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 setbakc 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.

 

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.

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 an 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.