Planning Commission, March 6, 2018

212 Mecca

There’s money in them thar hills of Ward 1 and developers eyeing a 7-lot subdivision got their wish even as residents appealed for more planning and forethought on the impact to their neighborhood. On a smaller scale, a single house on Stuart subject to commercial rezoning was voted down after hearing opposition from approximately 40 residents, not all in attendance. The case may still proceed to the council, though approval is doubtful.

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

Absent: Britt Thames, Brady Wilson and Mark Woods.

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

Audience attendance: 25

*Rezoning and final development plan cases for Mixed Use Districts (MXD) are advisory and subject to final approval by the city council.


“Cottages at Hena”

Approved construction plans and 3-lot residential subdivision in West Homewood after traffic concerns are addressed:  Stroud Construction returned tonight to proffer 6 traffic recommendations for a small subdivision planned at a 90-degree curve at 123 Hena Street. Owner is WEHOLD LLC.  Those recommendations included removing the stop sign, painting double yellow lines with bumps to keep cars in line, yellow warning signs at Cobb Street and Hena, and a concrete island at the planned subdivision inlet to protect exiting cars.

The case was carried over in February when Ward 2 resident and commission member Mark Woods, absent tonight, asked about traffic safety. Commissioners tonight asked if the developer would proffer implementing the traffic recommendations. That done, the vote was taken and unanimously approved.


Eight lots as originally drawn in 1907

Approved a 7-lot subdivision on Mecca after developers dropped the 8th lot: As expected, developers interested in building 8 houses at 212 Mecca Street returned from a BZA defeat November to a win approval tonight for 7 houses instead. The BZA refused to grant lot width variances that would allow 8 houses on 50-foot lots–just shy of the 53-foot minimum required width computed by nearby lot averages. Two dozen Ward 1 objectors had left that hearing feeling vindicated, but knowing it would be temporary. It was. The revised resurvey approved tonight for developer EE Edgewood Land Holding LLC creates 7 lots with a minimum width of 55 feet and minimum area of 7,689 square feet, well above the required minimum of 6,875 sf.  Minimums must be at least 85% of the averages calculated on lots within 250 feet of the proposed site. Two-story houses are planned, and developers have proffered there will be no variances requested.

Engineer Bob Easley said the southern lots were flatter and became more steep going north. Houses at the steeper end would have taller crawl spaces and the upper houses would have “downstairs basements” to minimize the difference in grade from lot to lot, he said.

Knowing that approval was certain, several residents returned to ask the city what plans it had, if any, to moderate the effect of so much new development on sloping lots. The 7 proposed lots are just half of the new housing planned on steeply graded street. An Irving resident said the cutting of so many trees would make I-65 audible year ’round instead of just when the trees were bare. Another said the number of houses should be reduced to 3-5. A resident on St. Charles said the city seemed to make decisions “in a bubble” instead of considering the overall impact of development: “All the green is coming down. Concrete is going up. Runoff is everywhere,” she said. Two speakers asked why residents couldn’t review the design of proposed houses. An agent has shown drawings to neighbors. “But the houses they showed won’t be what is built,” he said.

In response to complaints about runoff and standing water, Mr. Cobb said the city was working to unclog a drain.

The vote to approve was unanimous.

1016 Stuart Street –Less than 800 square feet and facing the back side of restaurants and shops on Oxmoor, the house has no future as a residence, the owners claimed. The Commission disagreed, as did nearly 40 neighborhood objectors. It remains to be seen if owners will continue the case to the city council.

Voted unanimously against a commercial rezoning request on Stuart Street: Neighbors presented a formidable front against allowing the house at 1016 Stuart Street to be rezoned for commercial use, while acknowledging that location, size and previous development made the fate of the tiny house “challenging.” The owners and a relative who lived there until November made a case for rezoning the 780-square-foot cottage from Neighborhood Preservation District to Edgewood Urban Renewal District to allow a quiet business, they said, such as a seamstress or accountant, to occupy the site, which sits on a one-way street and faces the back doors and dumpsters of the Edgewood shops on Oxmoor. Such a business would have fewer parking and traffic problems than renting to a college student–the likely option–they warned. They said the Dawson-owned “missionary houses” nearby were bound by a 100-year clause not to be redeveloped, which should assure the neighborhood.

Nevertheless, nine residents spoke against the rezoning as setting a precedent that would be sure to chip away at the line between housing and businesses. One of those objectors read aloud the addresses of 29 additional signers from Highland, Irving, Stuart and St. Charles who also opposed the move, saying a rezone would “erode” the neighborhood. One speaker cited the goals of the master plan, which included buffers between residential and commercial zones. Also objecting was  a rep of New York Pizza, who said traffic was “already a nightmare” and made pick-up business almost impossible. “I don’t know how we could fit another business in there,” she said.

Mr. Higginbotham reviewed EURD requirements, which include paved parking, a 35-foot rear setback, and maximum 5-foot front setback. The zone is made for retail and restaurants. Alternatively, the more stringent C-1 zone, which is geared for office and professional uses, has a 25-foot front setback and 15-feet each side. Both classifications allow a lengthy list of businesses and would force costly upgrades to comply. An objector had noted that once rezoned, the property could be developed for any allowed commercial business. Mr. Higginbotham said, however, it would be nearly impossible to tear down and rebuild a compliant building on the small lot.

The owner opted to leave the request for EURD.

Before the vote, which was unanimously opposed to recommending the rezone, Mr. Foster asked if a fire engine could even reach the building. Mr. Hill said probably not, but that was a typical scenario across Homewood.

Despite the unfavorable vote, the owners may still opt to be heard by the city council, which would hold an additional public hearing and would require a super-majority to approve the rezoning.


Board of Zoning Adjustments, March 1, 2018

The Bell Center rendering, as seen from the front corner.

A forgetful contractor is denied a variance for an un-permitted renovation that violated setbacks; The Bell Center moves a step closer building its  new $7 million facility on 29th Court South.

Members present: Matt Foley, Brian Jarmon, Lauren Gwaltney, chair, arriving during the Allen Avenue case, Ty Cole, Stuart Roberts (S), and Andrew Marlin (S).

Members absent: Beverly LeBoeuf and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Staff present: Vanessa McGrath and Greg Cobb of the Building, Engineering and Zoning Department, planner (part-time) Fred Goodwin, also of BEZ; and Planning and zoning clerk Donna Bridges.

Audience attendance: 11

*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 provides two supernumerary members (S) to sit in and vote if needed. (The board clerk alternates their votes, which are not noted in the blog.) Variances expire in 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained.


Carried over a variance request on Dixon for the fourth time: Warren Kyle has been carrying over since November a project at 109 Dixon requiring a 4.3-foot left setback variance and a 2.6-foot right setback variance. Reasons not given.

Piggly Wiggly
U.S. 31 Homewood

Carried over a case involving a planned expansion of the Piggly Wiggly building: Owners McConnell, White & Terry Realty plan to expand the grocery building at 3000 U.S. 31 toward the Oxmoor Road side, but keeping the same rear wall, which already sits 20 feet into the required setback. The case was carried over two months ago and again tonight pending a parking/lease agreement with CVS.


1835 Lancaster Road

Compromised to allow a nonconforming side setback to be extended back for a house addition: A short section of the left wall at 1835 Lancaster Road extends 5 feet into the setback to accommodate a side door and steps. The homeowners, who brought a tired toddler as Exhibit A for needing more space, asked to extend the nonconforming wall straight back from that section to complete a 1-story addition toward the rear. The board asked enough questions, however, to throw a favorable vote in doubt, and Mr. Cole suggested extending the left wall from a shorter distance of only 2 feet. The couple, who postponed the case consider their choices, returned before adjournment to ask for a 3 foot variance into the setback instead. That said, and the toddler crying, the board voted unanimously in favor.

504 Morris Boulevard

Allowed a house renovation on Morris to be extended into the front setback: Architect Jared Bussey designed a second story, a small 1 story rear addition, and an open front porch on the cottage at 504 Morris Blvd. The front already sits nearly 2 feet over the required 25-foot front setback from the property line. He requested, and the board approved, to continue that variance and add 1.5 feet for a roof overhang to protect the porch.

245 Allen Avenue

Denied a request to let a house under renovation on Allen extend 3 feet farther into the front setback: The contractor working on a renovation at 245 Allen Avenue said he should have known better than to start work without getting a permit and enlarge the front of the house–pushing it 3 feet into the setback, but he did it anyway. The fact he had substantially finished the project when the city stopped worked comprised his main hardship for seeking the a 7-foot variance (the house was already 4 feet into the setback). Before the board rejected the request, Mr. Cole asked if he had done other work in Homewood (yes), and wasn’t he aware of ordinances and zoning regulations (yes). Nevertheless, he and the homeowners, who were also present, dismissed suggestions to reduce the impact of the violation and opted for a vote, which was 3-2 to deny. The work will have to be removed.

Voting yes: Andrew Marlin and Stuart Roberts

The Bell Center, with shaded portion showing the parcel acquired for expansion. Both structures will be torn down to rebuild a new Center, subject to rezoning the combined parcel from commercial to institutional use.

The Bell Center was granted side and front variances for a new facility planned on 29th Court South: The early learning intervention center purchased an adjoining lot months ago with plans to demolish the existing house and the current Bell Center facility to build a new, larger center across both lots. Supporter David Silverstein was present with engineers and architects and the center director to ask for the variances. He outlined a brief history of the center, which has served more than 1,500 children since 1984, and operated for a time from a single room at Trinity UMC before moving to its current building at 1700 29th Court South, in 1994. The center had completed a major renovation four years later and now was raising $7 million for the new and larger facility. The center and the adjoining lot are both zoned commercial and will seek rezoning to an I-2 institutional classification at next week’s Planning Commission. The variances requested under that zoning are 10 feet into the 15-foot left setback, and 5 feet into the 10-foot front setback. 

Board members questioned the need to build the front so close to the street. Designers answered that the building needed to move forward to accommodate internal design conditions and also rear parking (which may require additional variances). Those questions answered, a vote was taken granting the variances, pending rezoning approval.

The meeting adjourned following the Lancaster case vote, postponed to the end of the meeting.

Planning Commission, Feb. 6, 2018

123 Hena Street The parcel abutts SouthPointe property across the “street,” which is still privately owned under a city maintenance and utility easement.

Developers of a 3-lot residential subdivision planned on a narrow and blind curve in West Homewood agreed to provide a traffic study to the commission, postponing their case to redraw the lots and approve construction plans until that time. The study should please families on nearby Kent Drive who last fall demanded traffic enforcement measures after a child crossing the street was struck, but not seriously, by a moving car at school pick-up time. The subdivision is planned on a narrow and blind curve of Hena Street at Cobb Street, less than a block from the elementary school, where traffic comes to a near standstill at afternoon pickup times. Also tonight the commission approved zoning changes affecting how NPD housing heights are measured and handing over control of West Homewood District sign laws and variances to the City Council. See last item, below.

Members present: Britt Thames, Brady Wilson, Billy Higginbotham, chair, James Riddle, Jeffrey Foster, and Mark Woods.

Absent: John Krontiras and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk; Fred Goodwin, planner, and Vanessa McGrath, Senior planner, Building, Engineering and Zoning office.

Audience attendance: 9

*Rezoning and final development plan cases  for Mixed Use Districts (MXD) are advisory and subject to final approval by the city council.


The wooded property on Hena is at a 90-degree blind curve and 300 or so feet from the Wells Fargo parking deck.

Carried over a 3-lot subdivision and construction plans on Hena Street pending a traffic study, to be paid by the developer: Stroud Construction plans to build three houses on a subdivision and “bulb” inlet at 123 Hena Street, to be called the Cottages at Hena. Tonight, engineer Joey Miller spoke for owner Wehold LLC, describing the plan to build three houses in a wooded parcel at the 90-degree turn on Hena Street at Cobb.

Also speaking during the hearing was a co-owner of inherited residential property in Southpointe, which appears to be across the street. However, the man pointed out that his property abutted the planned development because Hena Street was originally a private drive with a utility and city maintenance easement. Although the city for all practical purposes owns the street, the land under the pavement is technically and actually (for tax purposes) still held privately. For that reason, the resident wanted to know who owned a deteriorating retaining wall and fence that is falling into the street. The engineer didn’t know and Mr. Higginbotham said the situation would be investigated.

“Cottages at Hena” subdivision of one parcel to three triangular lots and turnaround.

In further questions, the architect and engineer described how the three lots would radiate from the “bulb” drive; that a sanitary sewer line would be extended down Hena from a point 200 feet to the west; that the houses, as conceived, would have side driveways to garages in the rear, and feature partial, brick wainscoting (drawings not made public). However the discussion led to the fate of a stop sign at the corner of Cobb and Hena, near Hall-Kent Elementary, and the dangerous school traffic and recent incident on Kent Drive, where a child was struck, but not injured, by a car in the carpool line. Mr. Woods said he was concerned about the traffic at that sharp turn so near the elementary school. And Mr. Miller, prompted to respond to the traffic question, offered to postpone the case until a traffic study was conducted and presented. 


The Bell Center, with shaded portion showing the parcel acquired for expansion. Both structures will be torn down to rebuild a new facility, subject to rezoning the combined parcel from commercial to institutional use.

Recommended rezoning the Bell Center and recently purchased adjacent lot from commercial to institutional use: The Bell Center, which provides therapy for special needs children, has occupied a building erroneously zoned commercial for some time. The agency recently purchased and combined the adjacent lot to build a new larger facility across both sites and had postponed the rezoning request until that time. Tonight the commission voted to recommend rezoning the properties at 1700 and 1708 29th Court South from C-1 (Office Building District) and C-4 (Central Business District) to I-2, institutional. The city council has the final vote on rezoning cases. 

Approved a list of major and minor changes to the zoning ordinance affecting how height limits are determined in the Neighborhood Preservation District, and in the West Homewood District, turning over control of sign regulations and variances to the City Council, among other changes:

Problematic wording was redlined from residential housing height limits

Citywide single family height: The change alters how the residential housing height limits are computed, namely by eliminating the measurement from the ground (median grade). The change is intended to prevent home builders from leveling steep lots by filling them behind tall retaining walls to establish the grade, and was passed in reaction to one house already drawn in Ward 1 and the expectation of more mountainside development in the future. Mr. Thames said the problem was an unintended consequence of the council’s wording, which was supposed to take into account the city’s 3-foot required crawl space. Asked if builders on level lots would increase foundation heights now that the limit was removed, commissioners said they did not expect that to happen.

West Homewood “Village” District changes approved in one vote:

  • Transferred power to review signage and grant variances from the Planning Commission and BZA to the City Council.
  • Reduced the percentage of required glass on ground floors to 35%-70%. The original range was 70%-90%. Two of four commercial projects were denied glazing variances under the new “Village” code, including an EconoLodge addition, a Waffle House renovation, both defunct. The new Nexus fitness center and GM Pizzeria  which were granted the exemptions, are close to opening.
  • Reduced to 2 feet the required height of “street wall” (to hide car lights in open parking lots, according to Ms. McGrath). The original wall height was 4-6 feet.
  • Prohibited fences or hedges from protruding beyond the building fronts.
  • Changed all mentions of “reverse angle parking” (backing into spaces) to regular angled parking.
  • Replaced “nightclub” as a permitted use, which had been removed from an earlier version, and added the term “Brew Pub” to the list.
  • Set a 25-foot height limit on accessory structures.

Board of Zoning Adjustments, Feb. 1, 2018

An extensive addition planned atop a Dixon cottage drew questions and one negative vote.

With few exceptions, a slew of cottages were approved tonight for minor or inconspicuous additions, with minimal questions from the board. A substantial addition planned on a tiny cottage on Dixon drew questions and one dissenting vote, but also passed.

Members present: Brian Jarmon, Beverly LeBoeuf, Ty Cole, Lauren Gwaltney, chair, and Matt Foley.

Members absent: Andrew Marlin (S), Stuart Roberts (S), and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Staff present: Vanessa McGrath of the Building, Engineering and Zoning Department, and planner (part-time) Fred Goodwin, also of BEZ; and Planning and zoning clerk Donna Bridges.

Audience attendance: 12


Carried over a variance request on Dixon for the third time: The request for variances for an addition at 109 Dixon was introduced at the November meeting and has been carried over each month since. It was carried over tonight to the March 1 meeting.


218 Peerless

Allowed an existing nonconforming front setback on Peerless to continue for an addition: The one-story house at 218 Peerless Avenue sits on a perfectly triangular double lot on a corner, with the only expansion possible either up or to the side. The homeowners are adding a bathroom and master bath addition on the front left side of the house, which already sits forward 13.7 feet into the front setback. The addition would extend that nonconformity 21 feet across the left front and, as it was stepped in slightly, required only a 13-foot variance, which was approved. 

533 Hampton Drive

Granted a rear setback variance for an addition on Hampton: Twin Construction plans a second-story addition, with a front-to-back gabled roof, a new covered front porch and new single-story rear screened porch at 533 Hampton Drive. The house isn’t parallel to the

Green area shows overlap into rear setback

property lines, with the left rear corner already jutting 5 feet into the 20-foot required setback. A corner of the planned rear porch at itslongest point would also extend into the setback, by 7 feet (pictured). The plan received letters of support from neighbors at 531 and 535 Hampton, and the board approved the variances with little discussion. 


133 Dixon Drive

Granted on a split vote front, right and left side variances for an addition on Dixon: Builder Warren Kyle (who is also the applicant for the case at 109 Dixon) plans a remodel and camel-back style 1.5-story addition over the existing house at 133 Dixon Drive. There were three variances requisition: 1) The house is already an inch or two over the right setback line, a nonconformity which will be extended for the distance of the rear part of the addition and a planned porch across the front of the house; 2) The left side is already sitting 2 feet into the required 10-foot side setback; and 3) The new porch, if built as planned, would bring the front of the house 1 foot closer to the street than closest house, which is next door, and require a 1.2-foot variance.

133 Dixon planned addition

There were no speakers at the hearing. Ms. Gwaltney asked and later withdrew a suggestion that the front variance be voted on separately, showing her reluctance to approve that request. Another member asked how the builder arrived at the final height (35 feet) and heights planned from the ground to the floor of the front porch–(2 feet on the right and 3 on the left). Mr. Kyle added that the final building may be 14″ taller than drawn. Still sensing reluctance, Mr. Kyle proffered that the front porch would not ever be enclosed. rThe proffer accepted, a vote was called and the variances passed with one no vote.

Voting against the variances: Brian Jarmon

1402 Roseland

Granted a side variance for an addition on Roseland:  The owners want to add space without changing the street appearance of the cottage at 1402 Roseland Drive, which already sits close to the left property line, or 8.7 feet into the setback. The planned addition would extend to the rear on that side, but be stepped in 3.7 feet and require only a 5-foot variance. Due to the existing nonconformity and no conspicuous change in appearance from the street, the board granted the request.

Piggly Wiggly
U.S. 31 Homewood

Carried over a request to continue a 20-foot nonconforming rear setback for an addition on the north side of  Piggly Wiggly: The plan to build out the north wall of the grocery will eliminate parking spaces on that side but still allow traffic and access from Oxmoor Road.

100 Windhaven Drive

Granted a right side setback for a porch addition planned on Windhaven: The house at 100 Windhaven Road sits far back from the street and 1.1 feet into the right side setback on a triangular lot that doesn’t provide much room for expansion. The owners plan to enlarge an existing screened porch on the right side and extend it to the rear over an existing patio. The wider dimension will occupy the required 10-foot setback, requiring a 5-foot variance. With letters of approval from the neighbor on the affected side and from across the street, the case was  approved.

524 Woodland Drive

Granted rear and right setback variances for an addition on Woodland: Neighbors on either side of 524 Woodland Drive submitted letters of support for the Willow Homes plan to take down a detached garage in the back and build a 2-story addition and screened porch on the house, and a new, smaller garage accessed from the back alley.

The current house sits perpendicular to the street on a trapezoidal lot, so that the front left and rear right corners both jut into the setbacks. The left nonconformity will simply remain, but the addition would build into the right setback by 2 feet, 7 inches, and into the rear setback by 1 foot. Those variances were granted with few questions asked. 

315 Devon Drive

Allowed an existing nonconforming right setback to continue for an addition on Devon: Homeowners at 315 Devon Drive will be converting a deck on the rear right side into a screened porch, extending 10 inches into the right setback (reduced from the written request for 1.5 feet). A section of the existing right wall already protruded 1.5 feet into the setback and as there was little change and an existing variance in place, the case was approved. 

Planning Commission, Jan. 9, 2018

The Regional Planning Commission presented an impromptu status report on the Downtown Master Plan as it stands four months after the September launch; One case was handled after postponement of a three-lot subdivision planned on Hena Street. The commission set a meeting to study problems in the city’s residential height restrictions.

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

Absent: Brady Wilson

Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk; Fred Goodwin, planner, and Vanessa McGrath, Sr. planner, Building, Engineering and Zoning office.

Audience attendance: 7

*Rezoning and final development plan cases  for Mixed Use Districts (MXD) are advisory and subject to final approval by the city council.

Focus area of “Heart of Homewood” downtown master plan. More information is at

Heart of Homewood Downtown Master Plan update: In a year-long process launched in September, the Regional Planning Commission is writing a downtown master plan based on input from individual residents and other stakeholders, such as merchants, the Chamber, elected officials, and neighborhood interest groups. RPC Planner Lindsey Puckett on Tuesday updated the commission on progress since the September opening, where 90 people attended two open house events. To date there has been 3,275 unique website visitors and 460 survey respondents, she said. The following suggestions have emerged, although under different headings and order:

Congested parking, building appearance, redevelopment, hours of operation, and connectivity are just some of the issues in a downtown master plan.

Development, lifestyle and aesthetics:

  • Retain and expand mixed-use areas, possibly converting warehouse space to “chic, co-working office spaces,” for example;
  • Incentivize making improvements to building facades; consider a design review board;
  • Consider a 1) Pocket park at old jail site, preferred; or 2) More mixed use;
  • Limit downtown building heights;
  • Encourage more activity and nightlife downtown;
  • Daniel Corporation development consultant interviewing businesses about live/work spaces; strategies for combining parcels to redevelop; ideas for  and

“Green” matters:

  • The “Greening” of Griffin Brook through Rosedale, with trail connections between Spring Park and Central Park;
  • Hiring an arborist to plan and care for tree canopy;
  • Adopting an “enforceable” tree ordinance;

Transportation and mobility:

  • Several intersections were called out for safety improvements, including better lighting, especially the pedestrian tunnel on U.S. 31
  • More sidewalks connecting neighborhoods to the planning area.
  • Parking upgrades such as a deck behind the Toy & Hobby Shop, encouraging use of the City Hall underground lot; more shared parking agreements; parking enforcement;

Staffing, enforcement and city operations:

  • Hiring a Plans Examiner and Assistant Engineer to speed the permitting process; raise permit fees; involve the police in code enforcement, including parking;
  • More information available on city website;
  • Rewrite sign ordinance;

In discussion, Ms. Puckett said the final recommendations would be prioritized and listed as short- and long-term goals, sometimes pointing to model decisions from other cities.  “We will provide a map to guide your zoning decisions,” she told the commission. A condensed version of the presentation will be on the website soon.


Location on Hena Street and Cobb of a wooded parcel to be developed as three lots. The case was postponed.

Carried over a request to approve the preliminary plat and construction plans for a planned three-lot subdivision on Hena Street:

Applicant Strout Construction for owner Wehold LLC had asked for approval of a preliminary plat and construction plans for a 3-lot subdivision planned at 123 Hena Street, a wooded parcel in West Homewood. The site is about 300 feet from the Wells Fargo parking deck in Wildwood North. A required 100-foot undisturbed wooded buffer separates the residential neighborhood from the commercial buildings, which are visible through the trees in winter. Those two requests were carried over to next month’s meeting. A third request–to waive certain subdivision design standards and rules–was withdrawn before the meeting.

Location of a house on Parkside Circle, adjacent to West Homewood Park, approved for a rear addition.

Approved an addition to a commission member’s house on Parkside: Commissioner Mark Woods and his builder requested approval to build a rear addition to his house at 1557 Parkside Court and a covered porch 10 feet from the rear property line. Although variances for most single-family residences are decided by the Board of Zoning Adjustments, the Parkside subdivision was created under a Development Plan, which is governed by the Planning Commission. The approval amends the development plan.

Mr. Woods said the property was bordered on the rear by utility easements, which had already been vacated. The commission, having few further questions, approved the request.  

Example of an overexposed crawl space due to sloping terrain.

Set a meeting to discuss residential building height: The commission’s zoning committee will meet Jan. 25 to discuss issues with enforcing a recently-passed height ordinance for single-family construction. Following code, which requires a minimum 3-foot crawlspace, a house planned on a steeply sloping lot could result in an exposed crawlspace of up to 10 feet. Such a situation has come up recently, Mr. Higginbotham said.


Board of Zoning Adjustments, Jan. 4, 2018

1603 Oxmoor Road A case possibly headed to circuit court

Two cases were denied tonight: a split lot on Lucerne and a return visit by a homeowner on Gran wanting to add a 2-story garage on the rear setback of a new residence. In a not-unexpected development, a party whose case was denied in a special November meeting has appealed the decision to Jefferson County circuit court. In that case, the city had mistakenly issued a building permit for a new house  on Oxmoor that was being built 5 feet into the side setback. The footings were already poured when the city stopped work, but for the second time this year, the BZA failed to consider the city’s mistake as an excuse for violating published zoning ordinances. The first case, in September, was a height violation on St. Charles that the contractor revised into compliance. The recent case had  been denied 4-1 in November, with Brian Jarmon voting the only yes.

Members present: Matt Foley, Brian Jarmon, Beverly LeBoeuf, Lauren Gwaltney, chair, Ty Cole, Stuart Roberts (S), and Andrew Marlin (S).

Members absent: Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Staff present: Vanessa McGrath of the Building, Engineering and Zoning Department, and planner (part-time) Fred Goodwin, also of BEZ; and Planning and zoning clerk Donna Bridges.

Audience attendance: 17

*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 provides two supernumerary members (S) to sit in and vote if needed. Variances expire in 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained.


109 Dixon Avenue

Carried over for a third time a request for variances for a house addition on Dixon: The case at 109 Dixon Avenue had been carried over twice since November.


Proposed Athletic Complex building

Granted a variance allowing the city’s park board to build a facility taller than code: Davis Architecture was approved to build a covered volleyball, basketball and maintenance building at 123 West Oxmoor Road 7 1/2 feet higher than code allows, in part to accommodate internal heights required for the ball games. Volleyball requires a 23 foot clearance, for example.  Asked why the outside roof had to be so high, the architect said it was to maintain an “efficient” 2 foot to 12 foot slope from the eaves, which start at 25.6 feet, to the roof ridge, at 42.6. Zoning regulations would have capped the height at 35 feet. The building will be built on the site of the former Mason Corp. building and is part of a $35 million renovation to Park and Rec Board playing fields and facilities that expanded across the newly purchased, 15-acre Mason property. It may also house some city offices. There were no objections to the request.

102 Lucerne Boulevard

Granted a variance to allow a carport to be built in front of a house on Lucerne: Spurrier Construction argued that the house at 102 Lucerne Boulevard was positioned just 10 feet off the rear property line, presenting an undeniable hardship to building an accessory structure anywhere but in front of the house. The homeowners already have a pavilion and a one-car carport in front of the house, offset to the left, which predated zoning regulations. The accessory structures sit farther back than the fronts of adjoining houses and are screened from view by a landscaping buffer and the deep setback from the street. Mr. Spurrier said the homeowners plan to enclose the existing carport and build a new 20′ X 22′ two-car carport for vehicles and a storage room. The new carport will not be enclosed and stand almost 134 feet from the road.

There being no objection, the variance was granted unanimously.

98 Lucerne Boulevard

Denied variances to allow a lot on Lucerne to be split into two lots smaller and narrower than required by code: A Samford law professor tried but failed to make a convincing case for allowing a split lot at 98 Lucerne Boulevard, his family’s home since 2001 and one which he described repeatedly as an unappealing and poorly constructed structure that had been survived four badly planned and executed additions before he purchased the house. Mr.Smolin and his wife plan to move to a house on Wellington with the last of their 8 children, the youngest who has a serious medical condition; remodeling the current house wasn’t an option, he said. Instead, they proposed dividing and selling the lots for two new houses; a real estate agent and prospective buyer both attended tonight’s hearing.

The minimum allowed lot width is 85% of the average lots in a defined impact area, shown here as surrounding lots with 12 houses.

Under zoning regulations, acceptable lot size is set at no less than 85% of the average of lots in a surrounding defined impact area, which in this instance encompasses 12 addresses. Based on those lots, Ms. McGrath computed the minimum required lot width to be 89 feet and the minimum area 16,168 square feet. Mr. Smolin’s lot, at 151 feet, would produce two lots of ~75 feet, requiring width variances of 13.5 feet per lot and area variances of 1,607 square feet for each.

Two people spoke, one opposing the division and a next door neighbor enthusiastically in favor. Mr. Smolian had collected 5 signatures in favor of the division, including three from adjoining properties.

The poor condition of the current house comprised part of Mr. Smolin’s detailed argument to divide, namely, that two proposed brand new Tudor or Craftsmen-styled houses would be better for the neighborhood than leaving behind one rambling, unattractive, rundown, out-of-date rancher, a choice Mr. Smolin presented as somewhat of a threat when the possibility of his winning the variance seemed to be fading. More  convincing was his argument that the current property was a double lot that even divided would be larger than many residential lots elsewhere in Homewood. Further, the divided lots would be wider or just as wide as 4 of 7 surrounding properties on Lucerne, he said. The residents of one of those properties–whose own lot was less than 75 feet wide–had written one of the two letters of opposition: “They want to deny us the right to obtain what they already have for themselves,” he said. The hardship, he went on, was the 85% formula itself, which produced inconsistent/arbitrary size requirements based on where a certain property happened to be. In his case, large corner lots and double lots on Lucerne put his subdivision plan at an unfair disadvantage, he said.

Nevertheless, the board said the formula was designed to maintain consistency within a neighborhood–not within the city as a whole or just one block of it. Mr. Cole asked Mr. Smolin if he could explain what hardship prevented him from building one large house on his large lot? “It’s all about scale, you know?” he asked. “The original lots may have been narrower, but the houses you plan to build there aren’t the same. They will be built from setback to setback.” In response, Mr. Smolin said it wasn’t financial gain, but financial feasibility that motivated his desire to divide the lot. Then, seeing that his case was failing, he asked if any other board members beside Mr. Cole had questions. They did not. A vote was taken and returned a unanimous denial.

The new house at 312 Gran Avenue

Denied a variance to allow a two-story garage built into the required setback on Gran: This case is a return from December, when a request to build a garage inside the 10-foot setback was denied, citing an absence of drawings. In December, the homeowner at 312 Gran Avenue was unable to show a credible hardship for building a large two-story brick facade garage with an attic four feet into the side setback. This time, the homeowner presented drawings of the garage, explaining that two households were

(former house at) 312 Gran Avenue

being combined at the new residence and needed storage. As before, he argued that a rear deck and sewer/water lines on the property prevented him from moving the garage to the right. As before, Mr. Cole said that hardship was self-inflicted since the owner himself designed the house and built it anew. Mr. Foley reiterated that the board rarely granted variances on new construction for that reason. Also as before, the homeowner said the original house also had a garage in the rear. This time, Ms. LeBoeuf

(former) 312 Gran Avenue
garage seen from rear

pointed out that the lot had been completely cleared of trees, including a buffer between the garage and Shades Cahaba Elementary. Ms. McGrath and Ms. Gwaltney then pointed out building options to avoid putting the garage onto the setback. There being other routes available to comply, the vote was taken and the variance unanimously denied.

Board of Zoning Adjustments, December 7, 2017

House planned on South Lakeshore, across from the soccer fields

A 10-case docket was reduced to 9 with a postponement and the rest decided quickly. The single denial was decided for variances to accommodate a two-story garage on Gran.

Members present: Brian Jarmon, Beverly LeBoeuf, Ty Cole, Matt Foley, and Andrew Marlin.

Members absent: Lauren Gwaltney, chair, Stuart Roberts (S), and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Staff present: Vanessa McGrath of the Building, Engineering and Zoning Department, and planner (part-time) Fred Goodwin, also of BEZ; and Planning and zoning clerk Donna Bridges.

Audience attendance: 23

*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 provides two supernumerary members (S) to sit in and vote if needed. Variances expire in 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained.


Carried over for a second time a house addition case on Dixon: The case at 109 Dixon Avenue was carried over to January. 


202 Bonita Drive

Approved a front setback variance for a house addition on Bonita: The homeowner at 202 Bonita Drive wanted a covered carport at the front right of the house convenient to the entrance, which would push the front line of the house 15 feet closer to the street and 4 feet into the required front setback (of 49 feet from the street). There were no speakers at the hearing and no stated hardship for waiving the regulation except the convenience and security of having a carport versus having none, which is the current case. In discussion, the

Front design for a terrace and carport

contractor said the protruding carport would be balanced on the left side with a terrace, with stairs and planters and a reconfigured walkway to the drive on the right (see drawing). Neighbors on the carport side had expressed no objection, and with few questions asked, the board voted approval. 

1617 Woodfern Drive

Approved a right setback variance for a substantial front addition on Woodfern: Although most of the addition planned at 1617 Woodfern Drive will be added to the front–bringing it forward to the street by 15 feet–it is only a short section of the addition on the right side that extends into the setback, by 4.2 feet. The laundry room already juts into the setback by that amount, and the addition will merely extend it another 12 feet along the side of the house. The board was told the front gable would remain. There were no speakers or objections submitted on the case, and the board approved it unanimously. 

505 Hampton Drive

Approved continuing a rear setback variance to allow a house addition on Hampton: With one exception, a homeowner at 505 Hampton Drive didn’t leave anything to chance in making her argument for a 15-foot rear setback variance to rebuild most of an existing deck and enclose it under a metal roof. (The rebuilt deck will have the same footprint as the existing open deck, which doesn’t require the same setback.)

The homeowner pointed out several hardships that prompted the decision to rebuild and roof the deck, the first being the shallow lot, which makes privacy a concern. Others were 1) Exposure to sun, making the open deck difficult to use during the summer; 2) A sloping rear yard difficult to use without a deck; 3) An effort to divert rainwater from the house, which is already subject to some flooding because of topography; and 4) The intention to use some existing deck support structures, instead of building from scratch. In addition, she produced four letters of support from surrounding neighbors.

However, before the approving vote, Mr. Foley noticed that the proposed roof overhang was a foot over the 1.5-foot limit, which the homeowners proffered to change to meet regulations.

312 Gran Avenue

Denied 2-3 a setback variance for a two-story garage planed behind a house on Gran: Homeowners at  312 Gran Avenue, which backs up to Shades Cahaba Elementary, were thwarted in their plan to build a two-story garage within the 10-foot property line setback, in part because the structure would be built anew and not to match the former garage footprint. The house was recently built after the original house and 2-story garage were torn down. Now a new 26′ X 25′ garage is planned 4.5 feet inside the setback to avoid crowding a backyard deck. Mr. Cole, however, called the hardship self-inflicted due to poor space planning on the part of the contractor.  The contractor replied that the deck was already “sized down” and was sited to avoid electrical and sewer lines, an argument that didn’t sway the board given the size and height of the proposed garage. It will be two stories, both with heat and air, and attic storage. The vote was 3-2 in favor, which failed the required 4 votes to approve a variance. The contractor can appeal the decision in court, return with a different request, or build within the required setbacks.

Voting no to the variance:  Ty Cole and Brian Jarmon

210 West Linwood Drive

Approved a left side setback variance for an addition on West Linwood:  The planned addition at 210 West Linwood Drive is a master bedroom suite and laundry in the rear left side of the property. The lot is 55.8 feet wide, or just inches over the 55-foot lot-size limit that requires  wider side setbacks of 10 feet each (an accepted hardship in a previous case). The architect asked to build 2 feet into the left side to make the rooms more usable, he said, and to avoid the existing garage. In discussion, Mr. Cole pointed out that the addition, as designed, makes the garage virtually unusable for parking a car. He asked, with a smile, if the plan was to keep the garage, or was the garage only useful as a way of getting the 2-foot variance? He was assured the garage would remain; it is being used as an office. The architect also produced letters of support from neighbors on either side, and the case was approved.

305 Westover Drive

Approved a right side setback variance for a house addition on Westover: Architect Joe Ellis spoke at the case at 305 Westover Drive and the one following. In this case, the plan is to add a 1-story bedroom and bath addition on a side that is already nonconforming by 2.6 feet; the addition would add several inches to that nonconformity for a total required variance of 2.45 feet. With no objections from the board or audience, the request was approved.

214 Malaga Avenue

Approved an existing setback variance for a house addition on Malaga: Mr. Ellis had only slightly more trouble winning an approval for a 4.1-foot left setback variance at 214 Malaga Avenue, where an already non-conforming rear porch is being enlarged, and the steps removed and deck railed in. In discussion, Mr. Cole asked if the homeowners would also agree to remove an existing side deck and awning. The homeowners having been called and giving their permission, the vote was unanimous to approve.

309 Le Jeune Way (2016)

Approved a right setback variance for an addition on Le Jeune: This house was heard in an April 2016 case.  The designer spoke on behalf of the plan for an addition at 309 Le Jeune Way, including a single story rear addition of the kitchen and roof that extends the house line for 5 feet, 9 inches before the wall is stepped back to within the setback. A variance was approved in April 2016 for a different plan under a different owner, who changed her mind about renovating. With no objections from the board or audience, the vote was unanimous to approve.

1721 South Lakeshore Drive

Approved a variance to allow a new house to be built 5 feet closer to the street on South Lakeshore: The only speaker of the evening was for this case at 1721 South Lakeshore Drive, and his interest was not to object but to learn more about the plan for the lot across from the Homewood soccer fields. The owners responded that they encountered rock while leveling the back of the half-acre + lot and are asking to build 5 feet closer to the street than the required 35-foot setback. Of those 5 feet over the line, four feet would be an open front porch and only 1 foot would be the house proper. Board members asked few questions and, it being the last of nine cases, voted to approve.

Before adjourning the board approved the 2018 calendar showing regular meetings the first Thursday of each month, except July and November.