Planning Commission, Jan. 10, 2017

planning & zoning(1)A homeowner finally relented in his stand to keep a tool shed up against side and rear property lines to give his children more room to play in their small back yard. In this brief meeting that included a dry cleaner’s case on 28th Avenue South, the zoning staff said the downtown master planning process will begin shortly now that an agreement has been signed between the city and Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham. Also, staff will present–with mayor’s office blessings–amendments to eliminate components of the new village code in West Homewood.

Members present: Billy Higginbotham, chair, Mike Brandt, vice chair, Jeffrey Foster, arriving after the first case, James Riddle, Britt Thames, Mark Woods, and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Absent: Fred Azbik and Brady Wilson.

Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk, Greg Cobb and Vanessa McGrath, building, engineering and zoning department.

Minutes: None

The shed at 808 Cobb Street will be moved, ending a mini-standoff between the homeowner and planning commission

The shed at 808 Cobb Street will be moved, ending a mini-standoff between the homeowner and planning commission

Reached a final compromise on a long-running but minor setback case in West Homewood: Homeowner John McElheny agreed to move a partially assembled tool shed 3 feet from rear and side property lines, ending his months-long stand against relocating the structure from its position just inches from a sidewalk and rear property line at 820 Cobb Street. The wood structure has been exposed to the weather since the fall, when city workers issued a stop-work order because its location violated setback regulations. The house is one of three added recently to an older subdivision zoned Planned Residential District, whose regulations are governed not by zoning regulations but by a development overseen plan overseen by the planning commission.

Mr. McElheny in October argued that the zoning office had waived its setback regulations due to special circumstances surrounding the construction of his house and two others on very shallow lots; zoning staff and the commission denied any special agreement, but did admit to an error recording the setbacks for his address. The matter has been carried over each month since Oct. 4, 2016.

Although similar compromise was first proposed in November 1, it failed on a tie vote with a new member abstaining. Mr. McElheny then argued the vote should be rescinded until the new member could visit the site and cast a vote. The next month Mr. McElheny was unable to attend because of a school activity and the matter was reconsidered at 3 feet again this month, and passed.

Watkins Cleaners combined four parcels into one, purpose unknown

Watkins Cleaners combined four parcels into one, purpose unknown

Approved a resurvey to combine four parcels into one on 28th Avenue South: Watkins Cleaners was granted a re-survey to combine 1707-1715 – 28th Avenue South into one parcel, reason not given. The case prompted Mr. Foster to ask staff again when the Regional Planning Commission and city would initiate the downtown Master Plan process, which will take a year to complete and begin next month with meetings with various stakeholders. Ms. McGrath said the contract had been signed.

Board of Zoning Adjustment, Jan. 5, 2017

A dream concept of a West Homewood commercial district built to specified "village" forms. The first building to be redeveloped under the new district will test how well the concept is realized.

A dream concept, above, of a West Homewood commercial district built according to a “village” form was passed several years ago. A restaurant building approved for the new district’s focal point varies considerably from that form, thanks mainly to overhead power lines that are too costly to bury.

The mayor, his chief of staff, city attorney, and former Ward 2 councilman showed up tonight to support a slate of exemptions requested by owners of GianMarco’s restaurant, who have accepted a hefty incentive to build a second restaurant on city property next to Patriot Park. Link to the October vote and history of the village zoning and parkside property. The variances are important, not only because city leaders have been working for years to interest a developer in the lot, but because the lot itself was billed as the location for a “catalyst” project that would showcase the new village

The mayor and other city leaders made an appearance to support the new restaurant planned by Patriot Park.

The mayor and other city leaders made an appearance tonight in support of the new restaurant planned by Patriot Park.

zoning regulations of the West Homewood District. The so-called form-based codes called for buildings positioned close to sidewalks, with high quality finishes, lots of windows, vaulted doors and ceilings and other touches to encourage pedestrian activity. The variances that were passed negated a couple of those building elements, but preserved others, according to project supporters. The board also approved a second West Homewood District venture, which maintained more of the village elements, but also was granted important variances.

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

Members absent: Batalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

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

Audience attendance: 14

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

187 Oxmoor Road

187 Oxmoor Road This building will be razed and replaced with a fitness center and adjoining tenant space.

Granted some variances and denied one for a new fitness venture and adjoining retail on Oxmoor Road in West Homewood: Chris Wade proposes a fitness center at 187 Oxmoor Road and appeared with his “owner’s representative” and project manager to ask for exemptions to the West Homewood Village District’s requirements that ground floors feature 70% glass and structures are built to the sidewalk to create an open, accessible feel for pedestrians. The applicants argued the glazing requirement was not energy efficient and not typical in other Homewood commercial areas the district was trying to mimic. The board rejected the first argument but seemed prepared to accept the glass request, even though two previous applicants were denied the same variance on the EconoLodge and Waffle House proposals, on either side of the fitness center. The proposed building features only 46% glazing. Also granted  was a variance of 33.5-feet to provide parking  on either side of the new building, although it will be hidden behind a “street wall.”

A rough drawing of the fitness and retail building planned on Oxmoor Road.

A rough drawing of the fitness and retail building planned on Oxmoor Road.

To support the request, former councilman Vance Moody came to the podium to explain the original intent of the village zoning forms, which were produced by the Regional Planning Commission. Mr. Moody said he thought the intent of the new zoning codes were met by the applicant’s request.

A third request to reduce the front door from the required 10-foot height to 8-feet was unanimously denied, to the surprise of the applicant.

The building is owned by Anna Mae Cooley and has been vacant and for sale for years.

1711 Shades Park Drive

1711 Shades Park Drive

Granted a variance to allow an addition to a house on Shades Park Drive:  William Siegel of Twin Construction received a 3.5-foot setback variance on the left side for a bathroom addition at 1711 Shades Park Drive. 

600 Oak Grove Road

600 Oak Grove Road A new restaurant planned on a city-owned lot in West Homewood has to factor in draping power lines

 

Granted multiple, substantial variances to allow a new restaurant on city-owned property next to Patriot Park: The star of tonight’s variance cases was clearly the proposed new pizza restaurant at 600 Oak Grove Road, which drew no less than Homewood Mayor Scott McBrayer, his chief of staff J. J. Bischoff, city attorney Mike Kendrick and former Ward 2 councilman Vance Moody to voice support for five significant variances from the village

Rendering of new restaurant planned at 600 Oak Grove Road by Patriot Park.

Latest rendering of new restaurant planned at 600 Oak Grove Road by Patriot Park.

zoning requirements, namely gaining wide setback from the streets due to power lines, and a reduction from the 70% glass requirement.

(The corner property has been re-addressed from Oxmoor Road to face Oak Grove Road, the “front.”)

  • 5.13-foot to 5.17-foot front yard (Oak Grove) build-to-line setback variance — the building would be set back 11 feet from the property line instead of 6 feet;
  • 6.15-foot- 27.46-foot side yard (Oxmoor) build-to-line setback variance — building will be set 20 feet from property line;
  • 60% front facade build-to-line percentage variance
  • 30% side facade build-to-line percentage variance
  • 38% ground floor glazing variance
GianMarco's is bidding on the vacant lot by Patriot Park for a pizza restaurant. Public hearing before a vote is schedule for Oct. 10.

Early rendering of the pizza restaurant.

Applicants Chris Eckroate, an engineer, and architect Richard Carnaggio spoke on behalf of owner and applicant Giani Respinto, saying that overhead power lines on both street sides of the proposed restaurant forced noncompliance with the requirement that structures be built to the property line. Mr. Moody, who said he had been involved in passing the village form-based codes as a councilman, spoke in their favor, saying the council has known from the beginning that the power lines would make it impossible for any building to comply with the district’s key requirement–that buildings be positioned right at the property line in a row of glass storefronts. “It would take a lot of city money to bury those lines,” he said.

The argument in favor of using far less glass than required–to provide privacy for restrooms–had already been won in the previous fitness center case. The mayor later addressed the board to ask for all variances to be passed and promising to support changing the glass requirement to end future variance requests.

Snapshot of the layout for GianMarco's pizza restaurant planned in West Homewood.

Snapshot of the layout for GianMarco’s pizza restaurant planned in West Homewood.

However, the proposal was not without objections. Four members of the Shades Valley Community Church were present, with two voicing concerns that restaurant customers would end up parking in the church’s convenient and mostly unused parking lot across the street. Church officials said the congregation is strained financially already to maintain the building and didn’t want the burden of heavy daily use by restaurant supply trucks on church property. That said, they did not object directly to the case, and accepted a promise from applicants to monitor the situation.

Asked by a resident (reporting) what elements would remain of the village form in the project, Ms. McGrath said a sidewalk would be brought closer to the building to compensate for the setbacks. The open setbacks would be filled with benches and outside activities to give it an accessible feel, the architect said.

The vote was unanimous to grant the variances:

Abstaining: Mr. Jarmon

101 Edgewood Boulevard

101 Edgewood Boulevard

Denied a variance to allow an attached garage on a corner lot on Edgewood Blvd.: An owner/builder’s proposal to add a two-car garage at 101 Edgewood Boulevard that would exit onto Oxmoor Road failed to persuade board members  tonight. The 23-foot wide structure would be part of a second-story expansion on a lot already constrained by a steep sloping back and side yard. The board was increasingly dissatisfied with the plan, with one member saying the survey inaccurately reflected the size of the side yard and another asking why such a wide garage was necessary since a parking pad is already available in the front. The case for a 5-foot left building setback variance eventually failed unanimously.

711 Broadway

711 Broadway

Denied a variance for  a new house on Broadway:  A neighbor’s grasp of zoning requirements and articulate objections to even a relatively small exemption helped sink a request for a 2.5-foot variance to allow a new two-story house be rebuilt at 711 Broadway. The applicant initially asked to reduce the variance from 2 1/2 feet to only 1 1/2 feet needed to add a master bathroom to the rear. In discussion, however, he also mentioned adding roofed side stoop, which would have required a greater variance than originally advertised, and therefore not allowed in tonight’s vote. The applicant said the new house would be slightly narrower than the current one. At this point, the neighbor spoke, saying he opposed any variance and citing the narrowness of the lots, the idea of second story encroaching on the privacy of his smaller house, the lack of any legitimate hardship connected to the shape of the lot, and the fact that a new house built from scratch should be accommodated to the lot dimensions and current regulations. The size of the previous house and past regulations were irrelevant, he said. Those  arguments struck a chord with member Ty Cole, an architect,who suggested he apply for a board seat when one came open.

The requests were then split into two, one for 1 1/2 feet for the bathroom, which failed, and a second for 2 1/2 feet for the covered stoop, which also failed.

Bond issue and penny tax allocation, Dec. 19, 2016

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

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

The council president wants expert advice on the needs of Homewood City Schools before a massive spending and expansion plan is enacted across the five campuses. He proposes an advisory task force to oversee a project manager and demographer to be hired by the council for the study. The message emerged that the council is pro-schools, but will scrutinize the system’s needs. Meanwhile, the composition of the task force and its working process between the project manager and council suggest it will not be subject to state sunshine laws.

Council members present – All

Audience present – about 20

Continued to a future date (TBA) a discussion of how the recently passed penny tax and bond issue will be managed, after council comments took up the entire hour:

In a work session called to discuss how to spend $110 million in bond money and an associated sales tax — orchestrated in secret over the last two years– council president Bruce Limbaugh tonight laid out the rules for public comment, then spent the hour allowing each 10 council members to speak at will.

“We haven’t had a meeting where each of us shared what’s on our hearts,” Mr. Limbaugh said.

The council has been under fire for orchestrating a penny tax, bond issue and a $4.25 million land purchase for a high school relocation and parks expansion without public knowledge, and timing the measures to pass after the August elections. Since the vote, the council has said only half the bond money, or $55 million, will go toward a comprehensive schools expansion to handle a swell in enrollment superintendent Bill Cleveland outlined in a September 26 meeting. That number was not changed tonight, although Mr. Limbaugh noted that $55 million was substantially short of what the school system will need. The remainder of the bond issue will be used for ballfield expansion, a new police complex in West Homewood and other projects. Tonight’s work session was called to consider what that excess might be used for.

Task Force and transparency

As to the schools’ plan, Limbaugh has proposed assembling an advisory task force to oversee a special project manager and a demographer to study the school system’s needs, he said. It is unclear who would be assigned to the task force, or, as Mr. Gwaltney later asked, if the group would be “subject to the Open Meetings Act.” However, Mr. Limbaugh’s vague response (“That’s a fair question”) and the committee’s composition from across several boards indicates it may not be subject to state sunshine laws. The task force will have 11-13 members drawn from the school and park boards and other sources, with each ward represented, although not necessarily by council members, Mr. Limbaugh said. While the council would recruit and hire the project manager, the consultant would report findings to the task force (meaning that information may not be public record until it is conveyed to the council). At some point, the manager’s recommendations would be made to the Finance Committee for action.

“We have one opportunity to address these needs successfully,” he said about the school system’s steady growth. “We must look for the best expert (project manager). I can’t say the word expert enough.”

Lid Law

In defense of the sales tax, members tonight frequently cited the so-called “Lid Law” which sets a state limit on how much property tax a local government can pass to fund schools. However, it wasn’t clear how actively the city had sought an exemption from the limit through the state legislature. Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. Wyatt both referenced a bill introduced in “recent years” that “didn’t go anywhere,” they said.

In their remarks, new members Mr. Gwaltney, Mr. Wolverton, Mr. Higginbotham, and Ms. Andress struck a similar tone—asking to be kept informed and for the process to be transparent going forward.

“I’m eager to see what the Board of Education does with the master planning process,” Mr. Higginbotham said. We need “to do everything we can along the way to make sure the process is open and fair and the public are given meaningful opportunities for input.”

Andress agreed. “I want to echo what Peter (Wright) and I hear in Ward 5—schools, schools,, schools; transparency, transparency, transparency,” she said.

Mayor’s comments

Mayor McBrayer entered late, commenting that the sales tax was in some ways preferable to a property tax because it was paid not just by residents but by any shoppers in Homewood. That was to answer criticism of the regressive sales tax, which burdens lower-income people more than the wealthy. A property tax, which targets wealth more equitably, is limited by the Lid Law.

The mayor echoed other comments that schools had become the No. 1 priority in Homewood since the last tax and bond issue was passed in 1996. Edgewood precincts did not favor the tax that year, he said. But they would now.

What about Rosedale?

With no time for public comment, Mr. Limbaugh allowed Rosedale residents Mary Edwards and Jeremy Cunningham to speak at the meeting’s end. Ms. Edwards, 84, chastised the council for “never once” mentioning the needs of Rosedale in considering how the bond and tax funds might be spent. She mentioned problems such as  abandoned houses and lack of commercial development. , or adding a swimming pool.

“I never heard Rosedale mentioned,” she said, asking how the council would like it if they lived in Rosedale and saw how money was being spent on other neighborhoods. “Anyone in here that thinks it’s fair, raise your hand.”

Mr. Cunningham then asked if a similar task force could be set up to consider the needs of Rosedale, including developing a business district, historic recognition and preservation. A historic preservation commission has been notoriously inactive during the last administration, with no attention paid to seating members until very recently. Mr. Limbaugh said any such committee should involve the Ward 1 council members, Britt Thames and Andy Gwaltney. Mr. Thames said he was working on a meeting at the Rosedale Lee Center, tentatively set for on January 24 after work hours.

With time running out, Mr. Limbaugh then offered to continue the meeting at a date to be determined, to allow more time for public comment.

Planning Commission, Dec. 13, 2016

planning & zoning(1)A property owner is promising an Orvis-like sporting goods development in the heart of Central Avenue and other improvements that will “clean up” the block and unify a hodge-podge of small business sites. Westward, a flooring company will move in to the old K-Mart building; duplex owners seek a rezoning out of the Green Springs Renewal District; and a Southpoint homeowner gets a setback exemption. Meanwhile, a stubborn case at 820 Cobb Street is held over once again.

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

Members absent: Mike Brandt, vice chair, and Mark Woods.

Transition seat*: With the new council sworn in in November, councilman Britt Thames takes the commission liaison position vacated by outgoing member Fred Hawkins. It is a voting position.

Staff attendance: Donna Bridges, commission secretary and Vanessa McGrath, city Building, Engineering and Zoning Department.

Audience attendance:  7

OLD BUSINESS

shedCarried over an emotion-packed case about a shed placed too close to a sidewalk and property line: This is the third carry-over for the homeowner at 820 Cobb Street, who resented having work stopped on a tool shed he’d placed too close to property lines and commission effort to force compliance. Earlier postponements were granted so all members could visit the site, and later for a new member to also visit the site. Tonight’s postponement was allowed so the homeowner could attend a school function.

NEW BUSINESS

Recommended rezoning Carr Avenue property out of Green Springs renewal district so landlords can remodel duplexes: Cynthia and Steven Parris, own duplex units at 316-332 Carr Avenue, which were grandfathered into commercial Green Springs Urban Renewal District zoning adopted in 2004. The owners’ intent to remodel the buildings triggered the non-compliance and they requested a rezoning to R-7, detached dwelling. The recommendation passed unanimously and goes to the council, which will call a separate hearing before voting whether to rezone.

In discussion about the history of the GURD, Ms. McGrath said hearings were held at the Homewood High School because the new city hall wasn’t built and the old council chamber was too small for a crowd. The GURD regulations were passed in conjunction with landscaping and other upgrades along the corridor in part to prevent a proliferation of check cashing and automotive businesses.

floordecor

Floor & Decor concept plan showing the planned look for the former K-Mart Building. The plan includes a 38-foot parapet and sign facing I-65, which must be approved by the city council.

Amended a development plan on the old K-Mart property for a new flooring company: Park Grimmer of Grimmer Realty, owner of the Mi Pueblo shopping center, were granted an amended plan for new tenant Floor & Decor to move into the old K-Mart spot at 230 Green Springs Highway. The plan includes a facelift, new front walk, covered pick-up area and loading dock rebuilt for heavier loads. The company plans larger signs, including one facing I-65, which will require a sign variance from the city council.

An addition to an existing building will be the new home of "high-end" sporting goods shop Caliber, planned on Central Avenue.

An addition to an existing building will be the new home of “high-end” sporting goods shop Caliber, planned on Central Avenue.

Combined three divided parcels into one parcel/one lot on Central for a sporting goods store: Commercial property owner Jared Lewis plans to build a 4,800 square foot “Orvis-like” sporting goods retail shop called “Caliber” on his property across Central from Little Donkey and across 28th Avenue South from IronTribe Fitness. The granted resurvey consolidates into one lot his properties at 2822, 2824, & 2826 Central Avenue and facilitates a plan to

Very approximate area of addition for new sporting goods retail shop on Central Avenue.

Approximate area of addition for new sporting goods retail shop on Central Avenue.

build an addition for retail and a covered connection between an adjoining warehouse and the new store, and unify separate lots with lawns, landscaping and parking. The store will carry fishing gear, apparel, and firearms, much like Marks Outdoors in Vestavia, he said, but present a high-end facade of poured concrete, special glass, a tin roof and other impressive architectural finishes to “clean up” the looks of the area–where asphalt is sometimes poured right to the door of businesses.

Lewis said there is already sufficient parking. He said he has been working with the city for some time on converting a portion of Central right-of-way to additional parking, but that is still in the planning stage.

801 Southwood Circle

801 Southwood Circle

Approved an amended development plan on a split vote for a Southwood Circle residence to build a screen porch: The residence at 801 Southwood Circle in West Homewood is part of a larger subdivision governed by a development plan rather than Neighborhood Preservation District regulations, as is typical. In NPD cases, requests for exemptions are decided by the Board of Zoning Adjustments. Here, the Planning Commission governs adjustments to the rules, and members voted in favor of allowing a covered porch to be built into the rear property line setback. After some discussion, the request to build 4.5 feet from the rear was changed to a more acceptable 10 feet, and passed with one dissenting vote.

Voting no: Azbik.

 

New Building Inspections chief starts work, Dec. 7, 2016

Wyatt Pugh replaces Jim Wyatt

Wyatt Pugh

Wyatt Pugh Directs the Department of Building, Engineering and Zoning

A different kind of Wyatt is leading Homewood’s Building Inspections department now. On Dec. 6, Wyatt Pugh became Homewood’s Building Inspections chief, filling the vacancy left when predecessor Jim Wyatt departed for a job in Hoover months earlier. Before coming to Homewood, Pugh worked nine years as a Commercial and Residential building inspector for Birmingham city and prior to that was self employed 10 years as a contractor doing residential and light commercial building and remodeling. (Pugh maintains his Alabama Homebuilder’s and Remodeler’s license.)

In 1991. he graduated from the University of Montevallo with a finance degree.

Beyond Pugh’s job relevant credentials, he is a long-time guitarist who with his wife leads the event band Rock Candy, playing weddings, corporate functions, and private parties, etc. Pugh’s FB pages give a public glimpse into his talents and interests, which include pencil portraiture and restoring old cars.

Welcome to Mr. Pugh.

Board of Zoning Adjustments, Dec. 1, 2016

BZAOne case on Mayfair had been withdrawn before the meeting. The board didn’t encounter any easy decisions on the remaining three Edgewood cases, which took 90 minutes to produce rulings and not always happy results. As in past cases, one involved projects that had been started without permits or variances while another involved a tear-down and planned two-level new residence on a narrow, irregularly shaped lot. A third homeowner left mad that regulations to be enforced on his property had been waived or overlooked on neighboring lots.

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

Members absent: Stuart Roberts and Batallion Chief Nickolas Hill.

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

Audience attendance: 10

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

1305 Kenilworth Drive

305 Kenilworth Drive

Granted one variance but forced relocating structures on both sides of a house on Kenilworth: The homeowners at 305 Kenilworth Drive had stop-work orders issued on two noncompliant projects that were either completed or in progress when discovered. By the end of a protracted discussion in which a future neighbor at 307 Kenilworth spoke against the variance (see next case), the owner agreed to relocate a right-side wire fence he had built over his neighbor’s property line and a wooden storage shed in line with that fence whose metal roof drained rainwater onto the neighboring property. (A fence alone can be built on the line, but a storage structure must be five feet from the line unless a variance is granted.) In discussion, the neighbors were accompanied by builder Colt Byron, who built the left-side house and is planning a tear-down and rebuild on the right side.

pergola

A partially built deck will have to be moved to 5 feet from the property line.

On the left property side, the owner had built what he called a “pergola,” a deck and frame roof that occupied most of the setback area, being less than a foot from the property line. The required setback for the structure is 9 feet, but with the  neighbor’s permission, the board granted a variance to allow it 5 feet from the left property line.

The homeowner at first asked for a variance to leave the pergola as is, but was warned that an unfavorable vote would require tearing it down entirely or moving it completely outside of the 9-foot setback, i.e., elsewhere on the property. There being no other room–with the back of the lot extending into a Griffin Creek flood zone–he took the board’s advice and was granted a variance allowing the deck 5 feet from the line.

307 Kenilworth Drive

307 Kenilworth Drive

Granted in two separate votes to allow a new 2-story house on Kenilworth: The homeowner at 307 Kenilworth, who spoke in the previous case about his neighbor’s fence, was granted two variances to allow a 34-foot two-level house on an irregular lot that backs onto Griffin Creek and a flood zone. The board granted a 2.5-foot right setback variance (6 inches less than originally requested) because the house is positioned on a lot that is narrower in the rear than on the street. On the left side, and with one dissenting vote, the board granted a 2-foot variance to allow a chimney to protrude into the setback.

The builder and owner listened to but refused suggestions that the design could be altered at this stage to fit within the required setbacks. The house will have off-street parking for two cars on a concrete pad in the front.

Voting no to the chimney variance:  Matt Foley

713 Morris Avenue

713 Morris Boulevard

Granted a reduced right side variance for a carport behind a Morris house, and carried over an expanded rear variance request: The homeowner’s corner house faces Morris Boulevard, with the right side facing Cliff Place. An alley running parallel to the Morris houses exits onto Cliff behind the homeowner’s house. The homeowner plans to remove a storage building in back to make way for a master bathroom and a covered patio outside. The couple has been parking on a driveway off the alley and wants to build a 22-foot carport entered from Cliff Road, instead, and remove the unused pavement. As planned, the carport would have extended over 11 feet from the corner of the house almost to the property line. After discussion, the board approved a 1.5-foot right setback variance instead of 3.5 feet, as earlier requested, after the homeowner agreed to to shorten the carport by two feet.

morris-side-view

Side view of 713 Morris showing current driveway to the alley and approximate new drive and carport area. [2015 picture taken from Google Maps]

However, the homeowner lost his temper when board members refused to vote on a rear variance request he increased from 3 feet to 6 feet into the alley setback. Regulations call for a 20-foot setback from alleyways, which the homeowner said had been violated repeatedly at other houses up and down  Morris. The board, dismissing that argument, said the law didn’t allow them to consider an increased variance request without giving public notice. The homeowner agreed to take a vote on the 3 feet variance and return later to ask for more. The 3-foot variance was passed with one dissenting vote.

Voting no to the 3-foot rear variance: LeBoeuf

There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 7:30 p.m.

Open Letter concerning recently passed tax and bond issue for schools and city projects, Nov. 29, 2016

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

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

The “open letter” imaged here (and pdf link, below) has been posted on various sites around Homewood following the momentous passage of a penny sales tax and $110 million bond issue to help finance schools and parks facilities for a growing population of children in Homewood. The vote followed what city leaders called a 21-month period of concerted work and deliberation, apparently across three boards (council, education and parks & rec) and the mayor’s office, without public meetings or disclosure. The mayor, in congratulating the council for its leadership on behalf of Homewood children, said the 21-month effort probably “escaped public notice.”

letterhwcitizensIn fact, those deliberations took place in a way to avoid public detection, either by the voters or by those who campaigned for council, who say they had no idea about the tax and bond plans leading up to the August municipal election. The Board of Education made its first public presentation in September, outlining plans to expand four of its five schools and relocate the high school to West Oxmoor Road, on land already purchased by the city for $4.5 million.

letterhwcitizensp2The open letter distributed today calls for an open forum of city leaders to answer a series of questions developed about how the money will be allocated now that the decision to tax and borrow has already been made, and how the decisions themselves were reached. It includes contact information for the council to get the conversations started. (Calls and emails might also be placed to the city attorney, Mike Kendrick, Mayor Scott McBrayer, parks chief Berkley Squires and park board chairman Chris Meeks.) The school board’s contact information is on its website, along with the land study leading up to the September presentation:  http://www.homewood.k12.al.us/?DivisionID=22205&ToggleSideNav=ShowAll

President – Bruce Limbaugh bruce@limbaughtoyota.com

Ward 1 – Britt Thames bthames1@gmail.com

Andy Gwaltney – andy@andygwaltney.com

Ward 2 – Mike Higginbotham –  higginbotham@realtysouth.com

Andrew Wolverton – Andrew.j.wolverton@gmail.com

Ward 3 – Patrick McClusky –mccluskycc@yahoo.com

Walter Jones – walter.jones@homewoodal.net

Ward 4 – Barry Smith  barryandkyle1@charter.net

Alex Wyatt – awyattcc@gmail.com

Ward 5 – Peter Wright – pwright@sirote.com

Jennifer Andress – andressk@bellsouth.net

Click here for a pdf file of the letter.