Council meeting and dissolution of the Task Force, March 20, 2017

Bob Echols, center, and others objected to writing a “blank check” to the schools with little study or public deliberation to support it. The school board violated its own policies by accepting the unpaid land use study by B.L. Harbert, one resident said. All complained that a regressive “forever” sales tax was being passed to support a project with a finite set of expenses.

Mayor Scott McBrayer tonight thanked council president Bruce Limbaugh for calling a special session of the whole council before it considers whether to hire consultant B. L. Harbert — or another firm — to manage the $110 million bond spending program. And with that, a problematic and private “Task Force” Mr. Limbaugh assembled to receive bids and interview candidates for the capital projects, has been dissolved — at least as far as he’s concerned, according to the mayor.

It remains to be seen whether that is also Mr. Limbaugh’s plan, although it seemed so as he thanked the members tonight for their “labor of love” for Homewood.

The council work session is scheduled for Monday, April 3, at 5 p.m. at City Hall. The mayor’s remarks implied he had asked Mr. Limbaugh to finally make public the documents of all five project bidders not only to residents, but to the majority of the council members who had been excluded from the task force itself when it was announced Jan. 30.

Those excluded were all the newly elected council members–Andy Gwaltney, Mike Higginbotham, Andrew Wolverton, and Jennifer Andress–and also returning members Patrick McClusky and Barry Smith. The plan to keep the deliberations for such a staggering amount of money behind closed doors drew protests from several residents, especially those in Rosedale, who asked in December and January why their neighborhood had been cut from the spending plan.

The select council minority has been meeting ever since with other officials and the partial memberships of the parks and school boards as a so-called “Task Force,” an entity Mr. Limbaugh said was not subject to the state Open Meetings act because no quorum of any one board would be present. The group’s task was to receive bidders on a proposal to manage planning and spending the bond issue (and penny tax passed in October) for a massive schools rebuilding program, ball field expansion and construction of a new public safety facility. Once selected, the management firm was to continue reporting to the task force–not the whole council–rendering any record of the deliberations nonpublic as well. The prospect sparked a mini-rebellion by a group calling themselves Concerned Homewood Citizens for Transparency, who posted two open letters demanding the meetings be open and above board.

Although Mr. Limbaugh expected 8-10 bidders, there were only five: Harbert, Robins & Morton, Hoar Programs Management, Capital Program Management and Volkert, Inc. That number was winnowed to three and at its last meeting March 16 the task force recommended B. L. Harbert, which had already donated to the school board a land use study that is the basis for most of the building plans on the table now. Some have called the donation of plans for a promise of future work unethical.

Now, however, the final recommendation will come not from the task force, as Mr. Limbaugh planned, but from the whole council, whose excluded members will have the next two weeks to consider all five bidders.

“It’s never too late to do the right thing as Jack Hinnen said in his prayer,” the mayor said from the lectern as the meeting tonight was closing. The mayor said later he attended the first task force meeting but not others, presumably because it was not the “right thing.”

Nevertheless, the task force was allowed to continue to this point without objection, and Mr. Limbaugh himself had predicted the bulk of its work would be finished in early March. The mayor would also could not comment on whether Mr. Limbaugh might reconvene this or another task force for any other future project, as the group was only informally assembled by his hand-picked list, and not by council vote.

Documents will be made available to the general public by request to the city clerk, Melody Salter.

Timeline of events:

Open letter regarding closed process for hiring consultant B. L. Harbert, March 19, 2017

Council president Bruce Limbaugh, center, with Ward 4 councilmember Barry Smith, during one of two public forums about the $110 million bond issue. The matter is being handled by a “task force” of city officials, and closed to the public.

The full council is voting TOMORROW/MONDAY, March 20th on who will project manage the $110 bond money without the usual procedure of taking it through the Finance committee or having a public hearing. I ask that you take a minute to read the following and then forward to your council person– should you be concerned. The Task Force is recommending Harbert as PM for all of the projects, this is also the company who did the “free study” (which was a seriously detailed 20+ slide PPT analyzing the schools and parks current situation and also against the law to provide free services to a government entity) last year. Your council people are listed at the bottom and forward to friends who also might be concerned how the city is doing business.

Highlights:

  • The task force was put together without a consensus of the entire council and did not have any new council people included.
  • Information on all 5 bids was not given to all council members.
  • The public was unable to see the bids or hear the Q&A between the task force and the bidding companies (The public, including another council person was asked to leave during that portion of each presentation).
  • Normal RFP and bidding procedures were not followed – 1 example: Bidding company usually presents to the entire voting body.

How can the rest of the council people vote when not given all the information??

To My Homewood City Council Representative,

We are requesting from you, council representatives, to reject the motion to accept the recommendation of the task force to name the project manager for the $110M Bond expenditure at the March 20, 2017, City Council Meeting. We understand the time sensitivity of the expenditure, especially for the Parks and Recreations Board, but feel that you need ample time to understand the rationale of the Task Force’s recommendation. We have requested from the Task Force Chairman to supply all of you with the proposals of the three main bidders – Harbert, HPM, and Robins and Morton. The Task Force based their recommendation on compatibility, finance, and track record. Of the members present, they voted unanimously to recommend Harbert.

Harbert definitely had the advantage of compatibility and track record with the City of Homewood. The free study that was performed by Harbert was not a comprehensive study and it violated state laws regarding providing free services when pursuing business from a government entity.

The questions that we wish for you to consider after your study of the proposals forwarded to you by Task Force Chairman, Bruce Limbaugh, are the following:

Were recommendations sought out from other school systems in the state which have had similar projects?
What references have been performed on all three proposals?
Did all proposals include a shared savings component?
How do you define track record? If it is defined as a relationship with the City of Homewood, how could HPM and Robins and Morton compete?
Did the proposals include a conflict of interest?

The $110M bond is of utmost interest to the Homewood Community and you, the representatives, need to intimately know and understand the proposals from the top three bidders. We are asking you to fully vet the Task Force recommendation and not blindly vote on the motion to vote for the mayor to precede with contracts on Monday night We kindly request that you table the vote on March 20 in order to perform your fiduciary duty to the citizens of Homewood to ensure the most wise investment of this massive amount of our money occurs.

A called City Council Meeting on the vote on the Task Force recommendation after fully investigated would be the wise and prudent course of action. I do not know how you would back a vote to which you do not have all of the information.

Concerned Homewood Citizens for Transparency

 

Status of Park Board plans for West Homewood – March 15, 2017

The following is from Ward 2 Park Board representative Chris Bailey.

Below is an up-to-date snapshot of where we are in the process of moving forward. Next month City Council meeting will be the big day when the Park Board gets a “Go” or “Stop” on our plans. Let me know any questions you may have.

  • After the initial announcement of the “Plans” for the High School, the other schools, and the Park were announced and all bonding and tax items approved and set in place, Bruce Limbaugh decided to create a task force made up of (2) Park Board reps, (2) City Council reps, Tim Ross the Police Chief, and (2) School Board Reps and to do a Homewood Land Use Study. This group would take RFP’s from some local contracting companies to act as a Program Manager to help both the school, the city, and the Park to determine best way to utilize the funds they have allocated. The Task Force is meeting this Thursday to select the firm that will each entity will move forward with and they will present this to the City Council at the April meeting for approval to move forward with projects.
  • In regards to the Parks plans. During this “waiting” phase, the Park Board developed a very rough plan on paper that we would pursue should the school board decide not to move the high school to the West Homewood area. Here is a rough idea of what that plan includes….as I said, this was all done on Google Maps and a scratch piece of paper.
    • Put ~4 multipurpose fields in the location of the existing Mason Property
    • There is a portion of the Mason Property that has been added on in the recent past. We want to see if this can be renovated into a gymnasium for a fair amount since the structure and foundation are there. With athletics growing every year and Homewood already being out of gym space, this is a pretty important item.
    • Renovate and remodel all existing ball fields and press boxes
    • Add ~4 new ball fields
    • Move West Homewood Park pool to Patriot Park location. Existing facility is in very bad shape and we need space for more fields to accommodate over populated baseball programs. Also, Central Park pool is overcrowded and a new pool would help take stress of other facility.
    • Create more parking and access roads from stadium instead of just access from West Oxmoor.
    • Utilize exiting facilities warehouse on backside of property for storage for each Homewood Youth Sport along with possible indoor batting cage facility.
  •  This “Option B” concept is actually better financially for the Parks and Rec because of our ability to renovate and remodel instead of full demolish as was plan with the High School plan.
  • Due to having to work around baseball season, the Park Board has requested moving forward immediately with approval by City Council in April with conceptual drawings by whomever is chosen as Program Manager and Architectural Firm by the Task Force.
  • The tentative plan is this;
    • Approval first of April
    • Conceptual drawings produced of West Homewood Park and pool at Patriot Park
    • Public Forum to discuss round 1 concept drawings
    • Revise drawings with public input
    • Public Forum #2 to show revised plans per input
    • Revise drawings for final set
    • Start project on June 30th at both locations to ensure project is finished by baseball and softball season of 2018 along with the opening of the pool for summer. If project gets delayed for whatever reason, it would push project back (1) year since having to work around baseball and softball seasons.

 

Thanks,
Christopher Bailey, LEED A.P.
Faithful Construction LLC

Board of Zoning Adjustments, March 2, 2017

Layout for addition at 1603 Oxmoor Road

Layout for addition on East Hawthorne

 

Two cases in the Lucerne area fell to neighborhood opposition on Thursday, one harder than the other. Nearly 20 residents arrived armed with statistics, court citations and zoning precedent to argue down a plan to demolish a Lucerne house and divide the large lot into three smaller properties. The BZA, whose jurisdiction is limited to allowing minor adjustments to zoning regulations, agreed with objectors and unanimously turned down variances for smaller and narrower lot sizes. Not far away on Rockaway, a family planning to build a house to indulge their passion for working on cars and frequent entertaining were turned down for a variance allowing an oversized garage with hydraulic lift and other custom details.

Members present: Lauren Gwaltney, chair, Ty Cole, Brian Jarmon, Jeffrey Foster (S), vice chair, Beverly LeBoeuf, and Stuart Roberts (S).

Members absent: Matt Foley and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Staff present: Greg Cobb and Vanessa McGrath of the Building, Engineering and Zoning Department; Planning and zoning clerk Donna Bridges and planner Fred Goodwin.

Audience attendance: 25

*Note on procedure: By state law, zoning variances granted by the 5-member board require a super majority of 4 members voting in the affirmative. To keep business moving in case of absences, the law also allows two supernumerary members (S) to sit in and vote if needed. Variances expire in 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained.

205 Fairlane Drive

205 Fairlane Drive

Granted a setback variance for an addition to a house on Fairlane:  One Call Construction presented his case to build a bathroom addition straight back from the current house, but crossing the left setback by 2.3-feet because the lot is narrower in the back. The bathroom can’t be moved out of the setback without moving the outdoor HVAC system and redoing the ductwork. The variances passed with little discussion.  

1723-kensington-road

1723 Kensington Road

Granted to continue a significant setback variance for an addition on Kensington:  The homeowner at 1723 Kensington plans an addition and will extend and enclose a covered patio that already extends 4.7 feet into the left setback, requiring a 5.3-foot total setback variance. The additional foot is to accommodate a chimney. The left side is bordered by an alley between his and neighbor’s house.

With the case obviously won, Mr. Cole asked why he and the neighbor didn’t have the alley vacated so they could purchase it together and share the additional drive. With the additional space, the homeowner would not have needed a variance.

1807 Lancaster Road

1807 Lancaster Road

Granted a left setback variance for an addition planned on Lancaster:  Homeowners at 1807 Lancaster Road plan to add a second level bedroom addition in the rear and want to keep it in line with the current building, which is already 2.4 feet into the left setback. There were two letters in support and one letter expressing opposition to the destruction of a tree in the rear. There was some confusion then as board members began examining the wrong plans and then realized their mistake; the tree issue was irrelevant because it is not on the neighbor’s property.  The variance passed with few other questions.

Pergola at 322 Woodland Drive

Pergola at 322 Woodland Drive

Granted a setback variance for a pergola built on an existing deck/addition on Woodland:  The homeowner at 322 Woodland Drive asked for a 3-foot variance to replace rotting porch decking and railings on a side-yard deck and add a pergola, which is an open, arbor-like wooden structure that has overhead beams but no enclosed roof. The project was almost completed without a variance or permit due to confusion in November when city staff told the homeowner he didn’t need a permit for the repairs, then realized the pergola would require a variance and permit, because it was covered. The homeowner proffered that he would not enclose the pergola and with that the case was approved.

130 East Hawthorne Road

130 East Hawthorne Road

Granted variances on front and left sides for an addition on East Hawthorne:  The house at 130 East Hawthorne was built in the 1940s and is currently 2 feet over the left setback. A planned 1,100 square foot addition extending to the rear will cross the same setback in two additional places, for a total of two new variances and one continued variance. On the front, homeowners plan to add a front porch and a bay window, requiring a 4-foot variance from the front setback. Although the addition is within the required 25-foot minimum from the street, house fronts have to stay within a line between two adjacent houses. This was complicated by the fact that the subject house is on a curve. The board approved the variances with little discussion.

Plan for 208 Rockaway

Plan for 208 Rockaway

Rejected a variance on a split vote for a new house on Rockaway: Questions raised late in the case about a planned oversized garage with hydraulic lift split the board and ended in an unfavorable 3-2 vote to approve (variances require at least four out of five yes votes to pass).  1 letter expressed an objection and two others from the street expressed no objection. In addition, the neighbor living on the downhill side was concerned about drainage onto her crawlspace. That question had not yet been addressed.

208 Rockaway Road

208 Rockaway Road

The plan is for the owners, a couple now living elsewhere, to rebuild on the parents’ former property at 208 Rockaway Road after razing the “dilapidated” residence there. The husband is co-president of Birmingham Motoring Club whose plan was to customize the house to work on vintage collectible cars now maintained at a Chelsea storage property.  It was, ironically, the designers’ overly detailed and enthusiastic presentation of this plan that landed the two unfavorable votes. Architect Rebecca Whitlow of Revolutionary Architecture and engineer Cale Smith went on at length about accommodating the new owner’s passion and hobby for restoring cars–including the 1,000 square foot garage with hydraulic lift, kitchenette and half-bath–and the couple’s passion and habit of entertaining large numbers of people. Those two ideas, repeated frequently from the podium, prompted a spectator finally to ask if the owners planned to open an auto service business in the neighborhood. “It sounds like a business in Chelsea is moving here,” he said. The board then reopened the public portion of the meeting to question the explore that idea.

Ms. LeBoeuf asked if the cars were being restored to resell, in other words, a business. The owner said it was merely a hobby, that the cars were primarily small British sports cars and would not be worked on outside. The couple plans to keep the storage property in Chelsea. The large numbers of people were just family and friends who liked to drop by, she said.

A vote taken at this point was 3-2 in favor of the variance, which failed.

Voting no: Mr. Jarmon and Mr. Foster

Concept for three houses at 169 Lucerne. The variances for three undersized lots was rejected.

Concept for three houses at 169 Lucerne. The variances for three undersized lots was rejected.

Returning case: Unanimously rejected requests to waive lot area minimums for new houses on Lucerne:  Once again, developer and prospective homebuyer Ben Stroud was requesting variances on lot sizes and widths in order to re-survey 169 Lucerne into three smaller lots as they were originally platted in the subdivision. As a stated hardship, Mr. Stroud argued the resulting lots would fall short of the required sizes because a strip of land had been sold off the east end. Specifically, he requested a 665-square foot variance on lot 157, a 862 square foot variance on lot 158, and a 757 square foot variance on lot 159, with an equal 6-foot width variance on all three. All requests were denied.

[It is the Planning Commission, not the BZA, that rules on whether a property can be re-surveyed into smaller divisions. The question before the BZA was only if it would allow the smaller lot areas and widths if the PC allowed the redrawing.]

Drawing showing odd-shaped lot divisions proposed to preserve frontage on Lucerne. The developer will return to the drawing board.

Drawing showing originally proposed odd-shaped lot divisions. .

The case was carried over from last month, when Mr. Stroud had proposed a vastly irregular redrawing of the property to preserve wide street frontage on the two end lots by setting the center lot back from the street (pictured). With neighbors opposed and a threatened rejection, he agreed to rethink the division and returned Thursday asking for equal lot divisions. This time, however, 18 residents stood up in opposition to the plan. None were present in support.

Opposition from residents:

  • A neighbor from 348 Lucerne said the variances and house designs depart so significantly from the norm that it was not an appropriate request for the BZA, which is to decide to minor adjustments to the zoning code. He argued that the average lot width, which is determined by an average, is greater than the width proposed by Mr. Stroud. He also argued that the house renderings were not in keeping with the neighborhood’s architecture.
  • A neighbor from 272 Lucerne said there have been two sinkholes in the street in front of the property. He asked the BZA to protect the look of the whole neighborhood while considering the individual request, and pointed out the developer’s stated hardship was self-inflicted, as the property didn’t have to be divided at all except for profit. Financial hardship is not an allowed justification to waive regulations.
  • A neighbor from 1165 South Shadesview Terrace said she was concerned the construction would destroy the tree buffer that shields her view of Lakeshore and helps muffle the traffic sound.
  • A neighbor from 375 Lucerne cited a state Supreme Court decision that found building a house across two lot lines established the two lots as one lot. That is the case on the current property. She also pointed to a concerning land settling on the easternmost lot.
  • Another neighbor said the BZA itself in 2006 had set a precedent by ruling against his request to divide property into smaller lots.
  • A neighbor at 313 Lucerne said the city had required merging two smaller lots into one to accommodate her renovation. She argued that the averages calculated by future developers would be affected by as much as 10% if the BZA granted these variances.

The builder responds:      

  • The builder said his plan was not a radical departure from the size or style of houses in the neighborhood. He said his goal was to retain the neighborhood’s character, pointing out that there were already new “castles” on the street that towered over older houses. He also said the proposed lot widths were consistent with 50, 60, and 70-foot lot width across the street and nearby. The computed average lot width that sets the norm is artificially higher because of extra large lots elsewhere in the neighborhood, he said.
  • To objections over the housing styles, the builder said renderings of houses circulated to neighbors were not necessarily what would be built.
  • Concerns raised last month about water draining across the property were “resolvable,” he said.

The board was obviously influenced by the degree of opposition. When a vote was called it was unanimously against granting the variances.

3036 Independence Drive

3036 Independence Drive

Granted a 20-foot rear variance for a new commercial building on U.S. 31 by CVS: Representatives with Inkana Development plan to add a second floor to the State Farm building (which is at 3036 Independence Drive, not the CVS Building at 3030, as published). Inkana was allowed to continue the non-compliant 20-foot rear variance the current building occupies in order to spare the current to build an addition and spare 9 of the 10 existing parking spaces. The building is currently owned by the Baptist Foundation of Alabama.  

1603 Oxmoor Road

1603 Oxmoor Road

Granted a right building setback for a house on Oxmoor:  In the shortest case of the evening, homeowners at 1603 Oxmoor Road were allowed to continue an existing 2.2-foot right setback variance in order to build an addition approximately 25 feet to the rear.

 

Rosedale repair and renewal, Feb. 21, 2017

Mary Edwards at the Rosedale Community Development Committee meeting, asking for action on a list of concerns.

Mary Edwards at the Rosedale Community Development Committee meeting, asking for action on a list of concerns.

After a 90-minute meeting Tuesday night, Homewood Mayor Scott McBrayer pledged to put city effort immediately into fixing broken street lights, replacing missing street signs and completing other small public works projects in Rosedale, where 65+ Homewood residents showed up to talk about maintenance concerns in the historically black, low-income neighborhood.

But he refused to seal that declaration by signing a petition asking for much, much more.

“That’s not really how it works,” McBrayer told member Jeremy Love, a Rosedale resident who since January has been circulating a change.org petition asking for housing help for elderly and disabled, new playgrounds at the Lee Community Center and park, retail/business development, historic recognition, signage and gateways, and funding for an economic development plan similar to one in West Homewood. Love is a member–but apparently a frustrated one–of the Rosedale Community Development Corporation, an advocacy group that has met regularly for years and which officially hosted the mayor and two councilmen at last night’s meeting.

Despite the meeting length, it adjourned with no clear next step and apparent disagreement between two RCDC factions and even among audience members about what course of action to take.

Jeremy Love, Mayor Scott McBrayer, councilman Britt Thames, RCDC moderator Doug Clapp and councilman Andy Gwaltney

Jeremy Love, Mayor Scott McBrayer, councilman Britt Thames, RCDC moderator Doug Clapp and councilman Andy Gwaltney

The group, led by Dennis Bush, was “moderated” last night by RCDC member Doug Clapp, a Samford classics professor and Rosedale resident who has been working in the neighborhood since 2001. Clapp said it was he, not Love, who invited the mayor and Ward 1 reps Britt Thames and Andy Gwaltney after residents had compiled a list of their concerns during a meeting in November, including a demand for public clean-up of dilapidated properties.

At their request, the city in January identified 13 properties that meet the criteria for formal abatement (public repair or demolition of unsafe structures). The police chief was also given six locations to investigate where there were disabled vehicles or cars parked in yards.

Rosedale resident Mary Edwards, 84, scolds the council for not considering the needs of Rosedale in planning to use the tax and bond windfall.

Rosedale resident Mary Edwards, 84, scolded the council in December for not considering the needs of Rosedale in planning to use the tax and bond windfall.

But the meeting also appeared to materialize after 84-year-old Mary Edwards of Rosedale was allowed to speak at a Dec. 19 council forum about the $110 million bond issue approved for schools, parks and police. Edwards, who has become the face of Rosedale’s grievances in recent news and a WBHM radio feature, asked for a share of the money for Rosedale, shaming the council for its neglect of the area, and asking for a show of hands if anyone thought it was “fair.” Love spoke at a second forum Jan. 30 with a formal–and ambitious–wish list spelled out in the petition. The petition [ https://www.change.org/p/city-of-homewood-alabama-capital-improvements-for-rosedale-revitalization ] now has more than 200 signatures.

Love and Edwards appear to have lost patience with the progress of the RCDC.

“We want funding for a plan,” Love told the mayor Tuesday. “[City Council president] Bruce Limbaugh asked for a prioritized list. I am presenting it now, to allocate money for a plan,” he said. “Here and now.”

Mayor McBrayer asks the RCDC audience to communicate by phone and email, not petitions.

Mayor McBrayer asks the RCDC audience to communicate by phone and email, not petitions.

During the meeting Thames and Gwaltney outlined the arduous legal process that allows a government to force the repair of dilapidated property, calling it the “step of last resort.” Edwards later stood up to challenge city officials: “How long will it take for us to get what we asked for?” she said. “Stop putting us on the back burner.” The mayor, who bantered with Edwards about his personal integrity, quoting the Bible, said residents should report problems quickly and through the usual channels such as phone calls and emails–not petitions.

The audience seemed divided on whether abatement and nuisance enforcement were positive steps, however. One resident recalled having a car towed when she was an unemployed single mother taking care of her own mother. “Before you start doing things, you should knock on doors to see what’s going on inside the house,” she said. Another resident recounted having property “taken” through an abatement process, although city officials disputed the details. Housing abatement doesn’t ordinarily give the government title to private property, they said.

A screenshot of an interactive map of Rosedale showing blighted properties and proposed amentiies

A screenshot of an interactive map of Rosedale showing blighted properties and proposed amenities. https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1qnVESEOEs-hlj_6pCs3te5wJ1XQ&ll=33.484650268737425%2C-86.78923485000001&z=16

As described, the abatement process begins by identifying unsafe properties and contacting owners to make necessary repairs. If owners don’t respond, the property can be referred to an Abatement Board for action. At that point, the owner is given 60 days to comply before the matter is referred to the city council. Abatement can include repairs or demolition, with costs attached to the property in the form of a lien. Council decisions can be appealed to state circuit court.

Love was recently appointed by the council to the Ward 1 seat on the city’s Abatement Board.

“If this is what the community wants, then we have the power to do it,” councilman Thames said.

 

Planning Commission, Feb. 7, 2017

Planning Commission pre-meeting.

Planning Commission pre-meeting. Both of Thursday’s cases were eventually carried over.

Two important cases scheduled Thursday were postponed to allow more preparation. In one, a gated subdivision addition approved seven years ago but never completed has been revived to widespread concern of surrounding homeowners about potential blasting, damage control, runoff and incomplete plans to provide fire protection. The plan to redraw four lots into six in the Devonshire subdivision on Shades Mountain will go back to the drawing board to answer significant questions. Meanwhile, a request to divide a Green Springs commercial parcel and open it to Columbiana Road was put on hold while owners investigated the legality of the plan.

Members present: Billy Higginbotham, chair, Jeffrey Foster, James Riddle, Brady Wilson, and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Absent: Mike Brandt, vice chair, Britt Thames, Fred Azbik, and Mark Woods.

Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk, Fred Goodwin, planner, and Vanessa McGrath, building, engineering and zoning department.

Audience attendance: 16

Minutes: January 2016 minutes were approved.

NEW BUSINESS

devonshire

The map shows the extent of the Devonshire subdivision, including two built lots (lower and upper left shaded areas) and the 4-lot addition approved in 2010. New owner/developer Kadco Homes is proposing to redraw the addition into six lots and extend sewer and water lines and make other changes. Adjacent Homewood residents have objected to a host of potential problems; the development also abuts the Vestavia line on the south.

Carried over a preliminary plat and construction plans for a 6-lot subdivision near Berry Road: With significant issues such as drainage and fire protection still unanswered and six households either opposing or expressing important concerns, the commission advised Wade Lowery of the Engineering Design Group to carry over the request or risk a denial. EDG took the advice on behalf of owner/developer Kadco Homes, LLC (Charles Kessler).

The project:

The project is a continuation of the 2010 Devonshire subdivision, which had been envisioned in 2007 by a former councilman as an exclusive gated community of six large houses on estate-sized lots, two of which were his own residence and that of his mother’s, both now sold and occupied by others. Those two current homeowners at #1 and #2 Abbey Lane, who were among the speakers on Thursday, also comprise the membership of the “homeowners association” and co-own a private wall, gate and drive accessing their property.

Original division of the Devonshire property into four lots. The developer plans to re-divide into six.

Original division of the Devonshire addition into four lots. The developer plans to redivide this portion into six.

The new development team has proposed dividing the four vacant lots approved in 2010 into six lots, extending a sanitary sewer (as opposed to using septic systems) and bringing an extended water main to supply a fire hydrant. Undecided plans for fire protection and stormwater drainage from the remote site were of particular concern to the commission. The fire hydrant on the plan has not been thought out or approved and there were concerns raised in the pre-meeting about the ability to gain adequate pressure for the hydrant. Also of concern was the status of a 2010 proffer from the preceding owner to furnish sprinklers in the new houses in the absence of a hydrant, and other relevant covenants on the land. These problems and others raised by residents in the public hearing contributed to the postponement.

Opposing or concerned speakers: 

  • A man speaking on behalf of his mother living on Berry said he  objected to the new plan because of surface water drainage downhill to Berry. He had relied on the 2010 approval for four lots and was worried the additional houses and construction required for sewer and water would disturb the natural buffer that was to remain in the original plan.
  • A Berry resident echoed the concern about drainage downhill to her house.
  • A Mt. Gap resident was concerned about potential damage from blasting and asked if Abbey Lane would be connected through to Mt. Gap (no, the Abbey Lane drive will be extended to a planned turnaround).
  • A Mt. Gap Drive resident whose property abuts the development on two sides was also concerned about a through road, proximity of construction work and equipment to her property, and potential damage from blasting a rock outcropping.
  • The homeowner at 1 Abbey Lane, a current homeowners association member who bought his house in 2014, was concerned about drainage problems, making the street a through road, and asked for guarantees to repair any damage to the communal gate, wall and drive. “There are only two of us, but we are a gated community and the purpose of the gate is defeated if the road will be continued,” he said. “When we bought this property in 2014, we did so with the knowledge of four lots and four larger houses. Now that value will change.”
  • The homeowner at 2 Abbey Lane echoed the same concerns, adding he wanted to be part of any change to the current covenants.

The engineer and commission respond:

The engineer admitted the project may require blasting and if so would comply with the relevant regulations. As to drainage, he mentioned for the first time that drainage channels and a detention pond would be added to the plans. He did  not object to arranging a construction easement on the private communal property controlled under HOA ownership.

Nevertheless, Mr. Higginbotham said he could not cast a vote on plans with so many questions left unanswered. The engineer agreed and the case was continued to next month.

819 Green Springs Highway

Property owners want to redevelop three buildings (yellow shading) housing the former Captain D’s, a seafood shop and car customizing business. But a questionable lot division proposed with access from residential Columbiana Road forced a postponement.

Carried over a Green Springs plan to divide commercial property with an entrance on Old Columbiana Road.  Owners of a large commercial tract at 819 Green Springs Highway want to divide the property into two lots, raze three buildings and redevelop the portion facing Green Springs and open an access point onto Columbiana Road for the new lot. Mr. Higginbotham told the family ownership in a pre-meeting that he suspected covenants on the land guaranteed a 30-foot buffer between the commercial lot and the street, which is residential. He doubted the legality of disturbing that buffer with a commercial entrance, he said. Adjacent Columbiana Road property being developed with 10 townhouses had no such covenants, Mr. Higginbotham said. Owners organized as F.R.Z. LLC asked how to investigate the covenants and were told to consult a lawyer or surveyor.

buffer

Google Maps aerial showing tree buffer along rear of former Captain D’s property.

(pictured) Columbiana residents were upset when the owners cleared trees behind the property without a permit or advance notice. To add to the buffer, visible bordering the rear of the property (on the right), the city also planted a dozen small evergreen trees, which have not survived.

Board of Zoning Adjustments, Feb. 2, 2017

Concept for one of three new houses proposed on Lucerne. The developer withdrew a variance case to talk to neighbors first.

Concept for one of three new houses proposed on Lucerne. The developer withdrew a variance case to talk to neighbors first.

While most cases sailed through to approval, a creative lot division and housing plan proposed on Lucerne brought out five households to protest and was withdrawn before the board could vote an almost guaranteed denial. Developer Ben Strout proposed dividing a large property into three smaller, oddly shaped lots to overcome difficulties with the lay of the land. Those difficulties together with a substantially smaller lot area and width stopped the case before it came to a vote. Shown is one of three proposed new house designs, which also are subject to change.

Members present: Brian Jarmon, Jeffrey Foster (S), vice chair, Beverly LeBoeuf, Matt Foley, and Stuart Roberts (S).

Members absent: Lauren Gwaltney, chair, Ty Cole, and Batallion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Staff present: Greg Cobb of the Building, Engineering and Zoning Department; Planning and zoning clerk Donna Bridges and planner Fred Goodwin.

Audience attendance: 22

*Note on procedure: By state law, zoning variances granted by the 5-member board require a super majority of 4 members voting in the affirmative. To keep business moving in case of absences, the law also allows two supernumerary members (S) to sit in and vote if needed. Tonight there were only four present for the first three cases, meaning each vote had to be unanimous to pass, which they were. Variances expire in 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained.

NEW BUSINESS

417 Edgewood Boulevard, by creekside

417 Edgewood Boulevard, by creekside

Granted a right side variance for an addition on Edgewood Blvd.: Builder Joe Ellis was granted a 2.6-foot right setback variance for an new residence with a larger footprint at 417 Edgewood Blvd. The variance is on the driveway side, which faces the creek, and was approved with little discussion.

1802 Lancaster

1802 Lancaster

Granted a right side setback variance for an addition on Lancaster: Architect Alex Krumdieck was granted a 2.9-foot variance for a bath and laundry addition at 1802 Lancaster Road.  

416 Woodland Drive

416 Woodland Drive

Granted, after long discussion, a variance for a front porch addition on Woodland: The builder’s plan is to  camouflage the outdated split-level facade at 416 Woodland Drive by adding an open front porch on the right side, an aesthetic move that involved no real hardship but was passed nevertheless. Board members raised a few concerns, one, that the

A builder plans this front addition to camouflage an outdated the appearance of a split-level house on Woodland.

The builder plans this front addition at 416 Woodland to camouflage the outdated appearance of the split-level house.

house was already prominent on the street and pushing the front line forward would make it more so; and two, that a rendering showing siding, dark painted garage doors and heavy timbers be “lightened up.” The builder’s concept drawing was subject to change and not open to debate, however. Without objection from neighbors, the board voted unanimously to allow the porch to be built 6 feet into the required setback.

216 Devon Drive

216 Devon Drive

Granted one variance and denied another on a returning rear deck case on Devon: The homeowner at 216 Devon Drive salvaged part of a request to roof an extensive rear and side wraparound deck that failed in a November hearing. The builder reduced the original 8.5-foot variance request to 5.4-feet by eliminating the proposed roof over the side portion, which is a walkway to the rear. (It was pointed out that an uncovered deck can be built as close as 5 feet from the property line, but once roofed, it must follow the stricter setbacks of the main house.) Board members in November had voted no, saying the side deck already crowded the property line and citing concerns over rain running off onto the neighbor’s yard. This time, the request was only to extend the current roof line straight back to cover the a rear deck, requiring a variance of 5.4 feet into the setback.

However, the board was still concerned by an additional unroofed “grilling deck” to the right side of the back. Sensing another denial, the builder took staff advice and split the vote, getting a unanimous approval for the roofed rear portion and a denial for the grilling deck.

Voting against the deck extension: Foster, Jarmon, and Roberts.

169 Lucerne Boulevard

169 Lucerne Boulevard The existing house would be demolished and the property divided into three lots for new houses.

WITHDRAWN – A developer facing neighborhood opposition will rethink a strange lot division proposed on Lucerne: Developer Ben Strout of Harvest Innovations, Inc., asked for a substantial variance (2,244 square feet) to allow a smaller lot area at 169 Lucerne Boulevard for a new house. The lot in question would be one of three original lots that had been consolidated years ago into a large residential property, now purchased for redevelopment. The developer stated as his hardship that the owners had sold a strip of the land to a neighbor, leaving a smaller area to be divided. However, as neighbors pointed out, the property had many other complications, including a drain easement and storm sewer that had washed out the rear of the left lot (#157), which the developer had recently packed with fill dirt.

Drawing showing odd-shaped lot divisions proposed to preserve frontage on Lucerne. The developer will return to the drawing board.

Drawing showing odd-shaped lot divisions proposed to preserve frontage on Lucerne for two lots, but which sets a third lot behind the others. The developer will go back to the drawing board.

To accommodate those problems, the developer proposed a strange redrawing to preserve lot frontage on the street for two houses but which would set the new center house far back from the street (shown). Five neighbors on Lucerne objected to the development, citing the storm sewer, easement, a concern over the stability of the filled area and housing inconsistent with the character and density of the surrounding neighborhood.

Mr. Strout, who said he plans to live in one of the new houses, said the design quality would far outweigh any concerns about lot size or layout. Nevertheless, he offered that the property could be divided evenly into rectangular lots,  but each would be narrower at the street — about 73 feet across compared to an average of 80 feet — and require area variances for all three instead of just one.

The board wasn’t inclined to discuss the plans further for all the reasons cited, and encouraged the developer to talk to his future neighbors before pressing ahead. He took that advice, and the case was withdrawn.

1601 Grove Place

1601 Grove Place

Granted two variances for a house addition on Grove Place:  The homeowner at 1601 Grove Place plans to build an upper level addition, requiring a  1 foot (.8-feet existing) variance on the left side and a 3.5-foot variance   on the right side for the length of a ventless fire insert to be built where the current chimney is now. The chimney is unstable and will be removed. With letters of support from neighbors on the left, and a driveway and alley providing buffer on the right, the board was satisfied with the requests and granted the variances.