City Council meeting, Feb. 23, 2015–updated, with a clarification

Homewood joined 30 other Jefferson County municipalities in passing a resolution in support of reinstating the university's football program.

Homewood joined 30 other Jefferson County municipalities tonight in passing a resolution supporting the reinstatement of the university’s canceled football program.

It was a long time coming, say UAB supporters, who showed up in force tonight wearing UAB T-shirts, Blazer gear and green and gold jackets. But Homewood finally joined 30 other Jefferson County municipalities in passing a resolution urging the university to reinstate the football (and riflery and bowling) athletic programs canceled late in 2014. Lavon Chaney, speaking for the group of 35 or so, said the group represented a grass-roots campaign to acknowledge UAB’s importance not only to Birmingham, but to all the surrounding communities.

City officials mingle with UAB supporters after passing tonight's resolution to reinstate the football program.

City officials mingle with UAB supporters after passing tonight’s resolution to reinstate the football program.

Homewood, she said, had delayed passing a resolution until it could count on a unanimous vote of its 11-member council, an uncertainty until tonight. (Please refer to an earlier “Minority Report” for clues to likely hold-outs on unanimity.) So deeply had this fear of a single dissenter been impressed on the council that even when a unanimous voted was counted, Mr. Limbaugh announced it as only 9-1 in favor.

UPDATE FOR CLARITY 02/25/15 [Mr. Limbaugh, when asked for details of the vote two days after the meeting, said he and two other council members were reluctant to support the proposed football resolution. During continuing discussions, the three dissenters became two, then one, in the weeks leading to a vote.]

Mountain Brook now remains the only city in the immediate area that hasn’t passed such a resolution, and would likely remain so, Ms. Chaney said.

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

Members absent: Rich Laws.

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

Audience attendance: 35

Approved minutes of Dec. 18, 2014 meeting.

Filled several board vacancies: Ward 3 representatives nominated and the council approved 1) appointing Elaine Snow to the Historic Preservation Board; 2) Appointing Gary Sheffer to the Homewood Environmental Commission for Ward 3; and 3) Re-appointing Ward 3 representative Paula Smalley to the Parks and Recreation Board. Ms. Smalley, who was chosen over another applicant, was hit by a car and seriously injured in December.

OLD BUSINESS

Bagbyconcept

A concept drawing of the north Bagby Drive building, which is slated for redevelopment as an indoor storage facility. The council had questions, but ultimately okayed a zoning down to accommodate the new use.

Rezoned derelict building sites on Bagby Drive, one for a storage facility: The Planning Commission was split 6-2 on recommending this rezoning from Commercial Office to a less restrictive C-5 (General Business District), and for a while it looked like the council was undecided as well. The two matching buildings, at 55 and 65 Bagby Drive, and another at 301 Goodwin Crest Drive, are in the defunct telephone company office complex off West Valley Avenue and are owned by a partnership represented by Burr Forman law firm. The north Bagby building and a smaller building nearby on Goodwin Crest are slated for an indoor storage facility; the other building has been sold for an undetermined use.

Long vacant, these two former phone company buildings are on property slated for redevelopment as a storage facility.

Long vacant, these two former phone company buildings are on property slated for redevelopment. The north (left) building is a planned interior storage facility.

Council members asked plenty of questions, with Mr. Moody concerned the move constituted a case of “spot zoning.” Mr. Jones and Mr. Wright then seemed satisfied to put off a vote until the second reading, in March. However, Mr. Thames prompted them to ask their questions and Burr Forman’s representative said the March date was too late. That said, members unanimously passed the rezoning on the first reading, with Mr. Hallman abstaining.

Abstaining: Mr. Hallman, saying he worked for the engineering company that did the drawings for the site.

Approved, with conditions, a safety fence for Islamic Academy buildings: The council approved a 6-foot metal security fence to enclose two sides of four portable classrooms at 1810 – 25th Court South, in Rosedale. The approval is subject to approval of the fence appearance and materials prior to installation.

COMMITTEE REFERRAL AGENDA

To Finance – To consider 1) a request to declare Fire Department equipment surplus, in order to sell; and 2) to change Employee Assistance providers due to the closing of the current provider.

To Public Safety – To consider 1) adding another stop sign at Venetian Way and Parkside Circle/Parkside Court in West Homewood; and 2) Adding three street lights on Forest Brook Drive, costing $28.50/month for each.

To Planning and Development – To set a public hearing to review proposed changes to the city’s zoning book, reported in detail here.

OTHER NEW BUSINESS

Set a March 16 hearing before voting on zoning ordinance changes: See item above.

Changed the March meeting schedule to accommodate travelers to a Washington, D.C. meeting: The March 9 meeting has been rescheduled to March 16, allowing Mr. Hallman, Mr. Jones and Ms. Cook to attend the National League of Cities annual meeting.

Approved changes to the current FY2015 budget: Budget items were amended on the recommendation of the Finance Committee. No details given.

Gave additional funding to the Homewood Arts Advisory Council: The newly reorganized and funded group was given an additional $2,500 for a June gallery opening.

Approved a change to employee retirement plans: The change to an agreement with retirement provider Alerus Financial allows partial as well as full fund distributions to those covered.

Set a March 16 hearings for a street name change: The Creative Montessori School has requested changing the name of its address at First Avenue West to Montessori Way.

Carried over a no parking sign request: A request for a no parking sign at 101 East Edgewood Drive and East Edgewood Drive was postponed to March 16 because the ordinance hadn’t been prepared.

Paid the bills: Invoices for the period Feb. 9-20, 2015 were approved for payment.

City Council meeting, Feb. 9, 2015

Letters from the BWWB warning of financial catastrophe from broken water pipes have been used to sell home warranties for some time. Tonight, the council gave a water works manager the floor to explain.

Letters from the BWWB warning of financial catastrophe from broken water pipes have been circulating for months to sell customers home warranties. Tonight, the council gave a water works manager the floor to explain. [Image taken from a March 4, 2014, al.com column, “Watch your Assets” by John Archibald.]

Following tonight’s business, in which managers of the Birmingham Water Works Board were on hand, Councilman Peter Wright gently chided the BWWB for its poor work patching streets after fixing leaks.  T. M. Jones, an assistant GM in charge of Engineering and Maintenance, then took the opportunity to announce the utility will soon be using a new and more expensive–but better–way of filling and patching the streets so as to avoid sunken areas. The BWWB will begin using a concrete-based filler that doesn’t compress easily and sealing it with a hardened and seamless T-Patch product that doesn’t allow water into the substrate.

Councilman Walter Jones then asked for an explanation of for the flurry of letters voters are receiving from companies selling home warranties to help cover catastrophic water pipe repairs.

Mr. Jones of BWWB responded to the question with an ad for one of the companies the utility endorses and from whose sales the utility takes a 10% commission. (He apologized for the fact that as many as five different companies nationwide are selling such warranties to water customers, often making it appear as if the letters were sent by the utility companies themselves, he said.) He said the system’s aging galvanized steel pipes were deteriorating and recommended everyone buy a warranty as protection. “We’ve got leaks everywhere,” he said.

In an interview following his presentation, Mr. Jones of BWWB re-emphasized that it is the homeowner, not the BWWB, who owns and is responsible for any leaks “from the main into the house.” The BWWB does not accept ownership of the lines under the street, he said, but in most cases “reserves the right” to repair them.

Members present: Michael Hallman, Britt Thames, Walter Jones, Heather Reid, Rich Laws, Peter Wright and Bruce Limbaugh, council president. Also present was Mayor Scott McBrayer.

Members absent: Fred Hawkins, Vance Moody, Patrick McClusky, and Barry Smith.

Staff present: City clerk Linda Cook, city attorney Mike Kendrick, and mayor’s chief of staff J. J. Bischoff.

Audience attendance: 17

Approved minutes of the Dec. 1, and Dec. 15 council meetings.

Appointed an at-large member to the park board: Jody Brandt, a one-time Homewood soccer board president, was appointed to replace outgoing member Tom Walker, whose term expired Dec. 31. Ward 3 member Walter Jones also closed the application period for positions on three different boards in his ward. Closed on Feb. 23 at 4 p.m. will be Ward 3 vacancies on the Homewood Environmental Commission, the Historical Preservation Commission, and the Board of Zoning Adjustments.

OLD BUSINESS

Approved the expense to replace a totaled police car.

Approved a large tent for a weekend science & religion event at Trinity UMC: The council approved a variance allowing the church at 1400 Oxmoor Road to set up a large tent for a weekend youth program.

Awarded bid for police car equipment: A company named Brasher won the low bid for a Tahoe at $10,918 and a Tahoe outfitted for K-9s at $11,999.

Approved franchise renewal with Birmingham Water Works Board: The vote tonight renewed a 30-year franchise arrangement with the water company, allowing it to work in city limits to maintain the water system, excavate city streets, fix leaks, etc.

Long vacant, these two former phone company buildings are on property slated for redevelopment as a storage facility.

Long vacant, these two former phone company buildings are on property slated for redevelopment as a storage facility. Click on image to enlarge.

Set Feb. 23 hearing for Bagby Drive rezoning & redevelopment case: Burr and Foreman law firm, owners of two derelict buildings in West Homewood at 65 and 55 Bagby Drive, are seeking a more relaxed commercial zoning for the property in order to build a mini-storage facility. The hearing is to take public comment on the proposal before the council votes whether to rezone.  The redevelopment also includes a building at 301 Goodwin Crest Drive.

COMMITTEE REFERRAL AGENDA

To Finance – 1) To review the FY 2014 audit by Carr, Riggs & Ingram before council/public presentation; 2) To consider amendments to FY2015 General and Special Revenue Fund budgets; 3) To consider declaring as surplus in order to sell, Fire Department breathing apparatuses; 4) To consider giving partial instead of full pension distributions to retirees; and 5) A fifth item was added, but not clarified.

A committee is considering a no parking sign at this alley on East Edgewood Blvd.

A committee is considering a no parking sign at this alley on East Edgewood Blvd.

To Public Safety – To consider 1) Placing a “no parking” sign at the intersection of the alley adjacent to 101 East Edgewood Drive and East Edgewood Drive; 2) A turn lane addition to Valley Avenue; and 3) Consider changing the name of First Avenue West to Montessori Way.

To Special Issues – To consider, before a Feb. 23 hearing, a variance to the fence ordinance at the Islamic Academy at 1810 25th Court South.

OTHER NEW BUSINESS

The city took delivery of 14 new Chevrolet Tahoes for the police department.

The city took delivery of 14 new Chevrolet Tahoes for the police department.

Approved moving a $1.4 million debt from Bryant Bank to Regions: In two separate moves, the council voted to void its resolution to borrow $1,450,000 from Bryant Bank for police vehicles, and to approve the warrant issue debt through Regions Bank instead. The move is due to a better interest rate offered by Regions. The debt is authorized to purchase a fleet of 14 Chevrolet Tahoes, already delivered, a bucket truck and garbage vehicles. 

Set a Feb. 23 public hearing for a fence ordinance variance for the Islamic Academy:  See above.

Approved use of City Hall’s rear parking lot for the Farmers’ Market: The lot will be used Saturdays, May 30-Aug. 15, except for July 4.

Approved an agreement with the county to allow construction on the Greenway Trail extension: The council’s vote allows the mayor to enter a hold-harmless agreement with Jefferson County in order to build part of the Phase II trail route across a county sewer easement. The agreement protects the county from expense of any construction damage to the sewer lines.

Paid the bills: Invoices for the Jan. 26-Feb. 6, 2015 period were approved.

 

Board of Zoning Adjustments, Feb. 5, 2015

The BZA denied a variance to allow a large garage in the rear of this Forest Drive house.

The BZA denied a variance to allow a large garage in the rear of this Forest Drive house.

With the bare minimum of the BZA’s membership showing up, all variance approvals required a unanimous vote of the four members present. A request from Forest Drive homeowners, also unanimous, was a denial. See cases, below.

Members present: Brian Jarmon, Jeffrey Foster (S), vice chairman, Lauren Gwaltney and Beverly LeBoeuf.

Members absent: Ross McCain, chairman, Hope Cannon, and Valerie Askew (S).

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

Audience attendance: 12

*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 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.

600 Warwick Drive

600 Warwick Drive

Approved a variance for a new house on Warwick Drive: Builder Colt Byrom requested a 15-foot variance from the front setback regulations to build on a hillside vacant corner lot at 600 Warwick Drive, a block from Brookwood mall.

 

The BZA denied a variance to allow a large garage in the rear of this Forest Drive house.

606 Forest Drive

Denied a variance for a new garage on Forest Drive: The four members unanimously denied a variance requested at 606 Forest Drive for a detached garage because of space concerns. The proposed building was 580 square feet over the size allowed (and nearly the same size as the house), which is computed as a percent of the back yard square footage. The situation was further complicated because the house sits so far back on the lot. An existing storage building is allowed to remain.

103 Mecca Avenue

103 Mecca Avenue

Approved a variance for a house addition on Mecca: The board approved a 10-foot left building setback variance for an addition.

 

 

 

507 Morris Blvd.Approved a variance for a garage on Morris: The board approved a 3.7-foot “step-in” variance at 507 Morris Boulevard, allowing the owners to build a two-story garage. Without a variance, second stories have to be set back from the ground floor.

 

218 La Prado Place

218 La Prado Place

Approved extra room to build an addition on La Prado Place: A 4.57-foot variance from the required front setback was allowed for an addition to this house at 218 La Prado Place, a corner lot.

 

Google Maps screen shot of 1503 Primrose Place.

Google Maps screen shot of 1503 Primrose Place.

Approved a variance for an addition to a corner house on Primrose Place: The 11.5-foot front variance granted at 1503 Primrose Place applies to the side of the house facing Laurel Place.  A .67-foot right setback variance was also approved.

Park Board, Feb. 5, 2015

The Exceptional Foundation has expanded in more ways than one. Excavating a basement has taken up scarce Rec Center parking area. After construction, the park board wants tighter controls over parking space shared with the growing Exceptional Foundation.

The Exceptional Foundation has expanded in more ways than one. Excavating a basement has taken up scarce Rec Center parking area. After construction, the park board wants tighter controls over parking space shared with their growing nonprofit neighbor.

For years the Rec Center and Foundation campuses shared the limited parking area between them on little more than a handshake. That all changed when the Foundation announced plans last year for a building expansion that would offer more space for current enrollment, not an expanded clientele. A written agreement thrown together at the request of the Planning Commission was basically shredded months later when the Foundation announced a stepped up construction schedule and pushed its staging area into the shared space so it could excavate a basement. A showdown over parking problems last fall hasn’t led to a resolution–apparently–and the board tonight took a hard-line as it drafted terms for a revised contract. See details below.

Members present: Chris Meeks, chairman, Keith Stansell, Marjorie Trimm, Michael Murray, and Tyler Vail.

Members absent: Tom Blake and Paula Smalley, who is recovering at home following serious injuries sustained in a hit-and-run accident. (Ms. Smalley’s duties as Programs Chairman were given to Michael Murray.) Also absent was council liaison Richard Laws.

Two vacancies: The council this month will select one of two candidates who applied for the at-large vacancy created in December by term limit of Tom Walker. Also, Fred Azbik of the Planning Commission has applied for the Ward 3 seat occupied by Ms. Smalley, who has applied for reappointment. The council will fill this seat shortly as well.

Staff present: Berkley Squires, public service director and Dianne Rice, board secretary.

Audience attendance: 1

Approved minutes of the January 2015 meeting.

CHEERLEADERSReport of the Homewood Patriot Youth Cheerleading program

Amber Kelley summarized the written report, showing a 2014 enrollment of 101 compared to 84, last year, 91 in 2012 and 64 in 2011. By far the largest age group is the combined First and Second grades, with 47 signed up. For last year’s report, click here.

Ms. Kelley said the grades 1-6 were divided into three squads because there weren’t enough football teams for a squad for each grade.

Financially, the organization opened the year with a $4,601 balance, brought in $24,164 in revenues against expenses of $23,741, leaving a year-end balance of $5,023.

As requested last year, Ms. Kelley said the squads needed the park board to provide weekly practice space. Registration will open April 6 this year.

Director’s report: Mr. Squires said the Rec Center was recognized as the Facility of the Year by the Alabama Recreation and Parks Association at its recent January conference in Florence. It was selected in the category for cities of population 15,000 and above.

Notebook-Logo-no-yearApproved schedule changes for summer camp: The Programs Committee recommended reverting the summer camp schedule back to 9 a.m.-2 p.m., with an additional after-camp care extension and an early morning (8 a.m.) pre-camp care option for working families. The board, at staff request, moved the start time from 9 a.m. to 8 a.m. for parents needing earlier drop-off time and had anticipated higher enrollment in the new facility. In fact, few parents took advantage of the earlier time and enrollment rarely got over 15, Mr. Squires said.

Approved the following upcoming events:

  • Grief Support Services Memory Walk, June 6, Central Park.
  • Grace House Ministries fall festival, Central Park, no date given.
  • Witches Ride, popular fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, Friday, Oct. 30 (date could be changed if it conflicts with final high school football game.)
  • Homewood Arts Council’s Handmade Show, May 9, Patriot Park.–The group is adding the spring show due to the success of the fall show last year.

Mr. Stansell left the meeting at this point.

Shared parking has been  problematic during construction of the Exceptional Foundation's addition. The board will be proposing a new, tougher agreement to resolve conflicts after construction is finished.

Shared parking has been problematic during construction of the Exceptional Foundation’s addition. The board will be proposing a new, tougher agreement to resolve conflicts after construction is finished.

Tabled, or postponed, voting on a final Exceptional Foundation parking agreement while new terms are being drafted: Members discussed making changes to the parking agreement to add clearer, and in most cases tougher, language, as well as penalties for noncompliance. (The three-year agreement would go into effect when the Foundation occupies the new facility.) Members will continue revising the agreement in coming weeks via electronic means, with Chairman Meeks pulling together a final draft for consideration by the Facilities Committee, and then the full board, before the document is presented to the Exceptional Foundation. The following issues were discussed:

  • The need for tighter controls and procedures, especially on Saturday parking arrangements; Rec Center constituents are angry to find spaces filled by Exceptional Foundation vehicles.
  • Consider making the agreement void in cases of repeated non-compliance, i.e., eliminate shared parking until problems resolved, or even allow vehicles to be towed (not likely).
  • Foundation to present any parking request for special events above and beyond normal operations by the first day of the month preceding the event. This requirement may be reworded to apply to  after-hours special events year round, or for any special event during pool season, Memorial Day to Labor Day. For example, an unscheduled Chamber of Commerce luncheon held at the Foundation building used up Rec Center space one month.
  • When construction is finished, Foundation vans and buses should be parked either in the Foundation’s lot or on the Manhattan Street annex.
  • As a courtesy, require Foundation staff and clients use Foundation parking spaces first, then Rec Center spaces against the Foundation building for overflow. Mr. Squires explained that the Foundation has 14 spaces to use, of which 8 are on Foundation property and six are on park property, but dedicated to Foundation use.

The meeting adjourned at 6:45 p.m.

 

 

Planning Commission, Feb. 3, 2015

A movie theater is planned for Brookwood Village mall.

A movie theater is planned for Brookwood Village mall. Click on image to enlarge.

No announcement could have been more happily received by the Planning Commission than tonight’s unveiling of a movie theater inside the Brookwood Village mall. Explained by Brookwood owners after the  meeting, the theater will feature dining, other entertainment, and be luxuriously roomy compared to other theaters. The proposed seating, at 550, is half what theaters routinely would pack into a 40,000 square foot facility. Read agenda item below.

Members present: Billy Higginbotham, chairman, Mike Brandt, vice-chairman, Jeffery Foster, Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill, James Ponseti, James Riddle, and Mark Woods.

Members absent: Fred Azbik and Fred Hawkins.

Staff attendance: Donna Bridges, commission secretary; Greg Cobb, manager, Engineering, Planning & Zoning Department; and Vanessa McGrath, engineer, Engineering, Planning and Zoning Department.

Audience attendance: 11

All votes were unanimous. For rezoning cases, the Planning Commission’s votes are advisory only; the City Council has the final say after conducting its own public hearing on each case.

 Approved the minutes of the Jan. 6, 2015 meeting.

Bagby Drive properties being considered for a storage facility.

Bagby Drive properties being considered for a storage facility.

Approved redrawing lot lines on Bagby Drive for a storage redevelopment: Melinda Sellers of Burr Forman law firm, owner of vacant office park buildings on Bagby and Golden Crest Drive in West Homewood, asked for the property to be resurveyed from three lots in three parcels to two lots. The buildings currently are built across lot lines; the resurvey will place the line in between two buildings. The planning commission recommended a rezoning request to allow an indoor storage facility. That case will be decided by the City Council following a Feb. 23 public hearing.

Approved a resurvey for a sports facility next to Brookwood Medical Center: Arrington Engineers requested a resurvey of property for D-1 Sports Training facility, at 2031 Medical Center Drive. The facility is on property owned by Brookwood Center Development Corporation and adjacent to a vacant parcel also owned by Brookwood. The approval enlarges D-1’s lot by moving a boundary 39 feet to the west and another line to the east, contingent on signatures from Brookwood. D-1 Sports is one of a chain of physician-run sports training centers, catering to high school athletes. The property was rezoned from commercial to institutional in 2008.

Subdivided property on Irving for new owners:  Property at 1106 Irving Road that was recently sold after a  long decline, multiple nuisance violations and court battle with the city, was resurveyed from six lots to four.  New owners Brent and Sandi Ponce plan to sell the residential lots.

A movie theater is planned in the center of the mall, looking out on a drive lined with restaurants with patio dining.

A movie theater is planned in the center of the mall, looking out on a drive lined with restaurants with patio dining.

Approved, with some fanfare, an amended development plan to allow a movie theatre and other changes to Brookwood Village. Kirk Williams, managing director of a Brookwood ownership entity, Cypress Equities, presented a plan to build a 550-seat, 40,000 square foot theater and entertainment complex in the west-center portion of the mall, relocating tenants such as Jason’s Deli, Victoria Secret, the Loft, etc., as well as 225 underground parking spaces. Parking will be redistributed to sections to the east of the main mall, and in front. Mr. Williams said the decision was made after careful analysis of the market, and would deliver to the area a “sophisticated shopping and entertainment boutique.” The theater will face north, providing a central design focus to the mall but its profile will not rise above the roof lines of restaurants across the private drive due to building the theater down into the mall’s basement.

Mr. Williams was careful not to reveal the name of the theater operator, saying only that it was familiar to the area. The interior of the mall will be redeveloped as well, Ms. McGrath said. 

The owners have been criticized for closing down the Applebee’s restaurant to make way for a cell phone retailer. All the mall tenants displaced by the theater will be relocated elsewhere on the property, Mr. Williams said.

Allowed a changed residential development plan in West Homewood to allow storage buildings. Twin Properties, which is building three houses on a shallow parcel across from Hall-Kent Elementary, requested a change in the plan to allow storage buildings in the rear of each house.

Approved six changes to the city’s zoning ordinance requested by city staff: Citing confusing wording and other practical difficulties, the commission agreed to the following changes requested by Ms. McGrath. Any changes to the ordinance are subject to final approval by the city council.

  • Clarified the definition of “front of a corner lot,” to distinguish between the actual front, and the exposed side of the house, also considered a “front” under current wording.
  • Simplified residential setbacks at 10 feet on each side for houses over 66 feet wide. The current percentage method of figuring the setback is too difficult to impose on irregular shaped lots.
  • In a complicated move, the changes eliminate the required 20-foot fire lane clearance between second floors on adjacent houses, and also offer homeowners options for building second floors without “stepping in” the second floor 10-feet from the ground floor. The required 20-foot clearance–intended to deter the spread of fires and make it easier to reach by fire equipment–was considered arbitrary and unworkable in practice, i.e., if one household receives a variance to build into the setback, the requirement prevents neighboring households from doing the same should they want to expand. The proposed change keeps the 10-foot step-in requirement, but offers homeowners the option of building straight up with non-combustible materials or furnishing interior sprinklers, instead. (The change wouldn’t prevent a homeowner from consuming his neighbor’s setback space in a remodeling, but would offer those neighbors more options for their own remodels.)
  • Imposed uniform setbacks for accessory buildings, which are currently figured on square footage. The change makes the setback 5 feet for one-story structures and 10 feet for two-story structures.
  • Allowed HVAC equipment to be installed in a setback area as a matter of law. A reinterpretation of the code last year has sent numerous homeowners in front of the BZA for a variance to allow air conditioning equipment. The change would eliminate the need for a variance.
  • Clarify the wording that requires businesses to enclose waste receptacles.

 

 

 

City Council meeting, Jan. 26, 2015

The Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa will be the site of a legislative update and training for members of the city council, BZA and Planning Commission, led by city attorney Mike Kendrick.

The Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa will be the site of a legislative update and training day for members of the city council, BZA and Planning Commission, led by city attorney Mike Kendrick. (The city is not covering any “spa” expenses.)

After months of producing detailed cost and operations data for the council’s Finance Committee, transit authorities had won a partial reprieve for a 50% funding cut, extending “full” service through January. To that partial reprieve, another three months was grudgingly added at this meeting, but over the objections of four members who favored a longer extension. Also at this meeting–The council and two volunteer boards will spend an expense-paid overnight retreat at a North Alabama resort, and the city gets a third police dog.

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

Members absent: Vance Moody, Bruce Limbaugh.

Staff present: City clerk Linda Cook, city attorney Mike Kendrick, mayor’s chief of staff J. J. Bischoff, and Vanessa McGrath, city Building, Engineering and Zoning planner.

Audience attendance: 30

Approved the Nov. 17, 2014 minutes.

  • The council recognized former Chamber of Commerce Director Tricia Ford, who retired at the end of December, for leading growth in the organization and launching events such as the Taste of Homewood, Holiday Open House for downtown merchants and other accomplishments.
  • The Birmingham Water Works Board submitted the city its royalty, or utility license charge of of $266,000.

CONSENT AGENDA

Dropped plans to fix a slippery slope at HHS: The Finance Committee recommended and the council agreed to drop this item, as the property belongs to the Board of Education. The BOE will address this issue at its next meeting.

OLD BUSINESS

Approved a zoning change to accommodate a hotel on U.S. 280: The decision affects a hotel/office building development at the former Mountain Brook Inn site. In a public hearing, city staff explained how the city decided to drop “hotels” and “motels” from allowed uses on C-4b zoning for High Rise Office/Commercial. This omission was discovered after the Planning Commission approved the highrise hotel, and the council agreed to allow hotels, but not motels in the new wording.

A transit authority VIP bus picks up a member of the Homewood Senior Center. The council's 50% cut to fixed route transit would cut corresponding services for the elderly and disabled. Incremental funding extensions to the transit authority have prevented that so far.

A transit authority VIP bus picks up a member of the Homewood Senior Center. The council’s 50% cut to fixed route transit would cut corresponding services for the elderly and disabled, but incremental funding extensions have prevented that so far.

Approved 5-4 a 3-month funding renewal for transit: Transit authorities were on hand to watch the split vote for continued funding of $66,000 for three months. In this case, those voting “no” were actually in favor of a longer, 6-month reinstatement of city transit, but were outvoted by those who have displayed less favorable opinions of the regional transit organization. It was reported that the debate arose in the Finance Committee, chaired by Mr. Jones, and ended in a 3-1 vote (Moody absent) to request three months funding only.

Voting no:  In favor of a longer extension were Fred Hawkins, Walter Jones, Patrick McClusky and Barry Smith. (The absences of Mr. Limbaugh, who has voted positively in the past, and Mr. Moody, who voted against transit previously, may not have influenced the decision.)

Carried over a request to replace a totaled police car: The matter was postponed until the city finds out how much insurance will cover.

COMMITTEE REFERRALS

To Finance – A request to 1) Enter a franchise agreement with the Birmingham Water Works Board.

To Public Safety – A request for a Feb. 23 bid opening for Fire Department uniforms; and 2) To declare certain FD vehicles surplus in order to be sold. A Tahoe and Yukon were dropped from the original list.

To Special Issues – Request to allow a tent (requiring a temporary zoning variance) for Trinity United Methodist Church at 1400 Oxmoor Road.

Bagby Drive properties being considered for a storage facility.

Bagby Drive properties being considered for a storage facility.

To Planning and Development – To consider rezoning West Homewood property at 55 & 65 Bagby Drive and 301 Goodwin Crest Drive for an indoor storage facility (from C-1 Commercial/Office to C-5 General Business District) in advance of a public hearing set for Feb. 23, 2015. The Planning Commission voted 6-2 to recommend the rezoning to less restrictive uses on Bagby and Goodwin Crest after hearing opposition from another building owner.  See second item, below for more information.

OTHER NEW BUSINESS

Justice, a Homewood K-9, will be joined by a new colleague, Banjo, donated by the city of Birmingham.

Shiloh, one of Homewood’s current K-9s, will soon be joined by a new colleague, Banjo, also a Dutch Shepard, donated by the city of Birmingham.

Accepted the donation of a new police dog: The vote authorizes the mayor to accept the donation of a Dutch Shepard for the police department’s K9 unit. The dog, whose name is Banjo, is mature and already trained by former Birmingham police handler, although he’ll need some extra training. He joins two other canines on the force, Justice and Shiloh. FYI, Banjo came from Holland with several others in 2011 in this online newspaper story http://blog.al.com/spotnews/2011/11/birmingham_police_department_a_1.html

Approved releasing property restrictions on Bagby/Golden Crest buildings: In a complex transaction, this vote directs the mayor to release a 1970 restrictive covenant on four blocks of property and a later amendment that reserves the property for municipal use. The precise restrictions or the effect of their release were not explained except to comply with current zoning. The buyer is Burr & Forman law firm, whose representative made the request on behalf of other, undisclosed owners under the name 5565 Bagby Associates, LLC, including the city of Homewood. A majority of the five corporate owners must agree.

Paid the bills:  The bills were paid for the period Jan. 5-23, 2015. Ms. Reid and the mayor noted it cost the city about $100,000 per day to operate.

The Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa will be the site of a legislative update and training for members of the city council, BZA and Planning Commission, led by city attorney Mike Kendrick.

The Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa will be the site of a legislative update and training day for members of the city council, BZA and Planning Commission, led by city attorney Mike Kendrick.

Approved 8-1 an expense-paid overnight retreat in North Alabama for the council and two other city boards: The council approved a contract with the Marriott Shoals Hotel to send itself and members of the Board of Zoning Adjustment and the Planning Commission for training. The training is to be conducted by the city attorney, Mike Kendrick, to keep the city boards current with relevant legislation and best practices affecting their area of control. Ms. Reid, who as a part-time event planner donated her services to pick the location, said the seminar will run from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. on a Saturday and include two meals that day plus an overnight stay on Friday. The two volunteer boards are being included because of their influence in city planning and lack of training. (Last year the BZA was criticized for bending to community outcry over an unpopular new house design and denying the homeowner minor variances that would normally be approved.)

The Muscle Shoals venue gave a cheaper group rate than did hotels closer to Birmingham, she said. No retreat would be effective if held at home, and Rosewood Hall wasn’t available until late this spring.

Voting no: Michael Hallman.

Final words: Council members and mayor are each given the floor after every meeting to make announcements, some of which are included here.

  • The annual Salamander Festival is set for 3-5 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 31st at Patriot Park/Senior Center.
  • Peter Wright recognized three boys from Boy Scout Troop 97 who attended the council meeting.

Adjourned at 7 p.m.

 

Three Lessons and Policies, continued–Neighborhoods in the Master Plan,

 

Residential developments should be diversified, fit in with natural features, and spare native plants and woods, Houses should be socially welcoming, with distinct front doors. Avoid exposing utilitarian spaces, such as garages, to community spaces.

Residential developments should be diversified, fit in with natural features, and spare native plants and woods, Houses should be socially welcoming, with distinct front doors. Place garages out of sight.

In 2007, Homewood published its Master Plan, an opus of city leaders and residents  led by a team of professional planners from the KPS Group. Below you will find a summary of the plan’s section addressing Neighborhoods, considered the foremost of three major components, which include Green Infrastructure, posted in November,  and Activity Centers and Corridors, to come.

[The full 71-page document is here.]

The Master Plan calls for more connectivity within and between neighborhoods and better integration of neighborhoods with trails and green spaces. Lakeshore Drive and other roads are barriers to the trail.

The Master Plan calls for more connectivity within and between neighborhoods and better integration of neighborhoods with trails and green spaces, and fewer cars. Busy roads divide the popular Greenway Trail from neighborhoods; cyclists often drive and park to access the trail.

The guiding principles are simple — a word cloud from the section would feature words like ACCESSIBLE, GREEN SPACE, and PEDESTRIAN in 100 point type–but are not universally embraced. The plan notes approvingly that Homewood, as a “first-ring” suburb of Birmingham, has a more urban feel than some of its sister OTM cities, and already follows the preferred pattern of narrow, interconnected streets, classic architecture and built-in community destinations such as neighborhood parks and small shopping districts. The plan seeks mainly to preserve and carry forward these strengths in the city’s four main neighborhoods–Edgewood, Rosedale, Hollywood and West Homewood.

The Master Plan calls for neighborhoods to be anchored by destination points, or focal areas. None is on the map for extreme west Homewood.

The Master Plan calls for neighborhoods to be anchored by destination points, or focal areas. None is to be found marked for neighborhoods in southwest Homewood and off South Lakeshore.

However, it also points out shortcomings in city planning and zoning, asking for more informal neighborhood gathering spaces, better mobility within neighborhoods, more diffuse traffic patterns (fewer stop signs?) through neighborhoods, and less pavement. It wants fewer cars on the road (without suggesting better public transit) and smoother physical transitions from neighborhoods to adjacent commercial and institutional areas, with neighborhoods being neither abruptly exposed nor walled off from them.

In Rosedale, two houses are sandwiched between the Lee Community Center and the Islamic Academy.

In Rosedale, two houses are sandwiched between the Lee Community Center and the Islamic Academy (background).

Finally, the plan cautions city leaders–especially the Planning Commission–to be “intentional” in reviewing new proposals and to use a checklist of guiding principles, especially for development proposals in areas that might be exploited and become “targets” for redevelopment (Rosedale?).

 

Neighborhoods in Homewood generally

pp. 16-17 – General Neighborhood Development Guidelines, especially for areas that may become “targets” for redevelopment:
  • OVERTON

    Overton Park is an accessible, natural neighborhood gathering place. The Master Plan calls for each neighborhood to have such destination points, and also smaller, informal gathering spots and green spaces.

    Build development into, and in harmony with — not on top of — local topography, streams, slopes, green spaces, wetlands, wooded areas, trees, etc. Employ accepted conservation techniques wherever possible to avoid disturbing natural features and systems.

 

  • The Moretti apartments, a high-density development, is seen here from a Rosedale back yard.

    The Moretti apartments, a high-density development, is seen here from a Rosedale back yard.

    Put condominiums, apartments and other high-density dwellings near commercial areas and travel corridors; avoid developing isolated islands of such housing, or placing them in lower-density surroundings (don’t build apartments in the middle of a block of single-family houses.)

 

  • Enhance or create destination/gathering places/focal points near the center of each neighborhood, including natural or built features such as parks, streams, shopping areas, public facilities, etc. At least 15% of total residential design should be devoted to this use.

 

  • This fenced, channelized stream in west Homewood is a barrier between Patriot Park and the residential neighborhood. The Master Plan calls for better accessibility between neighborhoods and their focal points.

    This fenced, channelized stream in west Homewood is a barrier between Patriot Park on the left, and the residential neighborhood, right. The Master Plan calls for better accessibility between neighborhoods and their focal points. Pedestrian bridges maybe?

    Focal areas should be accessible from within the neighborhood and from other neighborhoods, by car or on foot. Every neighborhood should have accessible public green spaces with seating, shade, and play areas for children.

 

  • These Gillon Street residents say no one asked them when they dead-ended their street at Oxmoor Road. The seldom used cul-de-sac collects litter; one of two houses zoned commercial has been converted to a tobacco shop.

    These Gillon Street residents say no one asked them when they dead-ended their street at Oxmoor Road. The seldom used cul-de-sac collects litter; one of two houses zoned commercial has been converted to a tobacco shop.

    Getting around on streets, sidewalks, trails

  1. Sidewalks are the basic pedestrian infrastructure.
  2. Streets should remain interconnected (not dead-ended), providing alternate ways to get from point A to point B.
  3. This bridge in Edgewood connects South Forrest with Broadway neighborhoods.

    This bridge in Edgewood connects South Forest with Broadway neighborhoods.

    [Blocks longer than 500 feet should have pedestrian cut-throughs to adjacent streets.]

  4. Streets should be as narrow as practical and lined with trees to naturally calm traffic.
  5. Planning should de-emphasize the use of the automobile.

Specific principles of neighborhood and housing design

pp. 19-20 Neighborhood buildings and focal areas should be developed in harmony with natural land features, and easy to navigate.

  • Retain natural wooded areas along the roads.
  • Plan built areas to “look into” open spaces, rather than back into them, or wall them off from view.
  • A thick evergreen buffer screens the rear of the Publix development from neighborhoods around Columbiana Road. It is also an impermeable barrier, with no access for pedestrian or vehicles from the neighborhood. Could this development have been better integrated to the neighborhood?

    A thick evergreen buffer screens the rear of the Publix development from neighborhoods around Columbiana Road. It also creates an impermeable barrier, with no pedestrian or vehicle access possible from the neighborhood. Could this development have been better integrated to the neighborhood?

    Integrate different areas–residential, activity, natural, etc. so that screen buffers aren’t necessary, i.e., there should be space to “step down” development from dense commercial or institutional areas to single-family housing.

  •  Require easy bike, car and foot traffic flow within neighborhoods and between neighborhoods and adjacent areas.
  • Retain and add medium-density housing (row-houses, duplexes, small garden houses) to assure concentration of residents next to neighborhood focal points.
What is "enduring" architecture?

What is “enduring” architecture?

House and yard design

  1. Plan commercial and residential buildings with “enduring”architecture–but what does that mean?
  2. Allow for porches and courtyards to transition from the public street and offer a welcome to visitors; Clearly distinguish the front door.Garages should not be a prominent; don't let a blank wall face community space.
  3. Set the garage back; don’t show a blank wall to community areas.
  4. Retain native plants;

 Future Land Use

p. 35 Here are specific references to neighborhoods:

The Master Plan often invokes the concept of "human scale" when talking about neighborhood buildings.

The Master Plan says development should follow a “human scale.”

“Homewood intends to reinvest in replicating and building upon the best characteristics of its traditional neighborhoods throughout the city. Homewood envisions for its residents living in neighborhoods that focus upon and complement the city’s green infrastructure in ways that reflect human scale (not giant) and pedestrian orientation of the community.”

p. 54-55 Development recommendation specifically for neighborhoods: 

  • The Planning Commission should consider using a checklist of master plan development principles when reviewing new development proposals.
  • PLAYINYARDNeighborhoods should have outdoor places to gather and for children to play other than private yards.
  • At least 15% of total residential development should be dedicated to accessible, usable, pedestrian-sensitive open space with focal points appropriate to that neighborhood.
  • The city has been investing in sidewalks.

    The city has been investing in sidewalks.

    The neighborhood should have complete, walkable and interconnected streets. Street frontage should have curb, gutter and sidewalks.

  • Blocks longer than 500 feet should provide pedestrian cut-through paths to adjacent streets.
  • Pedestrian-scale (lower) light fixtures–about 12-feet high–should be provided along areas accessible to pedestrians.
  • Trees add shade, visual respite, and also hold up steep slopes.

    Trees add shade, visual respite, and also hold up steep slopes.

    Streets and slopes should be planted with trees.

 

 

 

 

Next up, Activity Centers and Corridors~