Homewood City Schools, Growth and Demographic Projections presentation, Aug. 10, 2017

About 50 people, including many city officials, attended the school system’s surprising presentation of its demography projections for the next decade. While a wave of growth will flow through the system and crest in the high school, the numbers are expected to recede behind it. No population boom is predicted for West Homewood, despite the city’s $35 million investment in parks, the demographer tells the council president.

 

 

 

Click to link to meeting video

Click to link to the demography charts and graphs

By the bulletpoints

The presentation was made by the Cooperative Strategies demography firm over the summer. The purpose was to look at the direction increasing enrollments would likely take into the next decade in order to inform a building plan. In the last 2 1/2 years, with an eye to actual enrollments, the city council, parks and school board staff worked with Harbert International to sketch out a shared expansion of west Homewood property for ballparks and possibly a relocated high school building. The city then backed a $110 million bond issue, dedicating half to the school facilities expansion project (minus the high school relocation), $35 million to ballfields expansion and new pool, and the rest to a relocated police facility. Tonight, the results of the projections showed a wave of student growth moving up through the system and cresting in the high school in 2025, while enrollments behind it will recede. While audience members resisted the news, particularly as it pertains to assumed population explosion in West Homewood, the demographer steadfastly disagreed.

Background:

Basing findings on a method using birth rate, student yield per unit of housing, census data and current enrollments, the demographer hit the following points:

  • A bubble of enrollment began in 2007 and is working through the system.
  • Routine student yield for multi-family dwellings is about 15 per 100 units; in Homewood the number is nearly twice that.
  • The housing composition served by each elementary school is 74% single family for Edgewood versus a 50/50 breakdown between single- and multi-family housing for both Hall-Kent and Shades Cahaba elementary schools.
  • Student densities and housing type have shifted over the last decade. Specifically, the approximately 300 students displaced by the razing of the Magnolia Apartments was counterbalanced by an equal growth in the western area apartments over the following three years.  
  • Student yield by school zone has been decreasing over the last 4 years.
  • The birth rate has remained relatively flat; and building permits show a relatively flat rate of growth.

Projections:

  • The elementary schools are at or slightly over capacity at the present time, with numbers expected to decrease.
  • Even the most liberal projection only adds 200 students to Hall-Kent over the next decade, while the most conservative projection shows the high school hitting 1,400 at its peak and the middle school rising to 1,110 students.
  • The high school is over capacity now and will be compounded

Reaction:

City council president Bruce Limbaugh seemed stunned, perhaps disappointed to hear that a population boom wasn’t predicted in West Homewood. He asked if the city’s commitment to building $30 million in new parks would increase that number, but the demographer dismissed the “If we build it they will come” mentality, saying investment doesn’t necessarily create a bubble, and that there were no indications of an increase based on the “time-tested” model the company was utilizing. Several from the audience then questioned whether the figures could be wrong, or the demographer overlooking trends more obvious to long-time residents, builders, etc. The demographer said all that may be true, but those factors weren’t reflected in the numbers so far.

Superintendent Bill Cleveland said he hoped to start taking steps on a plan by Labor Day. He assured the audience that he was taking more into account than just demographics, such as the likelihood that millennials drawn to Birmingham’s growing cultural and entertainment scene will bring their families to Homewood — and Homewood schools — in the near future.

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Board of Zoning Adjustments, Aug. 3, 2017

A city engineering staffer jovially points out that the competing plans underway for downtown Homewood are “mind boggling,” comparing the downtown map to a Monopoly game. In other words, Big Bad Breakfast had its parking requirement waived with promises that a downtown master plan and other parking fixes are on the horizon.Most cases tonight were approved unanimously. Two cases were withdrawn before the meeting and a Lancaster case was rejected.

Members present: Matt Foley, Beverly LeBoeuf, Lauren Gwaltney, chair (arriving midway through the first case heard, and therefore not voting), Brian Jarmon, vice chair, and Ty Cole, and new member Andrew Marlon, replacing Jeffrey Foster.

Members absent: Stuart Roberts (S) 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, part-time planner Fred Goodwin.

Audience attendance: 17

OLD BUSINESS:

Withdrew a request to retain and modify a pole sign at Hatfield Auto Parts and Service: Trent Hatfield withdrew his request to retain and modify–with many variances–an abandoned pole sign at his new location at 190 Oxmoor Road. The case was initially heard May 4 and carried over until tonight.

NEW BUSINESS:

606 Shades Creek Parkway

Allowed a vacant residential lot to be divided into two lots narrower and smaller than regulations allow on Shades Creek Parkway:    Cooper Smith, a developer (?) made the request to divide one lot at 606 Shades Creek Parkway into two smaller lots, asking for a 19 feet less than the width regulation allows and 797 square feet fewer than regulation lot area. However, he turned it over to Bubba Smith (father?) when asked to state the hardship (financial gain or loss aren’t eligible arguments). Mr. Smith said the large lot had been created by combining two smaller lots and the request was merely to return to that. The variances, he said, were caused by the change in zoning over time and the fact the lots had been combined. Mr. Cole countered that the variances were caused by dividing the lot and the current zoning. The lots had been combined for a long time and considered as one. Ms. LeBoeuf was concerned about driveways exiting on Shades Creek. Mr. Smith

606 Shades Creek Parkway

said he would have a shared driveway between the two houses, although he had no further building plan. Mr. Cole asked the size variances were very large–would there be further variances requested when it came time to build. At this point Mr. Smith proffered to use only the single shared driveway from the street and to request no further house variances on the property. That said, the vote was unanimous in favor. 

Case withdrawn at 306 Le Jeune Way for a left side setback variance. 

906 Westover Drive

Allowed a homeowner to build an addition 5 feet into the required setback on Westover: Applicant Hunter Lake proposes to build a 1-story addition for a bedroom, bathroom and storm shelter/closet on the rear of the house at 906 Westover Drive. The house is already built into the setback by 4 feet at the rear corner, and he wants to bring the addition back another 26 feet. Because the house is tilted and the lot narrows at the back, the corner of the addition will be 6 feet over the 10-foot setback. A mitigating factor is an alley that acts as a buffer between houses on the right side. The board had no objection and voted in favor.

913 Shades Road

Allowed a homeowner to build an addition into the required setback on Shades Road: Builder Warren Kyle presented asked to build into the left and right side setbacks to add and addition to the rear of a bungalow at 913 Shades Road. The lot is wedge-shaped, narrowing toward the rear and he is stepping in the addition on the left side to stay close to the property line setback. On that side, the addition crosses 2 feet into the 10-foot setback, requiring a variance. The addition on the right side extends an already nonconforming wall across the angled lot line, requiring a 2.9 foot variance at the corner. The addition will add an 8-foot front porch, and a rear deck, both of which stay within required limits.

948 South Forest Drive

948 South Forest Drive, left side. This section will be demolished.

Allowed a variance from the front setback requirement for an addition on South Forest: Architect Joe Ellis is transforming the looks of the split-level house at 948 South Forest Drive by demolishing a left section of the house and building out a 7-foot front porch, which would extend into the front setback 6.5 feet. The hardship case was easy to make, as the house is hemmed in on the rear by Griffin creek and on the left side by a utility easements and vacated Jefferson County road easement. The left section of the house that is in the floodway will be demolished.

Right rear section of 405 Morris

Allowed, with one dissenting vote, a side setback variance for an addition on Morris: Architect Joe Ellis, who presented the previous case, requested a 3.7-foot right setback variance for an addition at 405 Morris Boulevard. The addition will include a second level, which is compliant with setbacks, and a 1-story section that extends over the setback, but on the alley side (shown), providing a buffer from neighbors. The case convinced most of the board, but not all, perhaps because of the tight fit.

Voting no: Mr. Jarmon

1823 Lancaster Road (existing garage to be extended can be seen on left)

Rejected a homeowner’s request for a 40-foot garage in the setback on Lancaster: A car enthusiast/collector lost his bid for a 3.1-foot setback variance along the 40-foot length of a proposed garage addition at 1823 Lancaster Road to accommodate his car and trailer. Board members weren’t persuaded by the hardship–to keep the trailer off the street–which wasn’t helped when the owner’s fiancée called from the audience what was he supposed

A 40-foot enclosed garage was too much garage for the BZA. The variance was rejected.

to do if he got another car? However, the negative vote was already taken by that time, following a discussion where the homeowner rejected various other remedies, such as a covered car port, or keeping the car and trailer side by side, or in a different location.

Voting yes: Mr. Foley

Big Bad Breakfast is coming to downtown Homewood

Waived a requirement to provide 33 additional parking spaces for a downtown breakfast restaurant: Applicant Stewart Miller returned tonight to ask again for the board to waive a requirement to provide 35 parking spots for the Big Bad Breakfast development at 1928 29th Avenue South. The business needs 50 parking spaces, which can be provided by lease arrangement, by available public parking, or spaces onsite. Mr. Stewart had previously based his request to waive 35 of those spaces by estimating room for 19 spaces onsite. However, Mr. Cole questioned that estimate and the variance couldn’t be granted based on it. The case was carried over pending an exact drawing of available space and advice to lease extra spaces if possible.

Big Bad Breakfast under construction

Tonight, Mr. Stewart returned to say the onsite lot provided only 15 spaces, when drawn to to code, and he could find no extra spaces off-site. Even though there were 50-60 empty spaces at any given time at the Regions building, Regions wasn’t interested in leasing them, he said. Instead, he offered that the 12 employees would park in the SoHo deck, and asked the board to consider in their favor the 28 spaces available within 150 feet of the property. He also argued that, as a breakfast restaurant, the busiest time would be weekends before 1 p.m. Based on traffic at the U.S. 280 store, he said, the rest of their business, or 40%, is breakfast only and clears out by 11 a.m. He predicted the same in Homewood, although Mr. Cole was skeptical. Ms. McGrath then came to his defense, saying that the building’s high-rise zoning category (C-4B) required the most parking of any designation, while very close by the C-4A category didn’t require any parking at all. While Mr. Cole acknowledged that requirements are inconsistent, he maintained the need for actual parking spaces to stay in business.

Mr. Cobb also offered a defense, saying the city would likely remove the center turn lane to provide angled parking, although he couldn’t swear to it. He said there were so many different parking plans in play that it was “mind boggling,” and so many moves on the downtown map in the last six months that it was like a Monopoly board. That said, a vote was taken and board waived the additional parking requirement.

Not voting: Ms. LeBoeuf left the room during the presentation and didn’t vote.

The meeting adjourned at 7:30 p.m.

From Tuesday’s Planning Commission

Back and front of addition to Lakeshore multipurpose building.

*Approved changes to the Lakeshore Foundation Development Plan to accommodate a campus walking trail and an addition to an office building: [The details of this *Aug. 1, 2017, Planning Commission case were unavailable on Tuesday and provided here as a convenience. KPS Group is the designer.]

Briefly, the Foundation is planning to build an addition to its existing administrative building, with a nearby open air plaza, a sunken “contemplative garden,” and water feature. The building addition will include office and research space, a videography lab and test kitchen.

The plaza will be located near the building’s main entrance for informal gatherings, while the contemplative garden and water will provide a quiet refuge farther away.

Encompassing these features and to allow better walkability, the plan adds a  “treetop” walking trail through the wooded north slope behind the building, connecting the existing cottages on the eastern end of the campus. Map not made available.

 

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Survey question #4, How Would You Spend the Money?, Aug. 3, 2017

The city council has proposed dividing $110 million in bond proceeds for capital improvements in three areas. In this survey, YOU decide how to allocate the funds for the most enduring impact. Chose one, none or any combination of the top five city assets identified in previous surveys. Use the open comment box for explanations. Answers are anonymous. Results will be posted wherever the survey is sent.

Follow this link for the survey or copy and paste it into a browser:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XH6XJR6

 

Planning Commission, Aug. 1, 2017

Shorter and wider, a new hotel revision actually adds two guests rooms while reducing height, at the expense of some retail.

Oh sure, the Planning Commission voted to recommend a shorter, fatter hotel tonight than was originally presented three weeks ago. That’s the big news. But judging by the number of spectators still clumped into hallway discussion groups afterward, the decisions didn’t sit well. Out of the 11 speakers heard tonight, former councilman and planning commission member Jeff Underwood was the only one singing praises, not of the hotel, but of the personal character and business integrity of majority owner Mike Mouron. (Mr. Mouron, who presented the case last month but was proxied tonight by investor Scotty Stanford, had taken offense when asked for proof of the Hilton franchise by commissioner Mark Woods. Mr. Woods was also absent tonight.)

Mr. Stanford’s presentation was brief and answered four questions raised on July 11: 1) The hotel had been reduced in height by 20 feet, or two stories, while guest rooms increased by two, to 129; 2) Owners had purchased a remote property to provide an additional 41 parking spaces; 3) The plan re-aligned the sanitary sewer so as to avoid an easement or construction inconvenience to a business neighbor; and 4) Owners produced a letter from Hilton showing its intent to make the hotel a Curio franchise.

However, the gist of residents’ concerns tonight had progressed to bigger concerns than parking spaces and the primary purpose of the commission–Planning and how little there seemed to be of it considering the size of the project. For details on the case, speaker concerns and answers, read below.

Members present: Billy Higginbotham, chair, Britt Thames, Jeffrey Foster, vice chair, James Riddle, John Krontiras, and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Absent: Brady Wilson and Mark Woods.

Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk, and Fred Goodwin, planner, Vanessa McGrath and Greg Cobb, Building, Engineering and Zoning Department.

Audience attendance: 34

*Rezoning and final development plan cases are advisory only and must be approved by a vote of the city council.

OLD BUSINESS:

Carried over a subdivision redevelopment that’s been simmering atop Shades Mountain since February.  This is the sixth carry-over for this project to renew and modify development of a 7-year-old gated subdivision on Shades Mountain that was abandoned by a previous developer after selling two lots. Much of the delay, according to Ms. McGrath, is a conflict between the developer and the two homeowners over ownership of the access road. Click here for the original case, and a later followup. 

Click to open zoomable pdf of the ground-floor layout. The project appears to incorporate the Wolf Camera building into the plan.

Voted to recommend a final development plan and rezoning for a 5-story downtown hotel after developers answered concerns about parking and building height to the commission’s satisfaction: Speaking on behalf of the project was investor Scotty Stanford, saying majority owner Mike Mouron (a Mt. Brook planning commission member who spoke last month) was on a wedding anniversary vacation with his wife. As background, the case encompasses 2713, 2725, 2727, 2739 and 2714 18th Street South and 2728 Mamie L. Foster on a prominent corner in downtown Homewood, now owned by an LLC called Homewood Place. As presented last month, the hotel would be managed by Wilson Management Co. of Memphis and fly under Hilton’s “Curio” banner, a full-service hotel encompassing the city block bounded by 18th Street and 28th Avenue, with seven stories (802 feet) and 127 guest rooms fronted by a two-story retail/restaurant area. The applicants requested consolidating zoning of the parcels from two commercial zones to a single MXD (mixed use) zone for a hotel and ground-level retail development.

Elevations from sea level versus heights of buildings.

To proceed to final council approval, the project required commission approval of the development plan as well, which it rejected unanimously on July 11. Mr. Mouron had failed to make a case for waiving 80 parking places under the code, suggesting he had been misled by the staff about the exact parking requirements. The height at 7 stories, was also too much for the commission, despite a comparison of elevations above sea level that put the Curio second from bottom of downtown buildings, just above the Aloft. Tonight’s revised plan reads “5 stories,” and knocks about 20 feet off the building height. And even then, it is taller than SoHo, the apartments, or Aloft.

Residents thought the 28th Avenue focal point, which they compared to the city’s next “Curve,” deserved longer, more thoughtful planning on traffic, parking, landscaping and visual impact. The commission tonight voted to recommend the plan as presented.

Objections and other concerns:

  • SoHo and Broadway Parc developer Bubba Smith wanted to know more about the final appearance from different angles, effect on SoHo residents’ views, use of quality exterior materials, and the visual effect of a shorter, wider building on a key focal point in downtown. He said the commission should demand assurances on the futurity of parking arrangements if contracted or leased. “The intersection of 18th and 28th is a future focal point. This design walls it off,” he said. “This is not the vision I have wanted for that street.”
  • Ken Shaia, an 18th Street business owner, echoed the importance of the building’s appearance at that intersection. He asked for a 3-dimensional model to help people visualize the building and said the rendering didn’t fit with the character of surrounding buildings. “The Bohemian was more slow planned,” he said. “I’d like to see something that looks like the city.”
  • A Rosedale resident who has been vocal about that neighborhood’s redevelopment said there should be more information available about the project. He seemed concerned about gentrification, and said he wanted to see it benefit Rosedale, with a Rosedale business in a storefront and residents finding jobs at the hotel.
  • A real estate agent living on SoHo’s fourth floor north said residents’ views would be affected and wanted a plan that showed residents what to expect.
  • Scott Dean, a resident and 18th Street business owner, asked more detail about onsite versus offsite lots and how they would be used.
  • A resident pushing for more downtown green spaces asked how the hotel plan worked with the master plan the city had paid “$200,000 for a year ago.” She said the hotel had little to offer in landscaping and downtown already “skewed hot and hard” with concrete surfaces. “This can be a transformation in a good way, or a bad way,” she said. “Look at Regions. Would we do this now?”
  • The business owner next door wanted assurances–received–that his 10-foot alleyway wouldn’t be reduced.
  • Two Hollywood resident asked the commission to reject the project until there was more and better planning, especially for sidewalks and more trees.

In response: 

Limits to commission requirements – Mr. Higginbotham asked Ms. McGrath to list the requirements for a development plan, beyond which the commission could require nothing further of an applicant to get a recommendation. That included a dozen provisions ranging from signage, to landscaping, drainage, parking, lighting, contour maps,  and so on. Ms. McGrath said the plan contained those elements to her satisfaction. Mr. Higginbotham, saying the city attorney warned against basing commission decisions outside that list, invited Mr. Stanford to proffer a 3-dimensional model, etc., if he wanted. Mr. Stanford responded that the materials would be glass, masonry, brick and synthetic stucco. He wanted to continue working with the community he said, stopping short of proffering any further studies requested.

A chaos of overlapping planning projects  – As for the status of the downtown master plan, Ms. McGrath said is had not been initiated and she could not predict what it would contain. An initial meeting of stakeholders has not been held. However, Mr. Thames said because of the hotel, the parking component had been fast-tracked and the Regional Planning Commission  determined parking capacity would be increased by enforcing time limits (set to 3 hours). Ms. McGrath said the street scaping project planned on 18th Street had been delayed pending the hotel’s plans. (The hotel’s landscaping plans, meanwhile, are contingent on the 18th Street improvement project.) Mr. Krontiras was concerned about future density downtown and the need for more traffic studies. But Mr. Cobb said a traffic study would be premature because of plans possibly to narrow 18th Street.

Final hotel details

  • Landscaping will be “coordinated with city’s 18th Street improvements and hotel/retail green space;
  • Two 50-square-foot hotel signs will be mounted on the ground floor facing both 18th Street and 28th Avenue.
  • Total parking 211 spaces (including 5 handicap accessible) – 134 onsite, 16 on 18th Avenue, 41 on remote lot on 27th Avenue South, 20 cross-parking agreement
  • 102,461 square feet total, hotel, 96,461 about 96%; restaurant/bar = 6,000 sf 4%

A vote was called on the development plan and the rezoning separately. Each passed unanimously with Mr. Higginbotham abstaining because of a previous relationship with the applicant.

NEW BUSINESS:

Approved changes to a development plan to allow the Lakeshore Foundation to add a gym and walking trail to improve campus walkability: The plan to amend the Lakeshore Foundation development plan with a developed “treetop” walking trail, office and storage space at 4000 Ridgeway Drive, passed with no objections and few questions from the commission. Applicant Walter Schoel Engineering; Owner Andrew Phillips. 

Added a minimum lot area for NPD zoning, which had been dropped in error last year:  The minimum house size was inadvertently dropped from the zoning book during an amendment process last year for housing height and other changes. Tonight the Planning Commission amended the ordinance to include an 800-square-foot minimum house size for lots up to 49 feet across. The other minimums, by lot wide are: 1,200 square feet for lots 50-55 feet wide; 1,400 sf for lots 56-65 feet; 1,600 sf for lots 66-75 feet; and 1,800 sf for lots 76 feet across and wider. Residence maximums are 50% of the lot area.

There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.

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Survey results, question #3, Public satisfaction and engagement: Are we making progress on key issues?

Survey #3 Results–What do we know and when did we know it? 321 residents respond

Vance Moody, outgoing West Homewood councilman, explains to a tiny group of West Homewood residents last fall how the incoming council must decide to divide the $110 bond money between city, parks and schools.

Approximately 300 respondents each in two earlier surveys listed a host of Homewood amenities they value from which a strong top five priority assets have emerged.  Keeping the health of these assets in mind–and knowing that a penny tax and $110 million for capital improvements are in play–Survey #3 asked “Are you satisfied with progress so far?” A total of 321 residents responded to nine questions about their engagement. And because the tax and millions were passed with no public input, the survey also asked if voters were staying in touch with elected officials, if they knew the funding status of their projects, and how do they gather news on city business. In short, if we’re not satisfied with how things are going, what are we doing about it?

“I don’t have time to involve myself in city politics and budgeting. I trust my elected officials to allocate resources appropriately but it’s clearly not being done” 

Results

How proactive are Homewood voters? Reading from L-R are the total who chose each category followed by the number in each category who are “satisfied with progress,” and of those, how many have contacted a council rep. The number polling “not satisfied” and calling a rep continues on the right.

Q. List the top (two) city assets of importance to you: 

Survey #3 asked respondents to choose their top two city assets from a list of five named in earlier surveys and to answer a series of questions about each. Top assets in order of responses were Safety, followed closely by Schools, and less closely by Walkability. Further behind were Neighborhood Attractiveness at #4 and finally, falling steeply to #5 Public Green Space/Parks. This follows the same order as noted earlier except for Safety overtaking Schools in the first spot. And, as before, comments are instructive since residents tend to see a lot of overlap in categories:

“The solution and funding for the schools should be of extreme priority over the Parks and Rec Improvements. People do NOT choose to move to a municipality because they’ve got great pools.”

Q. Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with progress?  Have you contacted your ward representative about this?

Content and Commentary

A fervor over sidewalks versus the preservation of trees and history brought residents out in force to a recent council forum. The event was a potent mix of interests in walkability, safety, neighborhood appearances and green space.

It’s important to note, as the commentary bears out, that the level of satisfaction with a category usually relates to a specific issue, the pace of progress or priority given to it, not to the category itself. For example, dissatisfaction with raising police wages (noted by several respondents) obviously indicates support of the department overall. It’s important to read beyond the chart into the context of each survey answer. Please follow the open link to the survey results, below.

“Aren’t neighborhood attractiveness and public green spaces/parks redundant? Are these the only issues the City of Homewood faces? What about flooding issues, overcrowding, over-sized McMansions, lack of zoning enforcement. …”

Of all five content areas, only the top two, Safety and Schools, drew a majority of “satisfied with progress” answers, while also posting the lowest percentage of comments. Conversely, the three remaining areas polled more “dissatisfied” answers and substantially more commentary. Walkability led the way with the highest number and percentage of feedback comments. Perhaps respondents feel more qualified to comment on their sidewalks, trees and parks than on lofty abstractions like Safety and Schools, important as they are.

Q. Is this concern a funded priority for Homewood city leaders? Is it in the current budget?

This question sought mainly to point out that if an issue isn’t address in the budget, it’s not a priority. But answers were hard to analyze and indicated the difficulty in “following the money”: Certainly schools, parks and police are key budget funds, but what about adding more foreign language, establishing pocket parks or upgrading police technology, as some respondents asked? School and park board budgets are governed by separate boards, and how do residents know about particular funding questions without asking directly? They don’t.

Most talked about

2016 tree planting at Woodland Park

As a measure of public engagement, the survey followed up by asking respondents if they had contacted council representatives about their issues. While the number contacting reps was higher in the dissatisfied group, as expected, public responsiveness overall seemed remarkably low. Which isn’t to say they kept silent–Survey commentary was often detailed and colorful.

Walkability60 comments of 132 responding:  Most comments fell into two main categories: A. Demands for more sidewalks (Forest Brook especially), more quickly built (31); and B. Calls for more pedestrian crosswalks and bridges over major arteries, including U.S. 280 from Hollywood to Mountain Brook, over Lakeshore Drive from Hollywood to Target, over Lakeshore Drive from Green Springs to the Greenway and over Green Springs Highway from Raleigh to Old Columbiana (13).

“While the they are putting in sidewalks each year, I wish they would focus on connecting areas by putting them where it is hard to walk – like coming up from the tunnel into the pig’s parking lot – where does one go safely??” 

New houses push the limits of Homewood’s smaller lots.

Neighborhood Appearances58 comments of 114:  Comments fell into four main critiques: A. Overbuilding and tree cutting (15); B. Need for regulating house design, height and size; (8); C. Cleaning up unkempt yards; and D. Neglect of Rosedale and West Homewood (5).

“There is no standard for continuity among Edgewood homes.  Anything goes.  Want to pave over your entire front lawn for more convenient parking? Great!  Want to clear cut a tiny lot to put a 5/5 house on it?  Great!  Want to build houses with cheap materials that degrade the value of surrounding houses?  Great!  I’m not saying I want a strict neighborhood covenant, but some sort of architectural line needs to be drawn in the sand.” 

Safety 46 comments of 161: While safety means policing to most people, comments typically reflected suburban concerns about traffic over crime: A. Improve intersection safety, parking, traffic enforcement (11); B. More neighborhood patrols, specifically on Murray Hill, West Homewood, Green Springs Highway, and on Oxmoor Road (10); C. Citing good work and improvement/asking for better wages, more technology, more officers (9).

“The intersection of Hwy 31 and Saulter is very dangerous. We also have too many people parking on the streets–directly across from one another, creating narrow chutes for drivers.”

More than 300 people attended a September 2016 presentation about schools overcrowding, facilities expansion and possible relocation of the high school (shown). Funding seems less certain six months later as parents await studies due in early August.

Schools – 40 comments of 150 responding: Top school comments were divided evenly between concern over council meddling and short-changing school funds (10), and school board failure to plan for growth (10). The next most common concerns were class size and student/teacher ratio (5), and concern over the fate of the high school relocation (5). Other comments covered a variety of issues. Only two addressed curriculum, one asking for more recess, and support for the arts and the other more foreign language and innovative teaching.

“Schools here are great. But I am not satisfied with the lack of progress in the long-term master plan for schools. The $110M bond issue should have had the schools’ long term plan in place before parks could begin plans. I fear this will create unnecessary overlap if a new high school is the chosen route.” 

A new group is promoting a pocket park in the current jail property when it is relocated to West Homewood. Residents want more green space across the city.

Public Green Spaces/Parks31 comments of 81: People responding in this category were of one mind–the city needs more green space and more pocket parks in every neighborhood, but especially downtown. Of the 31 commenting, 18 specifically mentioned pocket parks. Remaining comments spanned a topics such as planning, establishing off-leash areas; keeping the school property on Valley Ave natural as a residential buffer, and hiring an arborist, among other responses.

“We have less green space than the average city and we’re losing what we have.”

Q. How do you keep informed about city plans?

The survey asked respondents to list every information source they use, so the columns aren’t mutually exclusive. Most respondents (267 of 319), or 84%, use the Homewood Star community newspaper and an astonishing number (247 of 319) or 74% use social media for some news. Which they rely on more, and for what kinds of information is anyone’s guess. But if I were on the city council and concerned about communication, I might propose adding a social media component to the city’s website.


Other sources (51) include an interesting mix of sources, such as Jennifer Andress’s council news emails, the East Edgewood neighborhood watch emails, this blog, and informed neighbors, and “the grapevine.” Is it enough without regular coverage by a major metro news organization? As one respondent put it, ” I do all this and still am too often sadly surprised.”

To read the actual responses, including comments, follow this link:https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-DQTS5C26/

Planning Commission, July 11, 2017

The Curio’s final plan didn’t pass inspection this time around. The case will be back in a month for reconsideration.

Several large projects, notably the rejected (for now) development plan for a 7-story, 127-room hotel on 18th Street, kept the commission and residents at work until past 8 p.m.

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

Absent: Britt Thames

Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk, and Fred Goodwin, planner, Vanessa McGrath and Greg Cobb, Building, Engineering and Zoning Department.

Audience attendance: 42

*Rezoning and final development plan cases are advisory only and must be approved by a vote of the city council.

OLD BUSINESS:

The gated community planned on Shades Mountain above Berry Road has been carried over multiple times since February 2017.

Carried over for the fourth time a preliminary plat case for the Devonshire subdivision atop Shades Mountain: This case at 1 & 4 Abby Lane were first heard in February and involve a residential development on a crest above Berry Road that was abandoned by the original developer after two lots were sold. Developer Charles Kessler is reviving the plan, but asking to divide four original lots into six. His additional plans attracted new opposition from neighbors and questions from the commission: The engineering team has so far not been able to resolve questions about hydrant size, stormwater control, existence of covenants on the land, and establishing easements for staging the construction.

NEW BUSINESS:

Sprawling hotel footprint

Denied approval for a final development plan for a 7-story Hilton brand hotel downtown and carried over the related rezoning case:  As presented, the hotel would be managed by Wilson Management Co. of Memphis and fly under Hilton’s “Curio” banner, a full-service hotel encompassing the city block bounded by 18th Street and 29th Avenue, with seven stories (802 feet) and 127 guest rooms fronted by a two-story retail/restaurant area. Anticipating that height would be the number one public concern–which it was–spokesman and majority owner Mike Mouron pointed out that the Regions building was 838 feet, Aloft 789 feet and Soho 800 feet high. Owners are also asking to rezone the area from two existing zones, C-4 (central business district) and C-4b (high rise office/commercial district) to a single MXD (mixed use district).

However, commissioners sided with residents who thought the plan was too big and happened too fast for comfort. The unfavorable vote followed a public hearing and questions from commissioners about the plan’s readiness, uncertainly about financing and especially the parking.

Questions from the public: 

  • The owner of the one-story brick commercial building known by the upside-down shoe repair sign objected to the hotel’s sanitary sewer construction which will block the alley and exit from his building.
  • A Hollywood resident asked why the MXD (mixed use) rezoning was required. MXD zoning is appropriate for the property, but it was chosen for requiring fewer parking spaces than C-4b. The resident was concerned about the building height, about how quickly the case has materialized without much public information. She asked the commission to be proactive in their questioning.
  • A resident of Soho’s north tower asked if the hotel had considered underground parking (the developers are only considering surface parking), and if the building would obstruct her view of Vulcan (it would, but scenic views aren’t guaranteed in housing cases).
  • Ken Shaia, of Shaia’s clothiers on 18th Street, asked if the number of designated parking spaces meets code (not really; ownership is short by 80 spaces, which could be offset by nearby public parking). He asked why the hotel was allowed to surpass the height limit informally set at 5 stories when Hallman Hill was built. There is no such height limit in the city codes.
  • Another merchant objected to the lack of hotel parking, saying surrounding businesses would be burdened by the overflow parking, especially since  the 2-hour parking limits aren’t enforced downtown.
  • A resident asked the commission to consider the precedent set by approving the 7-story building.

Mr. Mouron responds: 

The owner said he was required to provide 1 parking space per room. That, added to the retail requirement and 60 spaces estimated for the restaurant, equaled 213 spots altogether. Mr. Mouron said most of those spaces would be needed at night; he offered to work out a valet service to meet the requirements. He said he could count adjoining public underground spaces in Soho, a claim Ms. McGrath agreed was allowed in MXD rules. However, commissioners Krontiras and Woods weren’t satisfied that the plan was adequately thought out.

Mr. Krontiras cited the lack of a required fire protection plan, landscaping plan, and traffic analysis, disputed in part by Ms. McGrath. Mr. Woods, however, called the plan “half-baked.” He wanted to know if the agreement with Hilton had been signed, and for how long the hotel would have the Curio “flag.”

“We need to see the final agreements,” he said. “We have to think of the future. If you don’t keep the flagship, we could end up with who knows what. We could end up with a vacant building. I don’t want to see another bad hotel, which we have a lot of already in this city. We’re 80 (parking spaces) short and businesses are struggling now on 18th Street,” he said.

Mr. Mouron, who is himself a planning commissioner in Mountain Brook, took some offense, saying Hilton wouldn’t sign anything final until the building was well along in its construction. He didn’t see the relevance of his Hilton agreements to the zoning and plan approval, he said, and pointed out the hotel’s  “huge economic boon to the city, with up to $1 million per year in extra revenues.”

With that, the commission moved for approval and voted a unanimous denial. With no plan approved, the rezoning was carried over to the next meeting.

1609 Ridge, in red, and impact area from which an average lot size/width is calculated

Approved a lot division on Ridge with variances previously approved by BZA:  The case at 1609 Ridge Road, was heard in June by the BZA, which allowed certain variances pending approval by the Planning Commission. The request to divide the parcel encompassing 5 lots into two lots was approved with little discussion.

Abstaining due to work relationship and friendships with the owner: Woods and Higginbotham.

The parcel abutting much of West Homewood through across a buffer will be divided into three separate lots.

Approved the Wells Fargo parcel in Wildwood to be divided into three separate lots:  The property being divided is at 210 Wildwood Parkway which, except for a required natural tree buffer, would be in the back yards of residents in  Southwood, Glen Cove, Oak Grove Road and Cobb Street in West Homewood. Owned by Patriot Acquisitions LLC, it is being divided to gain multiple commercial leases for the owner, including the one to be maintained by Wells Fargo. Two residents spoke to ask about fate of the buffer and if it would remain. Ms. McGrath said the “natural buffer” owned by the commercial entity must be left undisturbed, i.e., not pruned or cleared or in any way maintained. Another resident asked if there would be any plans to connect the property to Oak Grove Road. Ms. McGrath said such a connection was prohibited a covenant placed on the property during the development of North Wildwood. There being no other objections, the lot divisions were approved.

Former Mt. Brook Inn property, up (again) for redevelopment. This is the main lot as it exists today.

Approved a 5-acre parcel to be divided into two lots for a commercial development on U.S. 280: Getting intense scrutiny from Hollywood residents was a plan by MX2800 LLC to divide the former Mountain Brook Inn property at 2796 U.S. 280 into two lots, both accessible from U.S. 280. The smaller of the two resulting lots is slated for a restaurant at some future date; no other plans were announced. The property was annexed by Homewood in 1995 and the 1974 hotel, originally a Sheraton, closed in 2003 and was demolished five years later. Three years ago the commission heard another redevelopment plan to build a 10-story office building, hotel and a parking deck on the site. That plan was abandoned.

The proposed lot division, approved tonight. The restaurant would be located in the smaller lot.

Remembering the 2014 proposal, several residents spoke, some several times, to understand how the neighborhood might be impacted:

  • A Belmont Road residents said a large contingent of Hollywood residents were concerned about lighting, noice, and traffic associated with a restaurant, and asked if it was to be a late-night or entertainment venue. (No plans had been submitted for the restaurant, just an informal sketch showing placement in the center of the existing parking lot. Ms. McGrath did not have the drawing.)
  • Another resident complained that the lot division, if allowed, meant residents might have to deal with two high-rise buildings instead of one. He said Homewood annexed the property “to control” it, not to allow problems to multiply.
  • Another Belmont resident asked the details of the resurvey procedure and what protections neighbors had from current zoning. Ms. McGrath explained the resurvey was a property division. As currently zoned (C4-b, high-rise office/commercial district), any building over 35 feet required a development plan and all commercial zoning next to a residential area required a tree buffer 10 feet wide and 8 feet high.
  • A Windsor Drive resident said Hollywood needs trees and vegetation to buffer the sound and dust of 4-lane highways that surround the neighborhood. She later asked if there was a process to expand the amount of buffer required. Ms. McGrath said that would be a change to the zoning ordinance handled through the council or planning commission.
  • A Belmont Road resident returned to ask if residents had any input to building plans that were not over 35 feet high. Ms. McGrath said not as long as the building was compliant with zoning. The resident asked if a fast-food restaurant with a drive-through was allowed. Under the current zoning, a free-standing fast-food restaurant is not allowed.
  • A resident on Hampton asked if there was any way the developers could open the abandoned Dover Road into the neighborhood. Although the answer was yes, there are no plans to do so, and the process would require costly improvements.

Concluding the presentation was project engineer David Arrington. He said the size of the smaller lot would prohibit any type of high-rise. He said access from Dover Road was impractical because of its poor condition and the site plan for the restaurant used current parking.

Never forget: The Planning Commission in 2014 approved a preliminary development plan for a 10-story office building, a hotel and 5-level parking deck on the site of the old Mountain Brook Inn. Later it asked for zoning changes to allow a fast-food business inside the office building. The plan was later dropped.

 

 

 

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Mayfair Triangle hearing/decision, July 10, 2017

The ill-fated Mayfair triangle, looking south from Roxbury. Opponent Chris Lane’s house is in the background.

One wonders what could be accomplished if this much political energy were spent on something more substantial than preserving a concrete traffic triangle for sidewalks that had already been bid. But that was the question at this afternoon’s Public Safety Committee meeting, where 75+ men, women and especially children were present for a final showdown over the fate of the triangle. It lost.

Proponents of removing the Mayfair triangle to move a Mayfair Drive sidewalk project forward — and their children–packed the committee room.

On one side were the (seeming) majority of stakeholders who want the sidewalk planned down the north side of Mayfair to Roxbury, where it will cross to the west side of the street and then to Huntington Road one block north. They brought their children to drive home their stance that the sidewalk will provide a safe path to play and walk to and from school. On the other were the triangle preservationists, who saw in the removal the city slowly chipping away at city charm and whose main spokesman, Chris Lane, originally objected to the sidewalk’s removal of trees on Mayfair. A discussion, with background but no public portion, was on the June Planning Commission agenda. 

The presentation began with Greg Cobb showing a rendering of the proposed intersection modification, with the sidewalk crossing from Mayfair across Roxbury where the triangle used to be. A vestigial grassy area would be created there, planted in zoysia, and with a street light, according to the proposal. There would be a three-way stop. Fire Marshal Nickolas Hill concurred, saying firefighters would prefer all triangles to be eliminated in the city, along with speed bumps and any obstruction that delayed response time. Traffic consultant Darrell Skipper then explained that a T-shaped intersection was, in general, more safe than an island that increased “driver decision-making” about which way to go, or the number of points that cars could collide.

Moderator Alex Wyatt, one of the three committee members of five present (McClusky and Thames absent), allowed two speakers on each side to speak, then allowed any council member present to weigh in, which several did.

The drawn plan to connect U.S. 31 to Roxbury to Huntington.

Councilman Peter Wright led the discussion through the options that had been eliminated, 1) Allowing the crosswalk to cross Roxbury north of the triangle (eliminated because the slope is steeper on the east side of the road), and crossing Roxbury through the triangle itself (eliminated due to lack of room).

During the public portion, Mr. Lane’s attorney Roger Lucas disputed that the traffic engineer had performed a safety study (he had not), and said no regular firefighters interviewed thought the triangle was unsafe. Another resident said the T-shaped intersection actually provided a reduced radius for fire engine turns, making it less safe.

Speaking in favor of the removal were two residents, who said they didn’t understand why the project was on hold now that the trees were removed and the project bid out. They both emphasized the need for children’s safety.

Concluding the session were council members Barry Smith, Jennifer Andress and Andrew Wolverton, all three speaking in favor of letting the sidewalk project–including the triangle removal–commence.

Committee members Wolverton, Wyatt and Andress then voted to recommend the item to the full council, which passed the measure at its regular 6 p.m. meeting.

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