenue.

Made new committee assignments: Ms. Reid was assigned to Finance and removed from Special Issues and Planning and Development committees. Ms. Smith took the Public Safety, Special Issues and Planning and Development committee assignments as well as taking over as liaison to the Arts Advisory Council.

Approved filing a nuisance structure abatement lawsuit: This action is to remove or repair a structure at  1106 Irving Road, whose grounds have repeatedly been cited as a public nuisance for weeds and litter.

Paid the bills: Bills for Aug. 11- 22, 2014 were approved to be paid.

The meeting adjourned at just past 7:30 p.m.

Park Board meeting, Aug. 7, 2014*

PARKS[This report was supplied by Parks & Recreation Superintendent Rusty Holley due to the absence of a reporter. Although Holley reported that no items were denied, a request by a personal trainer and a majority of his 15 clients to reduce or cap the hourly rate charged to instructors was not carried over from the July meeting, but was dropped with no motion made to approve in a Facilities Committee meeting. Trainer Royce Head asked the board and a board committee last month to consider his request, which would allow him to keep his own fees low and his availability for one-on-one training time virtually unlimited.]

Members present: Paula Smalley, Tom Blake, Tom Walker, Becky Morton, Keith Stansell and Tyler Vail.

Members absent: Michael Murray, Marjorie Trimm, and Chris Meeks, chairman.

Audience attendance:  0

Approved: Minutes of the July 12, 2014 meeting.

Approved West Homewood Lions Club to manage game day parking, and keep all proceeds: The park board approved the Lions Club’s traditional role managing game day parking at West Homewood Park and Weygand Field. In an apparent departure from tradition, the funds will not be split with the high school as previously, but will be “fully put back into scholarships and the Lion’s Club charity work.”

Approved the following special events:

Homewood Police Dept National Night Out, at Homewood Central Park,
Tuesday, October 7, 2014.

HANDMADE Art Festival, by the Homewood Arts Advisory Council, at Patriot Park, Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014.

Birmingham’s Big Ice Cream Festival, by The Animal League of Birmingham, at Homewood Central Park, Sunday, July 19, 2015.