Sensitive to the possibility of offending West Homewood residents even further after agreeing to relocate a universally disliked billboard in their midst, the council decided to take it slow with the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet “Good Stuff Cheap” sign. A request for a sizable variance for the discount store and its sign featuring a bucktoothed namesake, was carried over to the next meeting.
Also for West Homewood, a move to appoint a review board mandated in the new West Homewood District fell short by one vote of the required unanimous consent to pass on the first reading. The Community Design Review Committee must be activated to hear the first development application submitted under the district’s new Village guidelines. But residents weren’t happy that it was the EconoLodge making the application. The motel’s bid to expand was not aired until a few days ago. More on everything below. For more details, see this post.
Members present: Michael Hallman, Britt Thames, Fred Hawkins, Patrick McClusky, Walter Jones, Barry Smith, Peter Wright, and Bruce Limbaugh, council president. Also present was Mayor Scott McBrayer.
Members absent: Vance Moody and Heather Reid. Mayor McBrayer was also absent.
Staff present: City clerk Linda Cook, city attorney Mike Kendrick, mayor’s chief of staff J. J. Bischoff, Greg Cobb and Vanessa McGrath, Building, Engineering and Zoning Department.
Audience attendance: 22
Board of Education vacancy: There are three applications submitted for the Ward 5 board seat, appointed by the council. Applications are being accepted through the end of April.
Industrial Development Board: Mr. Kendrick said vacancies needed to be filled by the Chamber of Commerce, or in its absence, by the council. Mr. Thames, Chamber liaison, said he would get the names this week.
Approved minutes of the Feb. 22, 2015, meeting.
CONSENT AGENDA – The following actions were approved in one vote:
- Dropped a “Turn Lane Addition” to Valley Avenue
- Dropped considering a presentation of “form-based code” for Reese Street.
- Dropped considering measures to stop water from collecting on a portion of Edgewood Boulevard.
OLD BUSINESS AGENDA
Carried over again a series of changes to the city’s zoning book: Six changes were requested by city engineer Vanessa McGrath at the Feb. 3 Planning Commission meeting, and approved. Work is still being done before the council will approve them. To see the changes itemized, click here and scroll to the last item.
Sent back to the Finance Committee a lease matter from the former Garden Shop of Homewood: The matter involves the pending — or concluded — sale of the building at 309 Oxmoor Road and undisclosed and unresolved issues of a billboard leased on the property and an city-owned parking lot leased for use of customers. A pre-paid cellphone store rents out one side. The garden store closed recently.
Carried over — to the chagrin of the property owner — a sign variance for Ollie’s at the former Mazer location: Does it matter to West Homewood residents if the new Ollie’s Bargain Outlet “Good Stuff for Cheap” sign is five times the area usually allowed, features a cartoon head of the business proprietor, “Ollie,” and the word O l l i e ‘ s spelled out in big red crooked letters? Not knowing, but not really wanting to offend West Homewood residents further after recently moving a widely disliked digital billboard to the area, council members put Dunn Real Estate principal Chris Hoyt to the test with questions about the sign choice. Mr. Wright said it was a very sensitive matter, how this business and sign were perceived.
Mr. Hoyt, however, quickly parried that he was authorized to “drop the head” of Ollie to get the required variances. That concession missed its mark, though. Ms. Smith said she disliked the letter style and Mr. Jones brought out his iPad with images of more stately Ollie’s sign prototypes from other stores in the chain, asking why they couldn’t drop Ollie’s head AND have regular normal-looking letters? Mr. Thames asked if there would also be a monument sign placed in front of the building. The answer was yes, to which Mr. Thames said it sounded like a lot of signs to him.
The business at 808 Green Springs Highway, in the substantially renovated Mazer’s building, will be on the far left next to other tenants. The building is almost 400 feet from the street, hence the request for larger signs, Mr. Hoyt said.
To his irritation, the matter was carried over despite a planned mid-May grand opening.
Heard comments and concerns about the West Homewood District review committee and procedure; failed to get unanimous consent for immediate passage: Nearly a year after the West Homewood District was passed into law–in May 2014–a mandated design review committee still hadn’t been activated. The council was prompted to begin those proceedings a month ago after the EconoLodge motel on Oxmoor Road applied for a redevelopment under the new district rules. Tonight, however, an attempt to pass the measure on the first reading failed to get the required unanimous consent with a no vote from Mr. Hallman. Mr. Hallman had specifically asked to delete a section of the committee’s by-laws that authorized the CDRC to “appoint employees” for certain work under certain circumstances. Ms. McGrath said she had lifted the by-laws, with minor adjustments, from the rules governing the city’s Planning Commission, which contained the same section. The council then moved to adopt without the deletion, triggering the “no” vote that put off the measure’s passage until the next meeting.
But not before several residents made comments during the public hearing.
Comments: Liz Ellaby (reporting) asked that the 5-member committee be expanded to include two regular residents in the area, preferably people with design or planning background. In discussion, the council said it would consider that change, but would not begin the lengthy amendment process until after the committee heard the EconoLodge application, since time was of the essence.
A resident of Edgeknoll Drive said he was not in favor of the digital billboard, hotel expansions or other “junk” that in his opinion drew the wrong crowd to the area.
Michael Higginbotham of Ward 2 asked for a copy of the operating procedures being considered, saying it was impossible to comment on them without having them in advance to read.
A resident of Gillon Drive said he loved where he lived but was there to “plead and beg” the council not to allow any more projects to move forward without community input.
Approved spending up to $3,500 for a pedestrian barrier by La Bamba, Dreamcakes area of Edgewood: The pedestrian barrier is a low metal fence to keep children from running into the street. The barrier will be paid from the sidewalk fund.
Carried over a road consultant’s pitch for a scheduled maintenance plan. Volkert Engineering had pitched a $40,000 plan to inspect 125 miles of city streets and recommend a schedule of maintenance involving a spectrum of sealants, repaving, resurfacing and other treatments, to prolong their life. The maintenance program ultimately will save money on road maintenance. In committee it was learned that the project would qualify for a federal grant with the usual 20% local contribution, or only $8,000. Tonight the matter was carried over.
Agreed to amend FY2014 and FY2015 budgets for General, Capital and Special Revenue funds: Monies were transferred around, no details.
Approved on a split vote spending $1,226.77 per month for 21 decorative street lights: The lights are to be installed and maintained by Alabama Power Co., on Oak Grove Road near Patriot Park as part of a face-lift for the West Homewood District.
Voting no: Michael Hallman. Mr. Hallman explained later that the lights are funded from an unstable/limited funding source (7-cent gas tax) and the city hasn’t been able to keep up maintenance on lights it already has. Also, he received some resident opposition to having excess nighttime light — or light pollution — in the area.
Approved an $8,972 grant for Fire Department equipment: The grant is from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
COMMITTEE REFERRAL AGENDA
To Finance – To consider, 1) A franchise agreement for fiber optics with Crown Castle NG East LLC; 2) An incentive package for a financial institution considering a move to the Woodcrest Place office park, near the Embassy Suites; and 3) Setting a bid opening date for the purchase of Tasers.
To Public Safety – To consider 1) Supporting a state liquor license application for Machetes, a restaurant at 406 West Valley Avenue, ste. 104; 2) Supporting an off-premises beer and table wine license application for AF Rise N Shine 2 Mini Mart LLC, dba Oxmoor Texaco station at 208 Oxmoor Road; 3) Supporting a state retail off-premises beer license for Alabama Goods, at 2933 18th Street South; 4) Supporting a retail off-premises beer and wine
license for Champagne Cascade, LLC, dba Neighborhood Hops and Vine at 1712 28th Avenue South. This matter was dropped at the last meeting due to improper zoning and the opinion of Jim Wyatt that the business was not ready to open anytime soon; and 5) Supporting a restaurant retail liquor license for Island Hospitality Management V, Inc. dba Aloft Birmingham, SoHo Square at 1903 29th Avenue South.
To Public Works: To consider 1) A request to work in the ROW near 225 State Farm Parkway.
To Planning and Development – To consider 1) Hiring a consultant to conduct a Central Business District Revitalization and Zoning Study; 2) An agreement between ALDOT and the city? regarding the Greenway Trail, Phase II; and 3) The creation of a medical enterprise.
OTHER NEW BUSINESS
Set a May 11 public hearing on rezoning Southern Progress property purchased by Samford University: Three of four buildings at 2100 Lakeshore Drive have been recommended for rezoning from PCD (Planned Commercial District) to I-3 (Institutional) for use as a college campus. The rezoning comes with certain variances already approved, such as allowing commercial building height and waiving a setback requirement in order to keep a pond on the same property with its related infrastructure.
Set a May 11 public hearing for rezoning commercial property on Linden Avenue for church use. This hotly contested request by the Church of the Advent downtown relates to using a leased building at 2814 Linden for church assemblies. Some surrounding businesses object to the rezoning from C-4 to I-2, saying there is inadequate parking and breaks up the unified Central Business District zoning.
Accepted $17,700 for a vacated right-of-way to the Islamic Academy: The city relinquished for $17,700 a strip of unused right-of-way lying across property recently purchased by the Islamic Academy. The property was initially offered at $5,000 but was later revalued.
Paid the bills: The council approved payment of invoices for the period March 23-April 10, 2015.