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.

Planning Commission, Aug. 12, 2014


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.

Following trends seen in recent meetings, the Planning Commission tonight approved three non-residential cases — including two in Rosedale — rezoning vacant residential property to commercial, amending a Mixed-use District Development Plan, and the last approving additional paved parking on the Samford University campus. The discussions were dominated by concerns over parking as commercial and institutional areas expand.

Members present: Billy Higginbotham, chairman, Mike Brandt, vice-chairman, Fred Azbik, Fred Hawkins (member and council liaison), Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill, James Ponseti, and James Riddle.

Members absent: Mark Wood

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: 20

All votes are unanimous unless otherwise noted.

Approved: Minutes of the July 1, 2014 meeting, without reading.

Approved rezoning a residential district for shopping: The owner of vacant land at 1728 26th Avenue South asked to rezone the property from R7 (attached dwelling unit district) to C2 (Commercial Shopping District) to accommodate an ADV audio/visual showroom that has 12-month lease on the former Dorothy McDaniel building. The property encompasses a drainage ditch and abuts the building and a lot  already rezoned to C2 at 2560 18th Street. The plan is to improve existing parking and expand for a total of 30 spaces. The expanded parking area will be landscaped to buffer the view of parked cars. No questions were asked at the public hearing, other than a clarification by Mr. Azbik that the property would be used for “shopping.”  Ms. McGrath explained that a showroom was considered a “shopping” area.

photo 2

View of lot at 1659 28th Avenue South

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

Site zoned for a Mixed Use District (live/work) building was approved for angled parking and other modifications at 1659 28th Avenue South.

Approved amending a development plant on a 6-1 split vote: Property owner Abby Brock requested a previously approved development plan be amended to add a second story to her building at 1659 28th Avenue South, to modify parking, and add landscaping. (The property had previously been rezoned to MXD with the original development plan. MXD stands for Mixed Use District, an urban district combining residential and work space under one roof.) Ms. Brock presented a three-dimensional video property layout, showing views of all sides of the building, and a top view, with the modifications.

Two neighbors living adjacent to the property spoke in the public hearing. A resident at 1626 28th Avenue South asked what the height of the building would be with the second story. Mr. Cobb said 20 feet height, which is within the 25 foot maximum. The resident also asked the height of a prominent wall right off the street that was already approved in the development plan. It was determined to be 8 feet high.

A second resident living at 1627 28th Ave South had concerns about the wall being out of character for the area, and too high or imposing. He asked for the walls to be lowered to 6 feet and expressed concern about creating additional parking in an area already congested with traffic. Traffic concerns weren’t addressed and it was determined that an “8-foot stucco wall” was already approved in the development plan. Ms. Brock said she would stick with the original plan.

Ms. McGrath then summarized the contents of a letter in favor of the development submitted by a resident on B. M. Montgomery Street. Following the hearing, Mr. Higginbotham asked if a side wall was on the property line.  It was determined to be on the property line, but in line with the former house and fence. The proposed parking modifications would place angled parking in the city right-of-way. The Battalion Chief said there was adequate fire department access from two sides, and with no further questions, the plan passed 6-1.

Voting no:  Mr. Azbik, giving no explanation.

Approved additional parking on Samford’s campus: The commission approved an amendment to the development plan, allowing Samford University to add a total of 246 parking spaces on campus in three new lots.

  • One area of 27 spaces would be paved onto a grassy service area behind the University Center.
  • A second parking area of 139 spaces would be created from an out-field of Griffin Baseball Stadium.
  • A third area would create 80 parking spaces near Lakeshore Drive, extending current parking there and demolishing one house.

Mr. Cobb was quick to mention that none of the new parking areas falls within or near the surrounding residential neighborhood. During the public hearing, a resident from Curry Way asked whether the utility road behind the University Center would remain open. The answer was yes, access for utilities would remain, and new drainage would be installed into the existing ditch.

Mr. Higginbotham closed the public hearing, then asked Ms. McGrath whether Samford met parking requirements for the city.  Ms. McGrath said yes, Samford exceeded the city’s parking requirements.


City Council meeting, Aug. 11, 2014–new member standalone


Barry Smith, selected to fill the Ward 4, Place 1 unexpired council term of Jenifer Champ Wallis

Barry Smith, selected to fill the Ward 4, Place 1 unexpired council term of Jenifer Champ Wallis

The highlight of this 50-minute meeting was the selection of Ms. Barry Smith among 11 total candidates to fill the unexpired term of Ward 4, Place 1 representative Jenifer Champ Wallis. Link to a thumbnail sketch of Ms. Smith’s experience, and to her resume and application letters. The council also approved recommendations to put portions of Valley Avenue on a “Road Diet,” i.e., reduce the corridor from 4 lanes to 2 lanes with a dedicated center turning lane.  Click here to read the details of the consultant’s recommendations, presented at a pre-council work session. However, a mayor’s request to solve a parking problem near the failed “community garden” site in Ward 3 also failed the unanimous consent test for immediate passage. See below. It will be presented for a vote at the next meeting.

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

Members absent: Richard Laws

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

Audience attendance: approximately 25 to start.

All votes were unanimous unless otherwise noted.

Approved minutes of the June 9, 2014, meeting.

Denied unanimous consent to establish parking spaces on “short” Saulter: A mayor’s request made weeks ago in committee to relieve evening parking congestion on Carr Avenue for GianMarco’s restaurant by establishing parallel parking spots along short Saulter was postponed by the single no vote of Patrick McClusky. Ordinances must receive “unanimous consent” of those present in order to pass on a first reading. McClusky’s no vote and position in the roll call meant the measure failed upon his vote, and by default will be presented again at the next session, where only a simple majority is required for passage. Mr. McClusky and Mr. Jones, who sits next on the roll call, represent Ward 3, where the parking situation is an issue and where residents no doubt still remember the council’s very unpopular denial to establish a community garden or green space on property along short Saulter.

Voting no: Mr. McClusky. Mr. McClusky explains that although he agrees with the plan 100%, he felt the council owed further information and details to neighbors, some of whom appeared at a committee meeting last week. The information, he said, will be delivered to those neighbors before the vote.

Approved removal of bamboo: The council agreed to remove a stand of invasive bamboo near the Creative Montessori School.

The city may spend up to $75,000 repairing sections of the channelized Griffin Creek that collapsed during recent heavy rains.

The city may spend up to $75,000 repairing sections of the channelized Griffin Creek that collapsed during recent heavy rains.

Approved a settlement to make creek repairs: The council approved a $16,990 settlement, no explanation given, to repair two sites where the Griffin Creek channel collapsed during spring flooding. The city will obtain a general release from all but one property owner.  Resolution No. 14-78 approved the $16,990 total settlement.  The Resolution passed on the Finance Committee’s motion and a second from Mr. Thames.

Postponed the following public nuisance hearings: Action on properties cited for overgrown conditions at 2831 16th Place South and 2827 16th Place South, presented in public hearings in July, were continued to the Aug. 25, 2014, meeting.

Approved recommendations to put Valley Avenue on a “Road Diet:” Click here for details presented at the earlier work session.

Approved support of a state ABC licenses to allow beer/wine sales at Seeds Cafe:  Paperwork for the license was completed by Seeds’ parent entity, the nonprofit faith-based Common Thread Company, which operates the cafe at 174 Oxmoor Road.

Referred these items to various committees, as follows:

To Finance – Request to vacate an alley off of Kensington Road; a request for amendments to the current city budget; a request to allow the mayor to enter into a contract to sell Ladder 4 to Brindlee Mountain Fire Apparatus; and to allow the mayor to enter a cell phone contract with Verizon.

To Public Safety: A request to consider support of a state ABC retail liquor license application for J. P. Partners, Inc. doing business as Oak Hill Bar & Grill, at 2835 18th Street South; and a request to consider traffic concerns on Valley View Circle.

Dropped:  A request to fence the perimeter and board up windows of the lower two floors of a motel at 260 Oxmoor Road, forced to close recently by a council denial of business license, was dropped.

Approved closing Brookwood Lane for a concert series: The road will be closed from 1-10 p.m. on Sept. 4, Sept. 11, Sept. 18 and Sept. 25 for a live concert series.

Paid the bills:  Invoices for the period July 28-Aug. 8, were paid.
The meeting adjourned at 6:47 pm.

City Council meeting, Aug. 11, 2014 — Smith appointment

Ward 4, Place 1 filled

Jenifer Champ Wallis’ recent departure for a Los Angeles law practice left a hole on Ward 4’s all woman team, but that was made whole again with the appointment tonight of applicant Barry Wise.

Ms. Wise was one of 11 candidates for the position and her selection, if nothing else, preserves the council’s delicate gender imbalance– or at least doesn’t leave Place 2 representative Heather Reid the lone woman out of 11. Smith’s application, however, reveals there IS something else to her qualifications.

Ms. Smith has a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism, and worked several years at Oxmoor House publishing right out of school in 1995, and then three years as managing editor for Portico, the now defunct lifestyle magazine. She is married and has two sons, both in Homewood schools. After Portico, Ms. Smith took a job as assistant nursery director and teacher at Trinity, then moved up to director. She continues to edit and write as a freelancer, according to her resume.

She points to several volunteer roles in Homewood church and schools, but also to delivering Meals On Wheels to Homewood clients. No other applicant included letters of recommendation and Ms. Smith’s three sponsors — including her predecessor at Trinity and a publishing contact, also from Homewood, Julie Keith of UAB, point repeatedly to a high work ethic, dedication, and organizational skill.

Ms. Smith must be sworn in before she takes over her official duties. She will not necessarily take over Ms. Wallis’ committee assignments, however.



City Council work session, Aug. 11, 2014–Valley Avenue project

Valley Avenue goes on a diet

The council met in a work session this afternoon to hear a traffic consultant’s recommendations for easing traffic congestion on portions of Valley Avenue by reducing the number of lanes from 4 to 2 and adding a dedicated center turn lane along residential areas. The road is scheduled to be resurfaced along its length using an ATRIP grant paid by federal and local tax dollars in a typical 80/20 % split. Putting the hectic corridor on the so-called “road diet” would add little cost to the project, estimated at $1.5 million in construction, according to project engineer Keith Strickland of Goodwyn Mills Cawood. Skipper Consulting, hired by Strickland to study the effect of the lane reduction, gave the following presentation.

The two intersections at 18th Street (by Vulcan) and Green Springs (by Palisades) would remain the same. The lane reductions–accompanied by signal synchronization–would be only along residential areas between those two intersections, he said. Paradoxically, traffic can be eased by reducing the number of through lanes if a dedicated turn lane is added, he said. The reason is that the inside lanes of a four-lane road become turn lanes by default during peak traffic times. Cars waiting to turn in a through-lane will stack traffic behind them, and create more opportunities for rear-end collisions.

Under the “diet”, the 44-45 -foot road width would be reduced to about 35-feet, gaining 5 feet on each side as a safety buffer for traffic exiting residential parking. This is especially important for the townhouses lining the street along the Vulcan end of Valley, he said.  He also recommended angling the townhome parking, which now are at 90-degrees to the street, and hard to navigate. All of the work would be done in the city right-of-way.

Questions raised:

Mr. Moody, looking at the study numbers, said he didn’t note a dramatic improvement on Valley, but the lane reduction and turn lanes would add wait times onto side streets. Mr. Hawkins said the safety would outweigh the slight loss. Mr. Skipper said there was very little traffic coming from the side streets; in fact, some streets didn’t need a signal at all.

Mr. Moody also said that ClasTran now stops for lengthy periods on Valley to get handicapped and elderly passengers to and from their houses; would traffic then come to a halt if there was only one lane? It was pointed out that bus could pull into the buffer area and allow traffic to pass on the left.

Mr. Wright asked if the changes would accommodate any new traffic created if the Board of Education decided to develop its property fronting Valley Avenue. Mr. Skipper suggested he ask the school board about their future plans. (Mr. Wright is the council’s school board liaison.)

At nearly 5:45 p.m., the work session was adjourned and the recommendations were addressed in a brief meeting of the Public Safety Committee, which referred it to the council meeting to follow at 6 p.m.  Mr. Strickland said he needed a decision on the “road diet” question sometime in the next two weeks.

Members present: Michael Hallman, Britt Thames, Fred Hawkins, Vance Moody, Patrick McClusky, Walter Jones, Heather Reid, Peter Wright and council president Bruce Limbaugh.

Members absent: Richard Laws

Staff present: City clerk Linda Cook, Inspections Department head Jim Wyeth, Building, Engineering and Zoning manager Greg Cobb (and others not recognized).

Audience attendance: 1

Board of Zoning Adjustments, Aug. 7, 2014

Variances granted for additions planned at 316 LaPlaya, on the corner of Poinciana.

Variances granted for additions planned at 316 LaPlaya, on the corner of Poinciana.

This month’s BZA meeting was far speedier than the one in July (involving a controversial design on Sutherland Place).  With only one case and no opposition, the meeting was over in minutes.

Members present:  Trey Schaefer, Valerie Askew, Hope Cannon, Brian Jarmon and Ross McCain.

Members absent:  Jeffrey Foster and Lauren Gwaltney.

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

Attendance:  2 (the lone applicant and intrepid reporter)

Approved minutes: Minutes of both the July 10, 2014, meeting and a special called meeting later that month, were approved.

Corner house at 316 LaPlaya seen from Poinciana

Corner house at 316 LaPlaya seen from Poinciana.

Approved unanimously:  A no more than 7.9-f00t right building setback and no more than a 14.2-f00t front building setback at 316 LaPlaya Place was approved for this planned addition to a large house on an irregular corner lot.  The owner plans to build over an existing sunken courtyard and patio as well as redo a sun room in order to add a dining room and family room and remodel the kitchen. None of the proposed construction would be beyond the lines of the current house, (which is currently non-conforming, and unbelievably, does not have a dining room, just an eat in kitchen).

The meeting was adjourned.