City Council meeting, Oct. 27, 2014

The newly merged Express Oil and Tire Engineers want to revamp this pole sign and really light it up with their co-branded name. The council, which unwittingly let a moratorium on pole signs lapse, carried over the request tonight then passed a third moratorium later in the meeting.

The newly merged Express Oil and Tire Engineers business wants to revamp this pole sign and really light it up with their co-branded name. The council, which unwittingly let a moratorium on pole signs lapse, coaxed them into carrying over their request tonight then passed a third moratorium later in the meeting.

The council tonight may have approved changes to its investment policy and okayed a $43,635 expense to move a sewer line for a Hollywood sidewalk–but when it comes to a dramatic split over an important issue, nothing beats a sign variance. Sign aesthetics ruled the evening’s discussions, with a tense 5-4 vote called against allowing an extra sign for Open Upright MRI, and a third–yes, third– moratorium on pole signs declared tonight.

UPDATED: Forgot to mention that there is a work session called at 5 p.m., Nov. 17, to hear from an engineering consultant making a pitch to expedite city projects with ALDOT.

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

Members absent:  Fred Hawkins and Walter Jones.

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

Audience attendance: Approximately 26.

Approved the Aug. 25, 2014 meeting minutes.

Nightly overflow parking for GianMarco's and JoJo's restaurants has become a neighborhood problem.

Nightly overflow parking for GianMarco’s and JoJo’s restaurants had become a neighborhood problem and a safety problem when the restaurant opted for valet parking and the city foot the bill for sidewalks, decorative lights and parking spots nearby. Now the traffic is spilling over to South Forest Drive.

Carried over a hearing on South Forest Drive parking: Tonight’s hearing to discuss options for relieving parking congestion for GianMarco’s restaurant was opened with the aim of postponing discussion to next week’s meeting, when Ward 3 councilman Walter Jones returns.  The council recently approved a mayor’s initiative that prohibits parking along Carr Avenue and adds parallel parking places, decorative lights and a sidewalk on short Saulter Road. Parking congestion along Carr and Broadway had reached such a critical point that emergency vehicles couldn’t pass, and the restaurant itself had responded by leasing additional parking space on and hiring a valet service. But the problem persists, and the question now turns on reactions to customers parking on South Forest and hiking across the bridge to the restaurant. Next week’s council meeting will tell.

Carried over a sign variance request to next week: Applicants weren’t ready to make their case for a more signage at 185 Oxmoor Road (Waffle House).

Approved a sign variance for car repair shop: Linda Brantley is converting a garage with three overhead doors at 2790 B.M. Montgomery Street to an Arts & Antiques shop. The council approved two building signs that exceeded the square footage allowed by code.

Approved a sign variance for a UPS store: The UPS store moving from Wildwood to the Publix Shopping Center, 429 Green Springs Highway, was allowed to bring its lighted Lakeshore sign, although it exceeds the limits set on the Green Springs sign district.

NO! The requested variance to allow this secondary sign for a building tenant was turned down 5-4.

NO! The requested variance to allow this secondary sign for a building tenant was turned down 5-4.

Denied 5-4 a sign variance for a U.S. 31 medical building:  The council was torn whether to allow Open Upright MRI, a tenant of a NeuroRecovery LLC building at 3105 U.S. 31, to have a secondary sign on the building facing south, in addition to a monument sign. The monument sign did not exceed code. Nearly everyone asked the sign contractor questions. In the end, a roll call vote revealed a split against allowing the additional sign.

Voting in favor of the variance: Michael Hallman, Peter Wright, Richard Laws, and Bruce Limbaugh.

Approved a “Hold Harmless” agreement with Moretti apartments: The council allowed the mayor to sign an agreement with apartment owners TDG Homewood, LLC to protect the city against any future claims associated with the development at 101 Moretti Circle. What prompted this action was not made public.

This Google map view shows the Tire Engineer's sign dilemma--no space for a council-preferred monument sign that is visible over the adjacent building. They will consider locations on the north end of the property (to the right).

This Google map view shows the Tire Engineer’s sign dilemma–no space for a council-preferred monument sign that is visible over the adjacent building. The business will consider placing a monument sign on the north end of the property (to the left).

Carried over a contentious sign variance request: Applicants for the newly rebranded Tire Engineers at 215 Greensprings Highway, part of a chain purchased by Express Oil Change in February, made it very clear in committee last week that they wanted either a variance to replace the current “double” pole sign with a snazzy new lighted one, or they would simply “re-face” both signs, which would sidestep the requirement to obtain a variance. Committee members, mistakenly thinking the moratorium on pole signs was still in effect, took a tough stand on the issue, asking Tire Engineers to be good sports and so on, and find a place to put a council-preferred monument sign instead. Tonight, the applicants stood their ground, pointing out that there was no room for a monument sign and only a pole sign would be visible over the title pawn business’s building. Mr. Limbaugh asked if they would return next week after considering other locations on their property for a visible monument sign, a suggestion they took–even as Mr. Wright clarified that the city’s pole sign moratorium had indeed expired some months ago.  Mr. Thames noted that he particularly disliked the proposal to make the sign super-illuminated. The applicants will return next week.

Approved changes to the city’s investment policy: The changes approved tonight and proposed by a Raymond James financial advisor, weren’t discussed, however a city finance employee said the policy reiterated what conservative investments state law allowed municipalities and the level of returns, with added specifics such as staggered maturity dates. More detail will be forthcoming. 

Declared city vehicles surplus, ok to auction and trade: A Sanitation Department refuse truck will be traded on the purchase of two new refuse trucks; a Street Department aerial boom and platform truck will be auctioned.

Approved extra money for a Hollywood sidewalk: The council approved an additional $4,800 expense for a sidewalk on Rumson Road as well as a $43,635 expense to replace and relocate a clay-pipe sewer line as required by Jefferson County’s sewer department, to complete the project. Mr. Limbaugh said the sidewalk, which is on a hill and crosses a traffic “blind spot” was of utmost importance for safety of walkers, particularly children.

Approved a service agreement for employee flexible spending health plan: The mayor was authorized to sign an agreement with TASC (formerly Chappelle Benefit Elect) to administer the city employee’s cafeteria and medical flexible spending plan. Administrative fees are passed along to employees.

Approved an additional stop sign at Frisco Street and Mecca Avenue: Passed on the first reading, this measure adds a third stop sign to the intersection.

The Islamic Academy attempted must remove unsuitable fill dirt and repair damage to ALDOT's right-of-way when it attempted to build an unauthorized parking lot.

The Islamic Academy attempted must remove unsuitable fill dirt and repair damage done to ALDOT’s right-of-way when it attempted to build an unauthorized parking lot.

Set a Dec. 1, 2014, hearing for the Islamic Academy rezoning, street vacation: Click here for background on this case.

Awarded a bid for culvert repair: The low bidder of three to repair a culvert at 1717 Central Avenue was Norris Paving, with a bid of $137,320.

Abstaining: Mr. Hallman abstained, saying he was working on a project with Norris Paving.

COMMITTEE REFERRAL AGENDA

In a single vote the referral agenda allows the council to send multiple issues to committees for deliberation:

To Finance -To consider 1) Traffic and pedestrian concerns at the traffic circle at All Saints Episcopal Church, 2) Renewing a 3-year garbage collection contract with Republic Services; and 3) Amending the FY2015 budget to reflect fire department Life Saver grants and related expenditures.

To Public Safety -To consider 1) Supporting an application by Jim ‘N Nicks at 220 Oxmoor Road for a state retail beer license; 2) Supporting an application by Lian Hua Asian Supermarket at Green Spring Highway for a retail table wine on- or off-premise sales; and 3) Support of a “160-Special Retail” alcohol license application for Morrison Management Specialist (Brookwood Hospital) at 2010 Brookwood Medical Center Drive.

To Special Issues – To consider allowing construction of a parking pad in city right-of-way at 2210 St. Charles Street.

Authorized the mayor to reconsider a $1.3 million loan for fleet vehicles: The mayor was authorized at the last meeting to enter into a loan for $900,000 in police vehicles, $350,000 for garbage trucks, and $190,000 for a bucket truck, already approved in the FY2015 budget.

Imposed a moratorium on pole signs: This third pole sign moratorium was declared for a period not to exceed 180 days, or sooner if the council can enact modifications to the city’s sign ordinance. Council members asked why the moratorium couldn’t be longer, but the city attorney advised that a permanent moratorium was a violation of rights. Following the meeting, Mr. Limbaugh said the council had planned to rewrite the sign ordinance sooner, but found the consultant’s services too expensive. The decision now was to contract with the Regional Planning Commission for those services.

Changed November and December meeting dates: The dates were changed as follows to mesh with school holidays: Nov. 3rd, Nov. 17th, Dec. 1st and Dec. 15th.

Dropped public nuisance proceedings for one property: The property at 104 Ventura Drive has been cleaned up and dropped from the list.

Set a Nov. 17, 2014, public nuisance hearings for two properties:  Properties considered for excessive growth and litter are at 1602 Ridge Road, and 924 Irving Road.

Paid the bills: The council approved payment of invoices for the period Oct. 13-24, 2014.

FYI Finance Committee meeting, Oct. 20, Transit funding

A Birmingham News photograph from an article describing Homewood’s and Mt. Brook’s loss of transit board representation–linked here http://tinyurl.com/mzlavg4

Finance Committee members present:  All-Walter Jones, chairman, Britt Thames, Vance Moody, Heather Reid, and Peter Wright. The Finance Committee will wait to hear more information from the transit authority before considering whether to restore funding the council slashed by half for the current budget year. It will also appoint someone to a transit citizen’s board that members didn’t know existed until a presentation tonight by Birmingham-Jefferson Transit Authority CEO Ann Dawson-August and a stern exchange that followed. The Homewood City Council, under pressure to cut expenses in this year’s budget, slashed the BJCTA’s requested $274,142 annual contribution for the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority, (as it did to the much smaller special-needs service provided by ClasTran–whose budget the council cut from $15,000 to $6,000). At tonight’s Finance Committee meeting, Ms. Dawson-August offered two scenarios to drop service proportionally to the new funding, but admitted her real mission was to discourage the council from making the cuts at all. “Ridership is up,” she said. “Connectivity benefits everyone.” There are three routes through Homewood: #14–with the most ridership– #39 and #42, for service to an average of 235 Homewood residents per day.

  • Under Plan A, midday service would be eliminated on routes #39 and #42, with typical wait times between trips remaining at 1 hour.
  • Under Plan B, the number of buses on those two routes would be reduced from 3 to 1, increasing wait time to 2 hours.

To see the two-page informational handout, click here. Route #14 was more difficult to reconfigure because it crossed the Birmingham-Homewood city limits so many times, she said. To several questions, the transit chief explained that cities are charged according to a formula based generally on hourly cost to provide service, or $53/hour, and the time spent in the city. Cities are not charged merely for the time spent traveling through its limits to another city’s bus stops, however, she said. Also, the transit CEO noted that she was well aware of city boundaries and Homewood was not being unfairly charged for bus time spent at Palisades, in the city of Birmingham. And without mentioning frequency, she said BJCTA’s reduction plans would affect door-to-door pick-up for 121 disabled or elderly Homewood residents. “You’ve got the lives of other people in your hands,” she said. Finally, to questions about how BJCTA’s service differed from ClasTran’s, she said the difference was a matter of funding sources. ClasTran was designed in part to serve elderly and disabled people in rural areas, where BJCTA’s funding is restricted to cities. (In fact, BJCTA administers the funding for ClasTran, which in turn pays the transportation contractors Hunter Transportation and Transportation General, she said.)

Committee members then took an adversarial tone, demanding more detailed information about the formula and its application to Homewood’s charges, a detailed map showing ridership and marked with every stop, side-by-side presentation of how ridership has changed over time, and–most importantly–how Vestavia Hills’ bus bill was only about $60,000 a year.

Mr. Wright, who made the original motion to cut bus funding by half, has focused on the loss of Homewood’s seat on the transit authority’s board two years ago. (State legislation allots seats only to the sponsoring city, Birmingham, and the next three largest cities in Jefferson County, i.e., Hoover, Bessemer, and Vestavia Hills.) He made that point again tonight, with Mr. Jones saying BJCTA hasn’t kept the city informed since it lost that seat and Mr. Thames adding that the council had to take the “extreme step” of cutting funding to get any answers–all points disputed by Ms. Dawson-August.

At one point, transit board member Anderson Edwards of Vestavia Hills stood up to answer. He explained some changes to the 9-member transit board and the formation of a revamped Transit Citizens Advisory Board. Mr. Jones said the city hadn’t been informed of this matter, which Ms. Dawson-August said was on the website, in news stories and in informational mail to participating cities. At this, Mr. Jones said the council would appoint someone to the Advisory Board. The issue was carried over to the next meeting after the transit authority produces the requested information.

City Council meeting, Oct. 13, 2014

The Exceptional Foundation says it wants to build an addition to allow smaller class sizes, not increase enrollment. The current building has been expanded once.

The Exceptional Foundation says it wants to build an addition to allow smaller class sizes, not increase enrollment. The current building has been expanded once.

The Exceptional Foundation has proven to be just as exceptional in its business dealings as it is in the clients it serves. On Thursday the council temporarily delayed passing a measure to facilitate the foundation’s expansion financing while while it fired questions at the architect about the agency’s ever-changing construction plan. Earlier this year, the foundation’s announced plans to demo two houses and build an addition on its west side caused a neighborhood furor, although the rezoning measure eventually passed. As discussed in city budget hearings last month, Homewood is not only the landlord, but the agency’s leading municipal supporter–whose $40,000 annual donation is about four times the amount contributed by other cities whose residents it serves. Two weeks ago, the foundation again took the park board, neighbors and council by surprise when it set an Oct. 13 construction start date and asked approval for a series of changes that included reducing a privacy buffer, digging a basement and removing an asphalt block of 12 Rec Center parking spaces for excavated dirt. As the council passed the requested measure last night, it was made clear that an accurate final plan and  shared space agreement with the park board must be in place before construction begins.

Members present: Michael Hallman, Britt Thames, Fred Hawkins, Walter Jones, Barry Smith (part of the time), Heather Reid, Peter Wright, and council president Bruce Limbaugh. Mayor Scott McBrayer was also present.

Members absent:  Vance Moody, Patrick McClusky, and Richard Laws. Barry Smith left at the midpoint of the meeting.

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: Approximately 18.

Approved minutes of the Aug. 11, 2014, meeting.

Passed the “consent agenda” which combines several actions in one vote: The vote dropped a request to consider traffic issues around Edgewood Elementary School and a request by Mr. Wright nearly two years ago to  consider landscaping around the Bagby Drive area.

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 the Dorothy McDaniel building, with existing parking and grassy area to be converted to parking for a new building tenant.

Approved on a 7-1 split vote rezoning property for retail parking: The subject property at 1728 26th Avenue South is a grassy area next to the former Dorothy McDaniel building, that is being rezoned to expand parking for a new tenant. The motion at the last meeting to expedite the rezoning by voting on the first reading failed the required “unanimous consent” when Mr. Hallman voted no–as he did tonight.

Site zoned for Mixed Use District (live/work) building was approved for angled parking and other modifications.

Site zoned for Mixed Use District (live/work) building was approved for angled parking and other modifications.

Approved on a 7-1 split vote changes to a Final Development Plan in Rosedale: There has been some opposition to a property at 1659 28th Avenue South on which two buildings were demolished in order to build one mixed-use building. The original rezoning to MXD drew one opposing vote from Planning Commissioner Fred Azbik and negative neighbor comments. Some neighbors also expressed concerns over changes to the Final Development Plan. The opposition continued at the last meeting when a motion to expedite the approval by voting on the first reading failed the required “unanimous consent” on a no vote by Mr. Hallman, which he repeated tonight.

The Islamic Academy attempted must remove unsuitable fill dirt and repair damage to ALDOT's right-of-way when it attempted to build an unauthorized parking lot.

The Islamic Academy is asking the city to rezone the property outlined in blue, and vacate the unused city right-of-way. First, it must remove unsuitable fill dirt and repair damage to ALDOT’s right-of-way caused by the unauthorized parking lot construction.

Re-set to Dec. 1 a public hearing scheduled this week on a problematic rezoning case: Monday’s public hearing on the Islamic Academy’s rezoning case had to be re-set after bad weather cancelled the meeting. However, Mr. Wright had already promised that the council wouldn’t take any action on the request until the school corrected substantial damage done to its own property and ALDOT right-of-way while trying to build a parking lot–and without proper permitting or inspections. That report will wait until the new hearing date.

The property encompasses roughly four acres of wooded land on a steep incline which the school is asking to be rezoned from commercial to institutional uses. It is also asking the city to surrender an unused right-of-way that crosses through the property. Although the Planning Commission recommended the rezoning 6-0, a council denial at this stage wouldn’t be the first on this contested piece of land. A previous council that denied a commission-recommended rezoning from commercial to residential prompted a lawsuit by the residential development firm, Cubed LLC, which only recently was dismissed after the property was sold to the school. The surveyor for the residential development, Joseph Miller, continues to work, now on behalf of owner North American Islamic Trust, Inc.

Re-set to Oct. 27 a hearing for a Waffle House sign variance: – The case is for the business at 185 Oxmoor Road, in the newly designated West Homewood (zoning) District.

Dropped an agenda item combining a resident’s long list of complaints: The council officially dropped this agenda item on a recommendation from the Special Issues Committee, but agreed to continue working where possible on issues that had merit:

  • Putting the whole city in a single ZIPcode so that residents don’t have use polling places in other suburbs.
  • Holding a contest to re-name West Homewood.
  • Fixing potholes near the Huntington Glen subdivision.
  • Improving the city’s website.
  • Re-drawing state Legislature district boundaries (!)
  • Posting a more legible city ward map.
Does this car need to be stopped? A traffic study using $15,000 in leftover grant funds may have the answer.

Does this car on Roseland need to be stopped? A traffic study using $15,000 in leftover grant funds may have the answer.

Assigned a $15,000 grant surplus to a Roseland Drive traffic study: The study, using funds left over from the roughly $60,000 APPLE intersection analysis, will help the council decide whether to consider making a four-way stop at Roseland and East Glenwood Drive. The consultants will appear at the council’s Public Safety Committee next Monday to discuss it further. The intersection currently only two stop signs, facing East Glenwood.

Postponed action on a four-way stop at Roseland Drive and East Glenwood Drive: See above.

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. The council rejected a claim by a resident at 204 Broadway that its sidewalk installation killed her tree.

Declined a request to remove a damaged tree on Broadway. The council countered a resident’s claim that sidewalk installation killed a tree at 204 Broadway, saying an arborist reported the tree had been in decline for years. The city will not pay for tree removal.

Ratified the mayor’s action to review employee life insurance and long-term disability plan: The mayor selected J. R. Pruitt Group for the review.

Set an Oct. 27 bid opening at 5:30 p.m. for drainage repairs: The repair site is at 1717 Central Avenue.

In one vote, referred various new business to different committees, as follows:

Homewood voted to slash the service hours and funding for metro transit to "get the attention" of the transit authority for their unanswered billing questions. Transit Executive Director Ann Dawson-August has asked to address the council--referred to next Monday's Finance Committee meeting. [This picture by Joe Songer is from a 2010 Birmingham News story.]

Homewood voted to slash the service hours and funding for metro transit to “get the attention” of the transit authority for their unanswered billing questions. Transit Executive Director Ann Dawson-August has asked to address the council–a meeting referred to next Monday’s Finance Committee meeting. [This picture by Joe Songer is from a 2010 Birmingham News story.]

To Finance – To consider 1) Final budget amendments; 2) A new city investment policy, 3) Declaring two Sanitation Department vehicles surplus (a 2003 refuse truck will be traded in on two new trucks, and an aerial boom and platform truck will be auctioned); 4) Entering a franchise agreement with Alabama Power Co.;  5) Requesting extra funding for the Rumson Road sidewalk due to a a sewer relocation mandated by Jefferson County’s sewer department; 6) Hearing an appeal from the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority, 7) A transfer of surplus from the General Fund to the Capital Projects fund for the year just ended; and 8) Authorizing the mayor to enter an agreement with TASC for employee flexible-spending health expense plans.

The Moretti apartments, seen here from a Rosedale back yard, were named after the Vulcan sculptor, Guiseppe Moretti.

The Moretti apartments, seen here from a Rosedale back yard, take their artistic name from the creator of The Vulcan statue, Guiseppe Moretti.

To Special Issues -To consider 1) Sign variances at 2790 B.M. Montgomery Street, at 429 Green Springs Highway, Suite 161 (UPS Store), 3105 Independence Drive, and Tire Engineers at 215 Green Springs Highway, and 2) Authorizing the mayor enter a “Hold Harmless” agreement with TDG Homewood LLC for future claims associated with the Moretti Circle apartment project.

Re-set sign variance public hearings to Oct. 27, 2014: Requests are for business addresses listed above.

Ms. Smith left the meeting at this point.

The shaded area indicates excavation staging areas for a basement in this most recent plan of the Exceptional Foundation expansion. However, some buffer has been restored and other revisions made since this version was released two weeks ago.

The shaded area indicates excavation staging areas for a basement in this most recent plan available of the Exceptional Foundation expansion. There have been revisions as recently as Oct. 16 that restored part of a privacy buffer and changed a drop-off area.

Approved on a split 6-1 vote — after 15 minutes’ discussion — a lease amendment for the Exceptional Foundation: This addition to the lease agreement satisfies the foundation’s lender for its building expansion by obligating the city to buy the building if the Exceptional Foundation defaults or the city breaks the lease.

The Exceptional Foundation angered its park board neighbors recently by asking for approval of substantial construction changes on an expedited schedule that included digging an additional floor below ground, using 14 Rec Center parking spaces for excavated dirt, reducing a neighbor’s privacy buffer, and rearranging the patterns of traffic flow. For that reason, the Foundation’s lease request tonight first sparked some specific questions about the latest drawings–which the architect admitted had been hastily put together and still needed corrections.

The new drawings, however, show 5 -feet added back to a privacy buffer that had been reduced from 20-feet to 10-feet in a plan shown the park board two weeks ago. The architect said the final drawings will be shown back to Mr. Squires, and the closing of the Oxmoor Road entrance pleased everyone on the council and park board.

Mr. Squires reiterated that the park board–feeling pressured by the scope of the changes and new timeline–required several work guarantees and a new shared parking agreement that would incorporate an accurate final map. The agreement, however, can be worked out separately to the park board’s satisfaction. The council, therefore, voted to approve the lease amendment.

Voting no: Mr. Hallman, giving no explanation.

This overgrown Irving Road property has been repeatedly declared a public nuisance.

This overgrown Irving Road property has been repeatedly declared a public nuisance.

Placed a lien against chronically dilapidated property: A lien representing $13,642.68 in repeated clean-up services was placed on the property and tax record of 1106 Irving Road, which had been declared a public nuisance. [In a separate action at an earlier meeting, the council authorized the city attorney to pursue other legal means of recovering the money.]

Authorized a $1.3 million loan for city vehicles:  The mayor was authorized to enter into a loan for $900,000 in police vehicles, $350,000 for garbage rucks, and $190,000 for a bucket truck, already approved in the FY2015 budget.

Approved installation and expense of six decorative street lights:  The vote authorizes the installation, power and maintenance of six decorative concrete light poles for the 800 Block of Saulter Road at $54.15 per month for each lamp, plus tax. The area is being modified for parallel parking places to relieve some parking congestion caused by nearby GianMarco’s restaurant.

In a related vote, the council

Set an Oct. 27 hearing for other parking options on South Forrest Drive:  No further details given.

Paid the bills: The council voted to pay invoices for Sept. 22-Oct. 10, 2014.

Planning Commission, Oct. 7, 2014

Full-MoonIt was a full moon tonight, which might explain two instances of good news coming from one Planning Commission meeting. The first is the night’s only case, a resurvey that takes a strip of one person’s back yard to enlarge the side yard of a lot on a Berry Avenue cul-de-sac. The second, which followed adjournment, will be a gift from Twin Construction to many West Homewood residents, as Ward 2 representative Fred Hawkins pointed out.

Members present: Billy Higginbotham, chairman, James Riddle, Fred Hawkins, Jeffrey Foster, James Ponseti, and Mark Woods. NOTE:  Jeffrey Foster, who already serves on the BZA, replaces Joe Falconer, who resigned earlier this year. Rules allow only one person two serve in this dual role on BZA and Planning Commission.

Members absent: Fred Azbik, battalion Chief Nickolas Hill, Mike Brandt

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

Audience attendance: 3

Approved a resurvey giving 7 feet from one homeowner to a neighbor: Charles Williams of 320 Sterrett Avenue appeared tonight with his backyard neighbor on Berry Avenue, to whom he was giving a 7-foot strip of his back lot in order to enlarge his friend’s side yard. The two lots are perpendicular to each other, with Mr. Williams’ lot being particularly long, and his neighbor’s being particularly narrow. “This gives him more yard and gives me less grass to cut,” Williams said.

The lot being reduced still meets the dimension requirements for Neighborhood Preservation District.

There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at approximately 6:20 p.m.

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, was been approved for four two-story houses with driveways long enough to discourage any off-street parking. The number of houses planned may now be reduced to three.

In post-meeting conversation, however, Ms. McGrath made known that Twin Construction builders had decided to alter their Cobb Street residential development plan and reduce the number of houses from four to three. The case was probably the most controversial planning commission matter so far this year after the Exceptional Foundation, with the majority of West Homewood residents–and one ranking school system employee–opposed to building so many houses on such a small parcel, and directly across from the Hall-Kent Elementary parking lot.

Although the paperwork hasn’t been filed, when asked where this news fell on the spectrum of idle talk to “sure thing,” Ms. McGrath said it reliable information.

FYI, Planning and Development Committee, Oct. 6, 2014

photo 3

The angled area between the parcels outlined in blue is an “unopened” right-of-way extension of 18th Street, owned by the city. The Islamic Academy is asking the city to surrender that section and to rezone the entire area from C-1 (office) to institutional use. However, the school’s previous attempt to build a new parking lot (seen in the cleared areas) without benefit of building permits brought in unsuitable fill material and damaged the highway department’s right-of-way. There will likely be no action taken by the city on any school request until the site is under remediation.

The Planning & Development Committee tonight postponed until its next meeting a request to vacate, or surrender, unopened right-of-way running through wooded property the Islamic Academy recently purchased next to its Rosedale school. It will go ahead and hold Monday’s public hearing to rezone the property from commercial to institutional uses, although it will assuredly be referred back to committee, chairman Peter Wright said.

Why? First a little history.  The 4 acres +/- adjacent to and west of the Islamic Academy has been the subject of a long-running and recently dismissed lawsuit filed against the city by Kent Campbell, principal of Cubed LLC, a building firm which planned to develop some type of housing on the property several years ago. The Planning Commission having recommended the rezoning from C-1 to residential, the council at the time nevertheless voted not to rezone, prompting said lawsuit. The merits and arguments of the suit were not discussed tonight, but suffice it to say, Mr. Campbell gave up the fight and sold the property to the Islamic Academy.

Meanwhile, the story goes, and on property next to Mr. Campbell’s but already owned by the Islamic Academy, the school attempted to build a parking lot expansion without the benefit of obtaining city building permits, and even going so far as to excavate and truck in unsuitable fill dirt. That construction project in turn not only upset the city of Homewood Inspection Department, but damaged the elevated rock cliff along 18th Street, highly upsetting the Alabama Department of Transportation, which owned the right-of-way.

Fast forward to tonight, where the Planning & Development Committee huddled to sort out the matters with surveyor and applicant for the school Joseph Miller. Mr. Wyeth, head of the city’s inspection department, had already stepped in to explain that the city and ALDOT are working together to put the pieces back together again. The school is working with an engineering firm and a geotechnical firm to correct the situation, but Mr. Wyeth said he has not seen a contract yet.

Mr. Wright said the council would certainly not want to vote on the rezoning or right-of-way vacation requests on Monday, but would go ahead and take public comment before referring it back to committee. He advised Mr. Miller to ask the school to please have representatives on hand Monday to answer questions.

One positive from the lawsuit, however, is that the city has an appraised value for the property–$5,000–which it will most likely charge the school in exchange for vacating the property.

Asked what plans the school had for the entire property it now owns, Mr. Miller said a development plan hasn’t been produced.

The shaded area indicates excavation staging areas for a basement in this most recent plan of the Exceptional Foundation expansion.

The shaded area indicates excavation staging areas for a basement in this most recent plan of the Exceptional Foundation expansion. Click to enlarge

Tonight’s P&D Committee followed a Finance Committee meeting in which at least two members, Mr. Wright and Mr. Walter, said they were unaware of changes in the Exceptional Foundation’s plan that had been aired last Thursday at the park board meeting. The committee discussed possibly delaying action on lending paperwork requested by the Exceptional Foundation to expedite the project, and finish construction before the June summer camps. No decision was made however.

Board of Zoning Adjustments, Oct. 2, 2014

Back again. A neighbor and the BZA withdrew their objections to an addition at 117 Bonita Drive when the homeowner agreed to plant a privacy buffer. The Bonita request was one of two resubmitted cases after prior denials.

Back again. A neighbor and the BZA withdrew their objections to an addition at 117 Bonita Drive when the homeowner agreed to plant a privacy buffer. The Bonita request was one of two cases resubmitted in October after prior denials.

The BZA on Thursday dispatched eight cases, with two representing resubmissions on previous denials on Berkley Place and Bonita Drive.

Members present: Trey Shaeffer, Hope Cannon, Ross McCain, Jeffrey Foster and Brian Jarmon, with Lauren Gwaltney arriving late during case #3.

Members absent: Valerie Askew

Staff present: Donna Bridges, board secretary, and Greg Cobb and Vanessa McGrath, Building, Engineering and Zoning Department.

Audience attendance: 11

All votes are unanimous unless otherwise noted.

222Devon

Changes okayed at 222 Devon Drive.

Approved a variance on Devon & Hampton: The board okayed a 23-foot front building setback (19′ variance already existing) at 222 Devon Drive on Hampton Drive side in order to replace a rotting deck and porch as well as to alter a retaining wall that blocks line of sight for the driveway.

Approved variances for a bedroom/bath: A 15-foot front building variance was granted at 3101 Roxbury Drive on the Huntington Road side for a single story bedroom and bath addition at rear.

A second story is planned for this little cottage on Edgewood Blvd.

A second story is planned for this little cottage on Edgewood Blvd.

Approved two of three variances on a second-story addition: Faced with multiple variance requests for a second-story addition at 209 Edgewood Boulevard, the board considered each separately, approving variances for a .4-foot right setback and a 2-foot left building setback.

  • Denied: However, the board denied a request to build 3 feet higher than code allows. [Ms. Gwaltney arrived during this case and therefore could not vote on it.]
Back again. On a return trip to the BZA, the homeowners can build a two-car garage with attic storage, but must provide automatic sprinklers.

Back again. On a return trip to the BZA, the homeowners can build a two-car garage with attic storage, but must provide automatic sprinklers.

Approved, on a second board hearing: The board granted a 5-foot left side and 4-foot rear setback variance for a garage at 307 Berkley Place. The owner is removing a one-car garage to build a two-car garage with attic storage and a breezeway attachment to the house, saying that vandals have damaged their cars parked on the street and overhead storage is an alternative because of a wet basement. The board last month denied part of the setback request, saying the attached garage would be too far over the setback line. By removing the breezeway, the garage is judged on the more lenient setback limits for an accessory structure. However, the fire marshal requires that the garage be furnished with automatic sprinklers.

121BONITA

121 Bonita Drive

Approved variances for a bed/bath/porch addition on Bonita: A 3.6-foot right building setback and a 14.4-foot front building setback variance were allowed at 121 Bonita Drive for a one-story bedroom and bath addition with an open porch. The approval was conditioned on the porch not being enclosed.

Variances are approved for a small remodel on Peerless with little lot room to spare.

Variances are approved for a small remodel on Peerless with little lot room to spare.

Approved an addition on Peerless: The board granted a 2.11-foot right building setback variance for a screened porch at 206 Peerless Avenue. 

Approved, with landscaping changes on a resubmission: In a redo from last month, the board allowed a 4.7-foot right building setback variance at 117 Bonita Drive [pictured at top], after the owner agreed to install a tree buffer to screen for noise and provide a neighbor privacy. The objecting neighbor spoke in favor of the new plan as long as the project was built “as submitted” with no further changes.

A bigger garage with alley access is planned for this house at 546 Broadway.

A bigger garage with alley access is planned for this house at 546 Broadway.

Approved variances for a new garage on Broadway: The board allowed a 4.6-foot side setback variance and a 3-foot rear variance for a new garage at 546 Broadway Street. The current garage is inaccessible from the alley and not large enough for current cars. The owner also wanted the garage roof to match the roof pitch of the house.

The meeting was adjourned.

Park Board meeting, Oct. 2, 2014

The shaded area indicates excavation staging areas for a basement in this most recent plan of the Exceptional Foundation expansion.

The shaded area indicates excavation staging areas for a basement in this most recent plan of the Exceptional Foundation expansion. Click to enlarge.

The normally congenial park board showed another side tonight when presented with a substantially changed, enlarged and accelerated construction plan for the Exceptional Foundation. At the end of more than an hour’s debate with Brasfield & Gorrie VP Robbie Hayes –and some stern words for Foundation Director Tricia Kirk–the board agreed to let construction begin on the Oct. 13 conditioned on several substantial concessions and a rewritten shared parking agreement.

The current parking arrangement had been hastily put in writing earlier this year when the Foundation’s expansion plans were first made public. Public Services Director Berkley Squires said he wasn’t expecting construction to begin for “several years,” based on the Foundation’s previous fundraising timeline. Instead, the facility has reached its $4 million goal and is ready to move dirt. Also unexpected was the Foundation’s plan to add a basement–more than doubling the addition’s original square footage and requiring 12 Rec Center parking spaces be temporarily used for excavated dirt and construction staging. Those spaces will actually be excised from the ground and replaced and restriped by the June 3, 2015, construction deadline, according to Hayes, possibly sooner.

This plan shows the elimination of the Oxmoor Road entry. With only one entry, a proposed gate was removed that would have blocked park patrons from cutting through the Foundation drive or using Foundation parking spots.

This plan shows the elimination of the Oxmoor Road entry. A proposed gate was removed that would have blocked park patrons using Foundation parking spots. Click to enlarge.

The Foundation’s latest plan also eliminates the controversial Oxmoor Road entryway, which satisfies some neighborhood concerns but will force more traffic through the two facilities’ shared parking area.

Officially, the Foundation’s request was made to comply with the current shared use agreement, which demands board approval before any activity requiring extraordinary parking. Parks staff and board members, however, made clear that they had been blindsided by all of the changes, which were first shown to Mr. Squires just a week ago, and to the board’s Facilities Committee on Tuesday.

Board chairman Chris Meeks and members Tom Walker and Marjorie Trimm were especially vocal, with the usually reserved Keith Stansell calling the last-minute request “irresponsible.” Neither Mr. Hayes nor Ms. Kirk was able to pinpoint when the plan had been changed so substantially, or how a building permit was acquired without notice given to the park board. “Where was the City Council?” Mr. Walker asked. To their objections were added those of neighbor Brian Thompson, who said the promised 20-foot buffer between the expansion and his house had been reduced to 10-feet, with a fence running virtually “along my property line.” Mr. Hayes, who offered on-the-spot to make several concessions that became part of the board’s final motion, did not budge on this matter, however. He also countered several complaints by offering to restore the plan’s original, and very unpopular, entry drive from Oxmoor Road.

Ultimately, the vote passed with one abstention from relatively new member Tyler Vail, who said he didn’t know enough about the plan to vote. Ms. Smalley was absent.

Among the agreed-to concessions, subject to a new shared use agreement:

  • Demolish a concrete enclosure and relocate a Dumpster now in the parking lot that would jut dangerously into the new parking lot traffic pattern;
  • Remove a planned gate that would have blocked rec center patron access to the new Foundation parking spaces, i.e. creating more shared spaces.
  • Give the park board a two-year work guarantee on the asphalt replacement.

Among matters discussed and informally accepted:

  • Better and timely communications are needed from both parties regarding special events that affect parking and traffic. Ms. Kirk repeatedly noted that the communication needed to be mutual.
  • That Brasfield and Gorrie will hire, at its own expense, a third-party contractor to handle the asphalt removal and replacement.
  • That the building expansion and increased square footage does not signal a planned increase in enrollment, although Ms. Kirk said enrollment will increase naturally because of longer life expectancy in the special needs client population.
  • Board member Becky Morton, who also objected strenuously to the Foundation’s timing and lack of advance notice, reminded the board that the temporary loss of 12 spaces would be followed by a net gain of 14 spaces.

Members present: Chris Meeks, chairman, Becky Morton, Keith Stansell, Tom Walker, Marjorie Trimm, Tom Blake, Michael Murray, and Tyler Vail.

Members absent: Paula Smalley. Also absent was council liaison Richard Laws.

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

Audience attendance: 5

In other business, the park board,

Approved several events: Approved were the Cr0hn’s and Colitis Foundation Walk and the Norma Livingston Ovarian Cancer Foundation 5K, dates TBA.

Accepted the council-approved FY2014-15 budget:

Adopted were the council-approved budget of $3,899,121 for park operations, a $91,000 reduction over the board’s proposal and obtained by reducing two of three requested positions.

For capital projects, the council approved a budget of $171,122, a substantial reduction of $121,000 reached by reducing the purchase of a ball field “reel” mower, pool cover for West Homewood Park and a shade cover for the Patriot Park playground. The board’s request to design a new park entryway at the corner of Oxmoor and Central Avenue was postponed until next year, at the mayor’s request.

—Ms. Trimm left the meeting at this point.

Approved the purchase of a 2015 Dodge pickup truck: The board voted to approve a $29,300 purchase of a truck using funds from a cell tower lease previously earmarked for fleet replacement.

There being no further business, the board adjourned at shortly before 7:30 p.m.