Planning Commission, Oct. 6, 2015

Is this in the future for Wildwood North?

Is there a high-end auto dealer in Wildwood’s future? So hints the Planning Commission tonight.

A lot of institutions have been allowed to expand into residential neighborhoods lately, taking down “rental” or other houses deemed not worth keeping. Tonight, the Commission seemed to draw the line over a relatively minor but heated parking issue surrounding All Saints Church. Meanwhile, small townhouse development proposed on Columbiana got a unanimous rezoning recommendation. What’s this about a high-end car dealer wanting to open in Wildwood? See last item.

Members present: Fred Azbik, James Ponseti, Billy Higginbotham, chairman, Jeffery Foster, Fred Hawkins, Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill, James Riddle and Mark Woods, arriving late.

Members absent: Mike Brandt, vice chairman, and James Ponseti.

Staff attendance: Donna Bridges, commission secretary; Fred Goodman, Greg Cobb, and Vanessa McGrath, city Building, Engineering and Zoning Department staff.

Audience attendance: 15

All Saints proposed widening a 15-foot alley, seen to the right, to allow a row of parking spaces down the center of the residential lot. The Commission voted against recommending the rezoning to the city council.

All Saints proposed widening a 15-foot alley, seen to the right, to allow a row of parking spaces down the center of the residential lot. The Commission voted against recommending the rezoning to the city council.

Voted 6-1 to not recommend rezoning church-owned property for a parking lot: Despite a persuasive argument from All Saints church in favor of relocating and widening an alleyway for more preschool parking, commissioners tonight sided with objectors and voted not to recommend. The plan would require rezoning an adjoining vacant residential lot from Neighborhood Preservation District to I-2 (institutional), moving the path of a city-owned alley closer to the church, and pouring asphalt on the south side for an affordable gain of 13 parking spots. Another 13 could be added alongside those when the church raises the money.

The vote was based in part on residents’ long-running irritation at the church’s recently finished expansion, the growing preschool and its drop-off traffic, and the church’s decision to turn an unofficial parking area fronting Oxmoor into a grassy play yard instead of a parking lot.

Four people spoke in opposition, citing concerns over the possibility of the church building another structure there one day, of losing the residential look of the street, and about practical concerns from one resident (wife of staff employee Greg Cobb) who uses the existing alley to access a garage. Several asked the church to turn the larger Oxmoor-facing lot into a parking area instead.

The church responded that widening the alley and making it two-way would actually improve access to garages. The architect, and church member, said the Oxmoor lot wasn’t near the preschool entrance and would be costly to convert to parking because of the elevation. Such a move would only gain 7 more spaces than the current proposal, eliminate a play area and detract from looks of the church.

Questions from the commission, however, revealed that the preschool employed 40 staff members and the church maintains about 60 parking spaces. Mr. Woods asked if the church could work out a staff parking arrangement with Trinity Church, whose lot is virtually empty during the week.

The commissioners also referenced a number of critical letters that had been sent to the commission, but which the church hadn’t received until late this afternoon. Some of the claims, such as the play yard not ever being used, were simply untrue, they said. Before voting, commissioners were advised to make the motion conditional on getting council approval to relocate its current right-of-way. That said, the vote was 6-1 against recommending the rezoning. The church can appeal to the council anyway, or accept the decision as final.

Voting yes: Fred Azbik.

The townhouses would look something like this, according to the architect.

The townhouses would look something like this, according to the architect.

Voted to recommend rezoning a Columbiana commercial parcel for townhouses: The address at 818 Columbiana Road is a property with a history, at least a rumored history that it was a styling salon and spa doubling as a brothel. The business was shut down, arrests were made, a woman mysteriously disappeared, and the  building was later torn, the grounds allowed to grow up behind a metal security fence. That history came to an end a few years ago when the parcel was bought by Homewood residential developers Twin Holdings LLC, represented tonight by Homewood resident Eric Rogers of Progressive Properties, a real estate company.

The 818 Columbiana Road property, taken from a real estate website.

A bird’s eye view of the 818 Columbiana Road property, taken from a real estate website. Green Springs Highway is to the right.

The quickly-approved rezoning case involves rezoning the .60 acre lot from C-1 commercial to R-7, Attached Dwelling, to build six 2-story townhouses along a priviate drive that would run perpendicular to and connecting with Columbiana Road. The front and rear units will face out, the front to Columbiana and the rear to a larger yard. The drive will not connect through to Green Springs Highway.

Commissioners expressed few reservations except for future maintenance, which would be assured by a homeowners association, the developers said. It was learned that the property was once considered for inclusion in the Green Springs Urban renewal District, but was kept basic commercial on the advice of Greg Cobb.

The vote to recommend the rezoning is subject to a final decision by city council, which will set its own public hearing on the plan before a vote.

Voted to elect Billy Higginbotham as chairman for another year, but postponed re-appointing Mike Brandt as vice chair due to his absence.

Is this in the future for Wildwood North?

The “Lamborghini” name was dropped in tonight’s discussion as an example of a high end auto dealer that might be considering locating at Wildwood North, if zoning allowed.

Carried over until next meeting a discussion on amending the Wildwood zoning codes to allow inside sales (showroom and dealership) of an unspecified high-end car maker. The proposal is to add the word “outdoor” to the prohibition against “vehicle sales,” thereby allowing inside car sales in Wildwood’s Planned Mixed Use District zone. Mr. Hawkins said an Alabama Power Co. development consultant told him Homewood’s only revenue gap was in auto sales. A discussion followed in which Mr. Woods said the city should stick to its traditional stance against car lots because of the associated crime. It was pointed out that no dealership operates strictly inside four walls. The discussion was carried over, with Mr. Hawkins dissenting.

Board of Zoning Adjustments, Oct. 1, 2015

Here’s some free advice on following building and zoning codes on that could potentially save homeowners thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars: Do not follow the maxim, “It’s easier to seek forgiveness than to ask for permission.” Easier yes. Cheaper, no. Several cases this year involved construction that was already proceeding or nearly complete when work was stopped by a building inspector and the required variance denied. Two of the three applications heard tonight were denied and involved work that had already begun. In a third case, a developer wanting to divide a lot withdrew his request in the face of opposition and a likely denial.

Members present: Brian Jarmon, Ty Cole, Lauren Gwaltney, Jeffrey Foster, Beverly LeBoeuf.

Members absent: Hope Cannon:

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

Audience attendance:  15

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


209 Clermont Drive

209 Clermont Drive

Denied a variance for a covered deck on Clermont: The homeowner at 209 Clermont Avenue had obtained variances in March 2014 in connection with renovating and adding a second story to this house. Tonight, he was back to request a variance to build 15 feet into the rear set-back limit for a roof on a back deck (the deck itself needed no variance because it was less than five feet off the ground; however, a roof required it to meet the same code as the main house). The homeowner, who said he was unaware he needed a variance, had already begun the project when a city inspector stopped the work.

209 Clermontside

The homeowner was almost finished with this covered deck when a city inspector stopped work. The variance was denied.

The owner said he wouldn’t build the roof beyond the edge of the deck and two neighbors spoke in support, with the closest neighbor saying the roof would even improve privacy between the two properties. The board nevertheless denied the application, giving no specific explanation but most likely because the deck was extremely close to the property line, the work had been started–and nearly completed–without authorization, and the roof did, in fact, protrude beyond the deck.

Voting yes: LeBoeuf, Jarmon.

Voting no: Cole, Foster, Gwaltney.

1400 Sutherland Place

1400 Sutherland Place

Withdrawn–an application to divide a lot on Sutherland that was unlikely to pass: The application to divide a lot at 1400 Sutherland Place and allow a 174-square-foot reduction in the required lot area was ultimately withdrawn by the applicant, builder and developer Frank Craige of Oxford and Company. As a preliminary plan, he proposed dividing the property to have two lots facing Clermont Avenue, and hoped to move the existing house to fit on one of the new lots. However, two neighbors opposed the application, citing overcrowding and the potential loss of many oak trees. The board had also received letters of opposition from two other nearby property owners, including Twin Construction.

Map showing plans to divide a corner lot on Sutherland. The developer's argument for better financial gain didn't fly. The variance was denied.

Map showing plans to divide a corner lot on Sutherland. The developer’s financial argument didn’t move the board. The variance was denied.

When asked what hardship would justify the lot-area variance, Mr. Craige said it wouldn’t make financial sense to buy the property without dividing it. Mr. Cole explained that a financial burden doesn’t count as a qualifying hardship, an answer that signaled a probable denial of the application. With that, and in light of neighborhood opposition, Mr. Craige withdrew his application.




111 Crest Drive was back again for variances to build a side deck. The answer, again, was no.

111 Crest Drive was back again for variances to build a side deck. The answer, again, was no.

Denied a variance — again — to build a deck into the side setback on Crest Drive: This complex case, which was heard in September, involved three separate variance requests, including the one denied tonight to widen a side yard deck. Tonight, contractor Gary Smith requested a 7-foot right building setback to extend an existing rear deck and wrap it around the side of the house. Mr. Smith said the side deck extension was needed to allow for a quick exit from the house in case of fire, an

A right side view of 111 Crest Drive. The variance for an extended deck was denied.

A right side view of 111 Crest Drive. The variance for an extended deck was denied.

explanation that baffled the board until homeowners explained that the existing side door had been blocked in and a new door cut farther back in the same wall. That door, at this point, leads nowhere. However, because of the proximity to the neighboring property, the application was denied.

Board members apparently also considered the change in door position as a self-inflicted hardship.

Voting yes: LeBoeuf, Jarmon.

Voting no: Coe, Foster, Gwaltney.

The meeting ended with an off-agenda discussion of a July 2015 case, in which a house at 302 Clermont Drive was granted a variance based on the homeowner’s promise to retain existing exterior walls, which didn’t happen. The board discussed the status of that variance in light of a city inspector’s finding that the existing walls be replaced.

City Council, Sept. 28, 2015 – FY2016 Budget


The Greenway Trail expansion is seriously hindered without the anticipated purchase of the Fox News property between Wildwood and the Jefferson County sewer facility.

The council’s budget approved tonight followed the mayor’s recommendation for employee bonuses, insurance coverage and a 1.5% COLA (the council added the .5% to the mayor’s recommendation), but included disappointing fire department grant denials amounting to $1.2 million and the unrelated loss of a section right-of-way property crucial to the Greenway expansion.

City finance staffers said the denial of the SAFER and Fire Act grants cut three anticipated firefighter positions from the FY2016 budget while other expenses from anticipated grants –such as Greenway expenses–will merely be deferred until the next budget year. Mayor Scott McBrayer acknowledged after the meeting that some delays would be seen in the Greenway Phase II project, which extends the trail west under Interstate 65 and behind Sam’s and Walmart. However, the greatest disappointment is the city’s inability to close on the purchase of Fox News property, a linear section of property west of Wildwood that holds a critical position to the trail’s extension. The trail’s progress is “literally being shortened” because of the Fox property situation, he said.

The Sims Garden gained a seed grant of $5,000 in the upcoming budget.

The Sims Garden gained a seed grant of $5,000 in the upcoming budget.

Gainers in the budget review include the Sims EcoScape, which won $5,000 in seed funds, an extra $2,500 for the city’s Arts Advisory Council, $87,500 for unspecified improvements to 18th Street downtown, and an extra $250,000 toward street paving.

Members present: Michael Hallman, Britt Thames, Fred Hawkins, Vance Moody, Walter Jones, Patrick McClusky, Barry Smith, Alex Wyatt, Peter Wright, and council president Bruce Limbaugh. Also present was Homewood Mayor Scott McBrayer.

Members absent: Richard Laws.

Staff present: City clerk Linda Cook, city attorney Mike Kendrick, mayor’s chief of staff J. J. Bischoff, Melody Salter, finance director, and Greg Cobb, city Building, Engineering and Zoning staff.

Audience attendance: 21


The council used one vote to drop the following items from committee agendas:

Dropped considering special taking measures to slow traffic in West Homewood pending more police enforcement. 

Dropped the idea of a hiring a “Personnel Study Review consultant.

Dropped further discussion about a West Homewood block party date because it has been set for Oct. 23, with Oak Grove Road to be closed 4-10 p.m.  


The council allowed Brookwood mall to put store signs up along the front retaining wall. Trivia Quiz, which is the sans serif type, "Signage" or "Five Guys?" Councilman Moody pointed out the distinction in tonight's discussion.

The council allowed Brookwood mall to put store signs up along the front retaining wall. Trivia Quiz, which is the sans serif type, “Signage” or “Five Guys?” Councilman Moody pointed out the distinction in tonight’s discussion.

Allowed Brookwood mall to display signs across the front retaining wall: Before making a formal request for exemptions from the sign regulations,   mall management at the last meeting asked for council feedback. Tonight, owner Cypress Equities formally asked for a sign variance allowing display signs across the front retaining wall. In keeping with limits expressed by the council, there will be only six store names represented; the letters will only be 4.5 feet high, and stay within a certain limited family of typefaces. Before approving the request, Mr. Moody surprised everyone with his knowledge of printing by asking why the mall chose a serif typeface instead of a sans serif, as represented by the Five Guys sign already on the mall. (Answer, Five Guys’ typeface is the company brand.)

Allowed a larger sign for a storefront tax business: The council approved a 66-square-foot sign for H&R block, or 16 sf over code, since it expanded into a nail salon space next door at 1934- 28th Avenue South.

Will close Oak Grove Road for a block party marking the end of road improvements: The road will be closed 4-10 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 23.

Approved a stop sign at Ascott Road and LaPrado Circle: The sign will face west. 

Approved bonuses to be paid from surplus available at end of FY2015 year: One-time bonuses totaling $375,000 were awarded to full-time employees from fiscal year-end surplus, based on years of tenure as follows:

1-3  years – $350

4-6 years – $500

7-9 years – $750

10-15 years – $1,000

16-19 years – $1,500

20 years and over – $2,000

Transferred funds to the General Fund from the Capital Projects Fund: The transfer to boost operating funds is not to exceed $500,000, based on the actual surplus available at the fiscal year end Sept. 30. 

Homewood police officers from an October 2014 fundraiser to benefit breast cancer research. WBRC.

Homewood employees got a 1.5% COLA this year. (Homewood police sporting beards for a breast cancer fundraising campaign. WBRC 2014.)

Passed the FY2016 city budget: As is the usual practice, the budget — passed in 15 separate fund votes tonight — is an adjusted version of the budget the mayor presented at the end of August. The Finance Committee made its adjustments over six special-called review meetings in September, and tonight approved a 1.5% COLA (recommended by the mayor) but also added money for ClasTran transit for elderly and special needs riders, and additional money for several city boards, such as the Arts Advisory Committee ($12,500 over $10,000) and the Sims EcoScape property (an additional $5,000 in seed money above the $3,000 normally budgeted for property maintenance).

Homewood firefighters at work on a Rosedale fire. 2009 Bernard Troncale. Birmingham News.

Homewood firefighters at work on a Rosedale fire. 2009 Bernard Troncale. Birmingham News.

On the negative side, the Finance Committee report noted the $1.2 million in lost revenue from two expected fire and police department grants, which were denied. The denial of the SAFER grant request means the loss of three additional fire fighter positions.

There will also be delays on the development of the Greenway Phase II project in the coming year, with the loss of the Fox property right-of-way acquisition. The property held a key position in the trail’s expansion west and without it, the route will be considerably shortened. Also affecting the Greenway is the council’s decision to defund and postpone certain expenses until the following fiscal year in order to direct $87,200 toward a downtown beautification project.

Here is the budget, by fund, and major changes made by the council during its review:

The Arts Advisory Council, which hosts cultural events such as "Pickin' in the Park" got some extra funding in the council's adjusted budget.

The Arts Advisory Council, which hosts cultural events such as “Pickin’ in the Park” got some extra funding along with other city boards in the council’s adjusted budget.

1) General Fund – (includes a 1.5 % cost of living adjustment totaling $330,000, and city funding of 7.8% increase in employee health insurance premiums, as recommended by the mayor). The council added $25,000 to revamp the city’s website, and modest funding increases for the Arts Advisory Council, ClasTran and the Sims Ecoscape

Voting no: Michael Hallman, giving no explanation but presumably because the increase was a one-time bonus versus a permanent raise, as are the COLAs, granted separately.

2) Capital Projects – Added $87,200 total for an 18th Street beautification project.

3) Grants fund – The Finance Committee reduced this fund by more than $1.2 million, particularly the loss of the SAFER Grant and Fire Act grant.

4) 7 Cents Gas Tax

5) 4-Cent and 5-cent Gas Tax Fund – The Finance Committee added $250,000 more for street paving than the mayor’s budget recommended.

6) Board of Education Trust Fund
7) Debt Service
8) Environmental Escrow
9) Insurance
10) E-911
11) Corrections/Jail
12) Corrections/Court
13) Court Special
14) Technology
15) Judicial Administrative

Declared three General Services trucks surplus and due to be auctioned: The trucks are 1) a 1995 International refuse truck; 2) a 1994 Int’l refuse truck; and 3) a 1998 International clam shell truck.

Approved purchasing a $1,000 Birmingham Bowl program advertisement.

Approved unspecified amendments to the current budget before the close of the fiscal year.


To Finance – To consider 1) A report on the status of the city’s rainy day fund deposited at Raymond James; and 2) Setting a bid opening Oct. 19, 2015, at 5:30 p.m. for the Police Department uniform bid.

To Public Safety –  To consider updating the city’s cigarette smoking restrictions.

To Special Issues – To consider 1) Sign variances at 801 Green Springs Avenue, 3450 Manor Drive, and at 3551 U.S. 31; and 2) A fence variance allowing a 15-foot high fence facing Oxmoor Road at Big #1 Motorsports.


Approved designating J.H. Berry Risk Services to be the exclusive insurance broker of record for the City of Homewood: This item was moved up from the committee referral agenda at the mayor’s urging.

Set three Oct. 12 public hearings for sign and fence variances, see Committee Referral agendas above. 

Set an Oct. 19, 2015, bid opening at 5:30 p.m. for police uniform vendors.

Paid the bills: Approved paying invoices for the Sept. 14-25, 2015.

Inside the new Exceptional Foundation building


The sunny Big Room, facing west, is used for daily after-school programs for members ages 5-21.

The Exceptional Foundation a few weeks ago moved into an expanded facility built ahead of schedule on a strong response to its $4 million capital campaign. The building expansion along with growing participation and construction inconveniences put the Foundation at odds over parking with its neighbor, the Homewood Rec Center, which had also expanded its building the year before.

The Exceptional Foundation is seeking to expand into the adjacent residential area.

The Exceptional Foundation as seen in a January 2014 Google screen shot. The expansion took down two houses, seen at the left.

The Foundation, which also enjoys an exceptional $40,000/year support from its landlord, the city, presented its expansion idea to the Planning Commission in January 2013. At that time, it planned to add a 7,500-square-foot addition with 16 parking spaces and an additional entrance from Oxmoor Road to offer more space for its 470 clients. The agency had already contracted to buy two neighboring houses contingent on rezoning the lots from Neighborhood Preservation District to I-2 Institutional.

The commission voted 6-1 to recommend, which the council ultimately approved–also with one dissent, but without the Oxmoor entrance.

The yellow segment shows the approximate size of the proposed Exceptional Foundation addition. The agency's architect has repeatedly said the expansion would "square up" the recreational activity area.

The yellow segment shows the approximate size of the proposed Exceptional Foundation addition.

Trouble between the Foundation and park board erupted in October 2014, when the Foundation announced plans to begin construction immediately and to build a basement that would double the square footage and temporarily take a dozen parking spaces for excavated dirt and staging. The park board reacted angrily, saying it had been blindsided and calling the expedited schedule “irresponsible.”

The Foundation, meanwhile, has kept a low political profile, moving forward to completion, submitting for park board approval any activity using additional parking, and accepting several denials–including an annual Dance Marathon fundraiser on its behalf that has been rescheduled twice. Foundation leaders say they kept quiet last year when city leaders threatened to slash public transit funding, on which many special needs clients rely.

Board member Carmine Jordan said she has worked to improve relations with the park board and public. Foundation director Tricia Kirk says the Foundation has been blessed with increased support and in approaching its fundraising goal so quickly. The new basement–which is destined to be a game room–was added at no extra charge by contractor Brasfield Gorie. It increased program area without expanding the building’s footprint.

Here’s an inside look at the facility that shares space and an uneasy peace with the park board and management of the Homewood park and recreation center.

Close neighbors--The turnaround in front of the Exceptional Foundation with the Homewood Rec Center in the background.

Close neighbors–The turnaround in front of the Exceptional Foundation with the Homewood Rec Center in the background.


A patio facing Oxmoor overlooks a lawn and drop-off turnaround. The Foundation operates three shuttles for clients.


Foundation director Tricia Kirk and board member Carmine Jordan are in the new office space for staff and checking participants in and out throughout the day.


A brightly colored kitchen for snacks–and also to wash and dry extra clothing.


The surprisingly spacious “old” gym is used daily and for monthly dances and weekend sports.


The basement space, to be called The Cave, will be a game room. The space was added by contractor Brasfield Gorie at no extra charge.


Program participant lockers. The Exceptional Foundation is really the only option in town for special needs individuals after school or after school age (age 21). The agency provides supervised programs, day camps, after-school services and a social and recreation outlet for nearly 500 special needs individuals in the area.


A view from the stair landing between two multi-purpose rooms.

City Council meeting, Aug. 14, 2015

This mock-up shows the Brookwood Mall retaining wall strung with store signage. The council asked questions and sought some limits on the number of store signs and letter height when the final proposal is brought up at the next meeting

This mock-up shows the Brookwood Mall retaining wall strung with store signage, requested by the mall management. The council asked questions and sought limits on the number of store signs and letter height when the final proposal is brought up at the next meeting.

Over the objections of Ward 2 representative Vance Moody, the council passed 8-2 substantial changes to the West Homewood District “Village” zoning regulations–including the elimination of Lodging from its permitted uses–and handing future power for review and approval to the Planning Commission. In other action, the council seemed okay with more signs–lots more signs–on the front of Brookwood mall.

Members present: Michael Hallman, Britt Thames, Vance Moody, Walter Jones, Patrick McClusky, Barry Smith, Alex Wyatt, Richard Laws, Peter Wright, and council president Bruce Limbaugh. Also present was Homewood Mayor Scott McBrayer.

Members absent: Fred Hawkins

Staff present: City clerk Linda Cook, city attorney Mike Kendrick, mayor’s chief of staff J. J. Bischoff, Melody Salter, finance director, and Greg Cobb, city Building, Engineering and Zoning staff.

Audience attendance: 31

Approved the minutes of the Aug. 10, 2015, meeting.


In the Consent Agenda, the council used one vote to drop two items previously discussed in committee:

  • Dropped considering a cross walk at Central Avenue and Reese Street because the project is already scheduled.
  • Dropped further discussion of a website revamp because the funding has already been approved in the mayor’s budget.


Approved 8-2 substantial changes in the West Homewood District Village ordinance, abolishing its review panel in favor of the Planning Commission and BZA: The West Homewood District “village” zoning ordinance, passed in August 2013 to govern the shape and appearance of redevelopments on 22 parcels, became relevant this spring when the Oxmoor Road EconoLodge applied for a significant redevelopment under the new regulations. Vocal opposition sparked a reexamination of the actual regulations, as well as procedures for reviewing them, which have not been well understood.

The EconoLodge owner is proposing to remove this building to make room for a second hotel on the property. His case will continue to be reviewed by a community development review committee that was abolished in tonight's vote for any future applications.

The EconoLodge owner is proposing to remove this building to make room for a second hotel on the property. His case will continue to be reviewed by a Community Development Review Committee that was abolished in tonight’s vote to substantially amend the West Homewood District “village” ordinance. Also abolished was any future “Lodging” use in the district.

The city council earlier this year officially asked the Planning Commission to advise on making changes, which the commission did over the course of a public hearing and two meetings, finally recommending that the review committee (Community Design Review Committee) be abolished and replaced with the more familiar Planning Commission/BZA format. Among a long list of other changes to the regulations, the commission asked to remove “Lodging” from the list of permitted uses in the district, even as the EconoLodge is considering investing in a second hotel on its property. (Mr. Kendrick explained that the motel application would be grandfathered under the old rules as long as the application was active. It was submitted July 17 and is in its second review extension.)

Although no one spoke during the public hearing, Ward 2 representative Moody argued in favor of keeping the CDRC, saying the Planning Commission is  composed of mayoral appointees with no required ward representation. Until recently, there were no Ward 2 members on the commission. And, although there are several members who live in the ward now, nothing in the process guarantees there will be in the future.

EconoLodge owner Sanjay Patel, second from left, met with purported members of the city's Community Development Review Committee Monday to discuss his redevelopment plan for the aging motel. Two neighborhood residents sat in along with councilmen Vance Moody (Ward 2) fourth from left, Fred Hawkins, second from right, and Mayor Scott McBrayer, right foreground. Photograph by the Homewood Star, Madoline Markham. wasn't posted publicly, nullifying any discussion or decsion, according to Ward 2 councilman Vance Moody (fourth from left). Since Monday, the Planning Commission appointed its own representative to the committee, James Ponseti. The

EconoLodge owner Sanjay Patel, second from left, pitched his expansion plan to a hurriedly assembled group of city officials and residents early this spring. The rules governing the new West Homewood “village” district weren’t well understood at the time and membership in the Community Design Review Committee was changed in future meetings. Tonight the CDRC was abolished altogether and replaced with the Planning Commission, which will rule on any future district redevelopments. Photograph by the Homewood Star, Madoline Markham. Vance Moody, seen fourth from left, argued to keep the CDRC intact.

On the other side, Ward 2 representative Hawkins, who was absent, was in favor of the change for several practical reasons–some shared by the staff–such as the Planning Commission having a regular meeting time that zoning staff already have to attend. It was considered a burden to add a fourth committee responsibility to them; also, as Ms. McGrath pointed out, her membership on the committee created a conflict of interest, as she had to advise applicants during one phase of a development, then vote on it in another. The CDRC format did not include mandatory public hearing schedule and public yellow sign postings that the commission/BZA format does

After discussion and passing unanimous consent, the vote was 8-2 in favor of the changes. Future West Homewood District applications will be handled by the Planning Commission, with requested variances heard by the Board of Zoning Adjustments.

Voting no: Mr. Moody and Mr. McClusky.

Gave requested “feedback” on variances allowing signs along the Brookwood Mall retaining wall: Cypress Equities has been trying to BROOKWOODWALLSIGN.com_httpdocs_config_files_608e90a4f705a3dbe0eeab6037ce97aa094b2d52rejuvenate the familiar Village at 600 Brookwood Mall, in this case allowing asking the council to weigh in on posting signs across the concrete retaining wall facing Lakeshore Boulevard. No sign is allowed there by law now, although unofficial exceptions were made years ago in the case of the mall’s name and Z Gallerie, which Mr. Cobb said he probably allowed. The council expressed a desire to stay within the 4.6-foot letter height limitation set by the ordinance, which allows signs on the mall structure

No one knows how Z Gallerie got an unofficial sign on the Brookwood Mall retaining wall.

No one knows how Z Gallerie got an unofficial sign on the Brookwood Mall retaining wall.

itself, and to consider no more than six store sign, all within a single typeface “family,” to be simple bronze as shown in company mock-ups, and to withhold their vote until a final proposal is presented. The matter was carried over to the next meeting.

Approved funds to repair Lee Center drainage problems: The council approved spending up to $5,000 for repairs to the parking lot.

Approved funds for consultants to advise on a street pavement inspection/maintenance program:  for city streets: The council voted to spend $9,600, or the 20 percent local share of costs in a transportation project underwritten 80 percent by federal highway funds. Volkert Engineering will perform the $40,000 study of 125 miles of city streets and how to establish an ongoing maintenance program, using sealants and other repairs as well as milling and repaving. 

Declared city equipment surplus and due to be sold: The request from the Public Services Department includes (3) oil burning heaters , (1) sandblaster parts/cabinet and dust collector, (1) Lincoln pneumatic bumper lift jack and (1) AC Recycling machine/ Skye Model # 8534/Serial # 841409 and a 2002 Elgin Eagle Street Sweeper Serial No. F-1271-D/Mounted on a Sterling /VIN: .


To Finance – To consider 1) Declaring as surplus a 1995 International refuse truck, a 1994 International refuse truck, and a 1998 International Clam Shell truck; and 2) Purchasing an “Official Fan Guide Sponsor” for the Annual Birmingham Bowl.

To Public Safety – To consider adding a stop sign on Ascott Road and LaPrado Circle.

To Special Issues – To consider 1) Hearing a presentation from David Agee about driveway paving options; 2) Set an event date for a celebration of a West Homewood revitalization project; and 3) A sign ordinance variance for a business at 1934 28th Avenue South, requested by Diane Foley.

Set a Sept. 28, 2015, hearing for a sign ordinance at 1934 28th Avenue South, see above.

Paid the bills: The council approved paying invoices for the Aug. 24-Sept. 11, 2015 period.


Board of Zoning Adjustments, Sept. 8, 2015

The board tonight issued denials in five out of nine cases, and will seek a separate input from neighbors on a Kenilworth house that was advertised with the wrong information.

This meeting was rescheduled from its regular time on the first Thursday of the month, Sept. 3, due to a lack of quorum.

Members present: All-Beverly LeBoeuf, Lauren Gwaltney, chair, Ty Cole, Brian Jarmon, Hope Cannon and Jeffrey Foster.

Staff present: Greg Cobb and Vanessa McGrath of the Building, Engineering and Zoning Department and board clerk Donna Bridges.


307 Broadway

Approved 4-1 an addition on Broadway that was re-designed to assure better compliance: [Updated 9/9 to correct errors.] This is at least the third time the case at 307 Broadway has been on the agenda; the first being when it was mis-advertised in July as an addition and carried over to August. The case was carried over in August when the owners re-thought their plan to demolish the house and rebuild anew, a move that eliminated their hardship to building outside the code. The homeowners came back

307 Broadway

307 Broadway as it appeared in July, with a magnolia tree.

tonight with a new plan that has a conforming first floor and requires only variances for a second story.

They were granted a 5-foot right building setback and a 1-foot variance on the left.

Voting no: Lauren Gwaltney



204 East Linwood

204 East Linwood

Approved a variances for an addition on East Linwood: The board granted a 5-foot left building setback variance for a bathroom addition. A 7.3-foot variance already existed for a first and second floor at 204 East Linwood Drive. 

1516 Melrose Place

1516 Melrose Place


Granted variances for a bedroom addition to a house on Melrose: The owners are adding a bedroom on the main level. After discussion they were granted a 1.5-foot right setback variance (already existing). The Board asked about water drainage coming from the roof. The builder said he would build a four hip roof and create a new gutter system for the new roofline. The board was assured there were no issues with the foundation for the addition in the backyard, or water drainage for the bathroom.

A next door neighbor from 1520 Melrose Place asked if the 8 evergreen trees would be cut or trimmed, and what was the completion date. The builder said no trees would be cut, but perhaps pruned. Building would take four months, putting completion in February, 2016.

1405 Clermont Drive

Approved a variance for a second floor addition on Clermont: The owner asked to build 4 feet into the left setback area for a second floor addition at 1405 Clermont Drive. The lot is very narrow, only 50 feet wide, and  neighbor at 1407 Clermont spoke, saying he had no problem with addition as long it is was 1 1/2 stories high, not a full 2 stories. He asked the purpose of building setbacks and Ms. McGrath said for fire safety and sunlight needed between buildings.

410 Kenilworth Drive

410 Kenilworth Drive

A conditional approval granted if  neighbors agree to a corrected variance and a homeowner concession on Kenilworth: A staff error listed the requested variance as only 1 foot when the homeowner asked to build 4.2 feet beyond the required setback area at 410 Kenilworth Drive. The solution was approval contingent if neighbors on front, rear and both side neighbors’ had no objections. They would receive a written explanation and given 100 days to respond. Additionally, the homeowner made a binding offer (proffer) not to enclose the porch.

407 Clermont Drive

407 Clermont Drive

Denied part and approved part of a complex case on Clermont: The case at 407 Clermont Drive was divided into two decisions: 1) A requested 2.1-foot variance on the right side for a second floor addition, which passed unanimously, and 2) On the left side, a 2.4-foot setback variance on the first floor and 2.1-foot variance for a second floor, which were denied in a split vote. Dissenters objected to a protruding part of the structure for a staircase to be build beyond the foundation.

This remodel was characterized as “major surgery” by one member because it required extensive changes including to the foundation. Issues included the irregular shaped lot, a side sloping room from front to rear and the stair variance, to avoid more foundation work. Mr. Cole ommented that the architect was creating his own hardship.

Voting no to the left side variances: Lauren Gwaltney and Ty Cole.

111 Crest Drive

111 Crest Drive

A three-part vote wins some, loses some variances for deck and porch additions on Crest: The homeowners want to build a front porch, a rear enclosed deck, and to rebuild and widen an existing side deck for a barbecue grill at 111 Crest Drive. The front portico will include concrete columns and was not questioned. The plan proposed to widen a side stoop from 3.5 feet to 5 feet and nearly reach a wooden fence on the lot line.

The board chose to split the request into three separate vote and granted a 6.7-foot front setback variance, with one member voting no. The rear deck variance was approved unanimously and the side deck variance unanimously denied as excessive.

Voting no on the front variance: Ty Cole


300 Windsor Drive (on left)

Approved some, denied some variances for a contested two-story  garage on Windsor:  This case is a return visit for the homeowner at 300 Windsor Drive, an expansive corner lot that is nevertheless close to its right hand neighbor. The neighbor’s objections in May accompanied a denial. The homeowner returned with the two-car garage shifted away from the neighboring property, but with a covered carport added on its right side, which required a variance. Board members unanimously allowed a 5-foot variance for the rear of the accessory structure, but unanimously denied the 4-foot variance on the right. The neighbor, whose house is on the market, objected again in an email because the garage was too close, its height would cast shade on her plantings, and the structure violated code further by taking up more than 30 percent of the existing backyard. Board members disagreed about the percentage.

410 St. Charles Street

410 St. Charles Street

Approved variances after a second vote for additions on the dead-ed of St. Charles. A contractor was lectured about poor housing design from architect Ty Cole, who voted no twice to variances requested at 410 St. Charles Street. The first vote was a failing 3-2 in favor of a variance to build 6 feet beyond the rear setback line for a parking area and a bedroom/bath addition, with Ms. Gwaltney and Mr. Cole voting no (An affirmative vote requires 4 yes votes). The steep front yard was the hardship offered for the rear parking. When the applicant reduced the request to a 3-foot variance, Ms. Gwaltney added the fourth vote in favor.

The contractor was advised that there was ample space to build on the lot without varying from the city code. The builder responded that the house was on a dead-end lot, with no nearby houses to consider.

Voting no on the 6-foot rear variance: Gwaltney and Cole

Voting no on the reduced, 3-foot rear variance: Cole

There being no further business, the board adjourned at 7:45.


Park Board, Sept. 3, 2015

The baseball league has asked if their healthy bank account could be used to improve fields at West Homewood Park. The board president specifically mentioned drainage problems. (A 2013 photo from the league's Facebook page.)

The park board is poised to start conducting criminal background checks on all personnel in positions of authority. A company will be hired as soon as October, after establishing policies and procedures.

The board discussed and will likely approve hiring a company to run background checks on Park Board employees and volunteers, including coaches, counselors, rec leagues sports board members and other staff coming into contact with minors. Tonight’s discussion focused on how the policy would be implemented; for instance, the soccer and football programs already background their personnel, and the baseball program, which has its own governing board, could be asked to handle and pay for its own backgrounding separately. The board also considered who would decide borderline cases or hear appeals and disputes–the staff, the board or an ad hoc committee.

Using the company Protect Youth Sports as a model, Mr. Holley explained that each background check would cost $15 and return a report only if and when issues are discovered, such as DUIs and misdemeanor drug possession all the way up to serious crimes. The board may want to adopt a policy to waive  offenses that were minor or happened long ago, he said.

The board seemed interested in learning more and adopting a consistent background check policy for all its leagues and programs, possibly at the October meeting.

Among other business, including more denials of Exceptional Foundation activities, the board approved more stringent membership and guest policy rules, to be put in force later this year. Click here to see a poor copy of the proposed offenses that would be screened by a backgrounding firm, and changes to the park board’s membership and guest policies.

Members present:  Chris Meeks, chairman, Michael Murray, Marjorie Trimm, Tyler Vail, Tom Blake, and Becky Morton. Jody Brant arrived late and Paul Smalley, who has been recovering from a car accident since December, arrived midway through the meeting.

Members absent: Keith Stansell; Paula Smalley arrived late. Also absent was council liaison Richard Laws.

Staff present: Berkley Squires, public service superintendent, and Rusty Holley, Rec Center director.

Audience attendance: 1

Director’s Report: Mr. Squires gave a progress report on the park board budget, which is incorporated in the mayor’s budget presented on Monday. He said fuel expenses were reduced and he was waiting to see if two new positions, including an arborist, would be approved in the final budget. The council’s Finance Committee has reviewed the Capital and General Fund parts of the budget. Click here to see the entire mayor’s proposed budget, including the park board’s request.

Carried over until October a decision to hire a criminal backgrounding company for board employees, volunteers, youth leagues, boards, etc. The board liked the idea of implementing background checks, but carried it over for more discussion on the process and decision-making authority. The estimated cost was already included as part of the board’s $5,000 activity expense, according to Mr. Squires. 

Approved stringent wording to the membership and guest policies at the Central and Lee Center facilities: The definition of a “household” as two adults ages 23 and over plus dependent children ages 22 and younger living under the same roof was changed to more clearly define the adults as a member plus a spouse or partner. Mr. Holley said people were using their roommates as household members. The new language will be enforced when members seek renewals.

Also passed was a change to the guest policy, which currently allows any member to have one guest per day in the gym or track, regardless of age, for $5.  The new guest policy requires that guests be either 18 or older, or, if under 18, be signed in by the adult member. There have been problems with non-member teens waiting outside for members to sign them in. The staff considers it a liability to have minors using the facilities with no responsible adult on record. Even if adult members sign in minor guests age 12-17, they must be accompanied by a member at all time, he said. Younger guests must be accompanied by an adult at all times.

Approved the following activities: The Relay for Life benefiting the American Cancer Society was approved for a family event April 22-23 with an expected attendance of 2,000. The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation was approved for its eighth annual fundraiser walk for April 30, with 350 expected to attend.

Approved some and denied some Exceptional Foundation activities: The board approved the Exceptional Foundation’s October activity calendar, but denied two additional special events due to parking concerns.

Denied two Excceptional Foundation requests:

The park board denied parking for Kiwanis Club of Homewood/Mountain Brook’s Pancake Breakfast fundraiser at the Exceptional Foundation on Saturday, Feb. 13, from 6 a.m.-noon. Board members said the morning hours in February have specifically been set aside for basketball. The board voted to deny the date and location as requested but offered the Senior Center as a free alternative if a better date couldn’t be found.

This event, to benefit the Exceptional Foundation, was prematurely publicized without consent of the park board. The group has asked for a late April date, which the board also denied tonight, citing parking conflicts.

This event benefitting the Exceptional Foundation was publicized in Augusts without prior consent from the park board. The ballroom dance group has agreed to reschedule, asking for a date in late April, which the board also denied, citing parking conflicts.

The Dance Marathon organization, which last month got in trouble with the park board for setting a Jan. 8, 9, & 10 date for its Exceptional Foundation fundraiser without board approval, will be asked to change its requested date in April as well. The Dance group is asking to host the fundraiser on April 22, 23, & 24 at the Exceptional Foundation. For parking purposes, the board said it prefers a late March or early April 2016 date instead.

Mr. Meeks said he was encouraged that the group is trying to work with the park board to reschedule its event.

The Exceptional Foundation and park board have been at odds over limited shared parking since both facilities expanded. Ill will has played out over a shared parking agreement, written and submitted over the past months by the board, but not yet signed by the Foundation. Mr. Meeks said he expected the Foundation to sign the agreement by the October meeting, which will mark one year since the negotiations began.

The meeting adjourned at about 6:45 p.m.