Rosedale repair and renewal, Feb. 21, 2017

Mary Edwards at the Rosedale Community Development Committee meeting, asking for action on a list of concerns.

Mary Edwards at the Rosedale Community Development Committee meeting, asking for action on a list of concerns.

After a 90-minute meeting Tuesday night, Homewood Mayor Scott McBrayer pledged to put city effort immediately into fixing broken street lights, replacing missing street signs and completing other small public works projects in Rosedale, where 65+ Homewood residents showed up to talk about maintenance concerns in the historically black, low-income neighborhood.

But he refused to seal that declaration by signing a petition asking for much, much more.

“That’s not really how it works,” McBrayer told member Jeremy Love, a Rosedale resident who since January has been circulating a change.org petition asking for housing help for elderly and disabled, new playgrounds at the Lee Community Center and park, retail/business development, historic recognition, signage and gateways, and funding for an economic development plan similar to one in West Homewood. Love is a member–but apparently a frustrated one–of the Rosedale Community Development Corporation, an advocacy group that has met regularly for years and which officially hosted the mayor and two councilmen at last night’s meeting.

Despite the meeting length, it adjourned with no clear next step and apparent disagreement between two RCDC factions and even among audience members about what course of action to take.

Jeremy Love, Mayor Scott McBrayer, councilman Britt Thames, RCDC moderator Doug Clapp and councilman Andy Gwaltney

Jeremy Love, Mayor Scott McBrayer, councilman Britt Thames, RCDC moderator Doug Clapp and councilman Andy Gwaltney

The group, led by Dennis Bush, was “moderated” last night by RCDC member Doug Clapp, a Samford classics professor and Rosedale resident who has been working in the neighborhood since 2001. Clapp said it was he, not Love, who invited the mayor and Ward 1 reps Britt Thames and Andy Gwaltney after residents had compiled a list of their concerns during a meeting in November, including a demand for public clean-up of dilapidated properties.

At their request, the city in January identified 13 properties that meet the criteria for formal abatement (public repair or demolition of unsafe structures). The police chief was also given six locations to investigate where there were disabled vehicles or cars parked in yards.

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, scolded the council in December for not considering the needs of Rosedale in planning to use the tax and bond windfall.

But the meeting also appeared to materialize after 84-year-old Mary Edwards of Rosedale was allowed to speak at a Dec. 19 council forum about the $110 million bond issue approved for schools, parks and police. Edwards, who has become the face of Rosedale’s grievances in recent news and a WBHM radio feature, asked for a share of the money for Rosedale, shaming the council for its neglect of the area, and asking for a show of hands if anyone thought it was “fair.” Love spoke at a second forum Jan. 30 with a formal–and ambitious–wish list spelled out in the petition. The petition [ https://www.change.org/p/city-of-homewood-alabama-capital-improvements-for-rosedale-revitalization ] now has more than 200 signatures.

Love and Edwards appear to have lost patience with the progress of the RCDC.

“We want funding for a plan,” Love told the mayor Tuesday. “[City Council president] Bruce Limbaugh asked for a prioritized list. I am presenting it now, to allocate money for a plan,” he said. “Here and now.”

Mayor McBrayer asks the RCDC audience to communicate by phone and email, not petitions.

Mayor McBrayer asks the RCDC audience to communicate by phone and email, not petitions.

During the meeting Thames and Gwaltney outlined the arduous legal process that allows a government to force the repair of dilapidated property, calling it the “step of last resort.” Edwards later stood up to challenge city officials: “How long will it take for us to get what we asked for?” she said. “Stop putting us on the back burner.” The mayor, who bantered with Edwards about his personal integrity, quoting the Bible, said residents should report problems quickly and through the usual channels such as phone calls and emails–not petitions.

The audience seemed divided on whether abatement and nuisance enforcement were positive steps, however. One resident recalled having a car towed when she was an unemployed single mother taking care of her own mother. “Before you start doing things, you should knock on doors to see what’s going on inside the house,” she said. Another resident recounted having property “taken” through an abatement process, although city officials disputed the details. Housing abatement doesn’t ordinarily give the government title to private property, they said.

A screenshot of an interactive map of Rosedale showing blighted properties and proposed amentiies

A screenshot of an interactive map of Rosedale showing blighted properties and proposed amenities. https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?mid=1qnVESEOEs-hlj_6pCs3te5wJ1XQ&ll=33.484650268737425%2C-86.78923485000001&z=16

As described, the abatement process begins by identifying unsafe properties and contacting owners to make necessary repairs. If owners don’t respond, the property can be referred to an Abatement Board for action. At that point, the owner is given 60 days to comply before the matter is referred to the city council. Abatement can include repairs or demolition, with costs attached to the property in the form of a lien. Council decisions can be appealed to state circuit court.

Love was recently appointed by the council to the Ward 1 seat on the city’s Abatement Board.

“If this is what the community wants, then we have the power to do it,” councilman Thames said.

 

Planning Commission, Feb. 7, 2017

Planning Commission pre-meeting.

Planning Commission pre-meeting. Both of Thursday’s cases were eventually carried over.

Two important cases scheduled Thursday were postponed to allow more preparation. In one, a gated subdivision addition approved seven years ago but never completed has been revived to widespread concern of surrounding homeowners about potential blasting, damage control, runoff and incomplete plans to provide fire protection. The plan to redraw four lots into six in the Devonshire subdivision on Shades Mountain will go back to the drawing board to answer significant questions. Meanwhile, a request to divide a Green Springs commercial parcel and open it to Columbiana Road was put on hold while owners investigated the legality of the plan.

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

Absent: Mike Brandt, vice chair, Britt Thames, Fred Azbik, and Mark Woods.

Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk, Fred Goodwin, planner, and Vanessa McGrath, building, engineering and zoning department.

Audience attendance: 16

Minutes: January 2016 minutes were approved.

NEW BUSINESS

devonshire

The map shows the extent of the Devonshire subdivision, including two built lots (lower and upper left shaded areas) and the 4-lot addition approved in 2010. New owner/developer Kadco Homes is proposing to redraw the addition into six lots and extend sewer and water lines and make other changes. Adjacent Homewood residents have objected to a host of potential problems; the development also abuts the Vestavia line on the south.

Carried over a preliminary plat and construction plans for a 6-lot subdivision near Berry Road: With significant issues such as drainage and fire protection still unanswered and six households either opposing or expressing important concerns, the commission advised Wade Lowery of the Engineering Design Group to carry over the request or risk a denial. EDG took the advice on behalf of owner/developer Kadco Homes, LLC (Charles Kessler).

The project:

The project is a continuation of the 2010 Devonshire subdivision, which had been envisioned in 2007 by a former councilman as an exclusive gated community of six large houses on estate-sized lots, two of which were his own residence and that of his mother’s, both now sold and occupied by others. Those two current homeowners at #1 and #2 Abbey Lane, who were among the speakers on Thursday, also comprise the membership of the “homeowners association” and co-own a private wall, gate and drive accessing their property.

Original division of the Devonshire property into four lots. The developer plans to re-divide into six.

Original division of the Devonshire addition into four lots. The developer plans to redivide this portion into six.

The new development team has proposed dividing the four vacant lots approved in 2010 into six lots, extending a sanitary sewer (as opposed to using septic systems) and bringing an extended water main to supply a fire hydrant. Undecided plans for fire protection and stormwater drainage from the remote site were of particular concern to the commission. The fire hydrant on the plan has not been thought out or approved and there were concerns raised in the pre-meeting about the ability to gain adequate pressure for the hydrant. Also of concern was the status of a 2010 proffer from the preceding owner to furnish sprinklers in the new houses in the absence of a hydrant, and other relevant covenants on the land. These problems and others raised by residents in the public hearing contributed to the postponement.

Opposing or concerned speakers: 

  • A man speaking on behalf of his mother living on Berry said he  objected to the new plan because of surface water drainage downhill to Berry. He had relied on the 2010 approval for four lots and was worried the additional houses and construction required for sewer and water would disturb the natural buffer that was to remain in the original plan.
  • A Berry resident echoed the concern about drainage downhill to her house.
  • A Mt. Gap resident was concerned about potential damage from blasting and asked if Abbey Lane would be connected through to Mt. Gap (no, the Abbey Lane drive will be extended to a planned turnaround).
  • A Mt. Gap Drive resident whose property abuts the development on two sides was also concerned about a through road, proximity of construction work and equipment to her property, and potential damage from blasting a rock outcropping.
  • The homeowner at 1 Abbey Lane, a current homeowners association member who bought his house in 2014, was concerned about drainage problems, making the street a through road, and asked for guarantees to repair any damage to the communal gate, wall and drive. “There are only two of us, but we are a gated community and the purpose of the gate is defeated if the road will be continued,” he said. “When we bought this property in 2014, we did so with the knowledge of four lots and four larger houses. Now that value will change.”
  • The homeowner at 2 Abbey Lane echoed the same concerns, adding he wanted to be part of any change to the current covenants.

The engineer and commission respond:

The engineer admitted the project may require blasting and if so would comply with the relevant regulations. As to drainage, he mentioned for the first time that drainage channels and a detention pond would be added to the plans. He did  not object to arranging a construction easement on the private communal property controlled under HOA ownership.

Nevertheless, Mr. Higginbotham said he could not cast a vote on plans with so many questions left unanswered. The engineer agreed and the case was continued to next month.

819 Green Springs Highway

Property owners want to redevelop three buildings (yellow shading) housing the former Captain D’s, a seafood shop and car customizing business. But a questionable lot division proposed with access from residential Columbiana Road forced a postponement.

Carried over a Green Springs plan to divide commercial property with an entrance on Old Columbiana Road.  Owners of a large commercial tract at 819 Green Springs Highway want to divide the property into two lots, raze three buildings and redevelop the portion facing Green Springs and open an access point onto Columbiana Road for the new lot. Mr. Higginbotham told the family ownership in a pre-meeting that he suspected covenants on the land guaranteed a 30-foot buffer between the commercial lot and the street, which is residential. He doubted the legality of disturbing that buffer with a commercial entrance, he said. Adjacent Columbiana Road property being developed with 10 townhouses had no such covenants, Mr. Higginbotham said. Owners organized as F.R.Z. LLC asked how to investigate the covenants and were told to consult a lawyer or surveyor.

buffer

Google Maps aerial showing tree buffer along rear of former Captain D’s property.

(pictured) Columbiana residents were upset when the owners cleared trees behind the property without a permit or advance notice. To add to the buffer, visible bordering the rear of the property (on the right), the city also planted a dozen small evergreen trees, which have not survived.

Board of Zoning Adjustments, Feb. 2, 2017

Concept for one of three new houses proposed on Lucerne. The developer withdrew a variance case to talk to neighbors first.

Concept for one of three new houses proposed on Lucerne. The developer withdrew a variance case to talk to neighbors first.

While most cases sailed through to approval, a creative lot division and housing plan proposed on Lucerne brought out five households to protest and was withdrawn before the board could vote an almost guaranteed denial. Developer Ben Strout proposed dividing a large property into three smaller, oddly shaped lots to overcome difficulties with the lay of the land. Those difficulties together with a substantially smaller lot area and width stopped the case before it came to a vote. Shown is one of three proposed new house designs, which also are subject to change.

Members present: Brian Jarmon, Jeffrey Foster (S), vice chair, Beverly LeBoeuf, Matt Foley, and Stuart Roberts (S).

Members absent: Lauren Gwaltney, chair, Ty Cole, and Batallion Chief Nickolas Hill.

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

Audience attendance: 22

*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.

NEW BUSINESS

417 Edgewood Boulevard, by creekside

417 Edgewood Boulevard, by creekside

Granted a right side variance for an addition on Edgewood Blvd.: Builder Joe Ellis was granted a 2.6-foot right setback variance for an new residence with a larger footprint at 417 Edgewood Blvd. The variance is on the driveway side, which faces the creek, and was approved with little discussion.

1802 Lancaster

1802 Lancaster

Granted a right side setback variance for an addition on Lancaster: Architect Alex Krumdieck was granted a 2.9-foot variance for a bath and laundry addition at 1802 Lancaster Road.  

416 Woodland Drive

416 Woodland Drive

Granted, after long discussion, a variance for a front porch addition on Woodland: The builder’s plan is to  camouflage the outdated split-level facade at 416 Woodland Drive by adding an open front porch on the right side, an aesthetic move that involved no real hardship but was passed nevertheless. Board members raised a few concerns, one, that the

A builder plans this front addition to camouflage an outdated the appearance of a split-level house on Woodland.

The builder plans this front addition at 416 Woodland to camouflage the outdated appearance of the split-level house.

house was already prominent on the street and pushing the front line forward would make it more so; and two, that a rendering showing siding, dark painted garage doors and heavy timbers be “lightened up.” The builder’s concept drawing was subject to change and not open to debate, however. Without objection from neighbors, the board voted unanimously to allow the porch to be built 6 feet into the required setback.

216 Devon Drive

216 Devon Drive

Granted one variance and denied another on a returning rear deck case on Devon: The homeowner at 216 Devon Drive salvaged part of a request to roof an extensive rear and side wraparound deck that failed in a November hearing. The builder reduced the original 8.5-foot variance request to 5.4-feet by eliminating the proposed roof over the side portion, which is a walkway to the rear. (It was pointed out that an uncovered deck can be built as close as 5 feet from the property line, but once roofed, it must follow the stricter setbacks of the main house.) Board members in November had voted no, saying the side deck already crowded the property line and citing concerns over rain running off onto the neighbor’s yard. This time, the request was only to extend the current roof line straight back to cover the a rear deck, requiring a variance of 5.4 feet into the setback.

However, the board was still concerned by an additional unroofed “grilling deck” to the right side of the back. Sensing another denial, the builder took staff advice and split the vote, getting a unanimous approval for the roofed rear portion and a denial for the grilling deck.

Voting against the deck extension: Foster, Jarmon, and Roberts.

169 Lucerne Boulevard

169 Lucerne Boulevard The existing house would be demolished and the property divided into three lots for new houses.

WITHDRAWN – A developer facing neighborhood opposition will rethink a strange lot division proposed on Lucerne: Developer Ben Strout of Harvest Innovations, Inc., asked for a substantial variance (2,244 square feet) to allow a smaller lot area at 169 Lucerne Boulevard for a new house. The lot in question would be one of three original lots that had been consolidated years ago into a large residential property, now purchased for redevelopment. The developer stated as his hardship that the owners had sold a strip of the land to a neighbor, leaving a smaller area to be divided. However, as neighbors pointed out, the property had many other complications, including a drain easement and storm sewer that had washed out the rear of the left lot (#157), which the developer had recently packed with fill dirt.

Drawing showing odd-shaped lot divisions proposed to preserve frontage on Lucerne. The developer will return to the drawing board.

Drawing showing odd-shaped lot divisions proposed to preserve frontage on Lucerne for two lots, but which sets a third lot behind the others. The developer will go back to the drawing board.

To accommodate those problems, the developer proposed a strange redrawing to preserve lot frontage on the street for two houses but which would set the new center house far back from the street (shown). Five neighbors on Lucerne objected to the development, citing the storm sewer, easement, a concern over the stability of the filled area and housing inconsistent with the character and density of the surrounding neighborhood.

Mr. Strout, who said he plans to live in one of the new houses, said the design quality of the new houses would far outweigh any concerns. Nevertheless, he offered that the property could be divided evenly into rectangular lots,  but each would be narrower at the street — about 73 feet across compared to an average of 80 feet — and require area variances for all three instead of just one.

The board wasn’t inclined to discuss the plans further for all the reasons cited, and encouraged the developer to talk to his future neighbors before pressing ahead. He took that advice, and the case was withdrawn.

1601 Grove Place

1601 Grove Place

Granted two variances for a house addition on Grove Place:  The homeowner at 1601 Grove Place plans to build an upper level addition, requiring a  1 foot (.8-feet existing) variance on the left side and a 3.5-foot variance   on the right side for the length of a ventless fire insert to be built where the current chimney is now. The chimney is unstable and will be removed. With letters of support from neighbors on the left, and a driveway and alley providing buffer on the right, the board was satisfied with the requests and granted the variances.

Public forum, bond and penny tax allocation, Jan. 30, 2017

Jeremy Love of Rosedal presented a council work session with a petition of improvements for the historically black neighborhood.

Jeremy Love of Rosedale presented the council with a petition of improvements for the historically black neighborhood. The one-hour work session was called to gather public input on spending the penny tax and bond money borrowed in October.

[Edit-A few hours after this meeting, due to discussion by several people, it was decided to open the task force meetings to the public, beginning with Feb. 13, 4 p.m., at the BOE building.]

The Homewood council president tonight had no answer when asked why the public is being excluded from meetings of a special task force set up deliberate on how a $110 million bond issue will be spent. “That’s the way it is,” he said.

Task force members (identified below) include five council members, two school board members, the school superintendent, mayor, public services (parks and streets) director and chairman the park board. Because members were chosen specifically to avoid a quorum of either the council, park or school board, the panel is freed from obeying the state’s open meetings laws. Asked by two residents if he would voluntarily require the task force to conduct open meetings, council president Bruce Limbaugh was also silent, but thought the public should be content to trust him. “Isn’t that’s why you elected me?” he asked. A third resident later asked if regular citizens from each ward could be seated on the task force. Mr. Limbaugh said he had already made certain each ward was represented.

Those questions and others came from five residents at a one-hour work session called to hear public input on the bond issue and penny tax. The task force, which has been operational for some time — perhaps years — is now charged with hiring a project manager to oversee an ambitious parks, schools and police spending projects determined earlier. The Request for Proposals has already been issued, Mr. Limbaugh said, with 8-10 bids expected at the opening. The group’s main role, therefore, is almost complete, he said.

Mr. Limbaugh said he expected the management firm to be hired by April. Once the management firm is hired, it would report to the task force — not the council or council committee — thereby remaining out of the public eye until the moment comes for the council to vote any decided measure into action.

Council president Bruce Limbaugh, with Ward 4 councilmember Barry Smith, talking to Rosedale's Jeremy Love.

Council president Bruce Limbaugh, with Ward 4 councilmember Barry Smith, talks to Rosedale’s Jeremy Love.

The attendance was about 12 to start, growing to maybe twice that by the end of the hour. By far the greatest time was spent on an appeal by Rosedale resident Jeremy Love, who presented a petition [ https://www.change.org/p/city-of-homewood-alabama-capital-improvements-for-rosedale-revitalization ] asking for funds to be spent on planning, parks improvements, establishing historic and commercial districts unique to the historically black neighborhood that is a victim of neglect from many causes, Love said. A meeting about clearing dilapidated buildings has been set up Feb. 21 with Ward 1 representatives Andy Gwaltney and Britt Thames, after an earlier meeting was canceled.

Love listened as council members talked about erecting historic signage, making improvements to the Lee Center and announcing for the first time (so far as I know) a major renovation of the neighborhood’s Spring Park. Mr. Limbaugh said a planned citywide traffic plan could be extended to benefit Rosedale. Mr. Gwaltney said the city had built some sidewalks (with a federal block grant), and Mr. Thames pointed out that Rosedale residents had objected previously to commercial rezoning on the fringe of residential areas. He offered that a $1.7 million federal streetscaping project already planned on 18th Street from Central to at least U.S. 280 would also benefit Rosedale businesses. Love responded by asking for a more comprehensive plan that would address redevelopment in Rosedale specifically. Neither the 2007 Master Plan nor the one planned on downtown relate to the neighborhood, he said. He cautioned that any plan need to help improve economic conditions for residents, or risk driving them out.

“This is about inclusion and equality,” he said.

In all, discussion lasted 50 minutes. Other residents speaking asked the council to consider the following projects for the new bond and tax dollars:

  • Covered bus shelters along Oxmoor. (The council has been fighting the continuation of public transit in Homewood since 2015, and has proposed its own bus service.)
  • Hollywood pedestrian bridge and cross walk at the bus stop on U.S. 31.
  • Postponing any bike-sharing plan unless bike lanes, crossings and other infrastructure concerns were addressed first. Mr. Limbaugh said the BikeShare plan was not under consideration for the bond money.

Task Force Membership:

From the council:  Bruce Limbaugh, Peter Wright (Ward 5), Britt Thames (Ward 1), Alex Wyatt (Ward 4), Walter Jones (Ward 3).

From the school board: Judy Truitt (Ward 5), Jill Kimbrell (Ward 2)

Bill Cleveland, Homewood City Schools superintendent

From the Park Board: Chairman Chris Meeks (Ward 4)

Mayor Scott McBrayer

Lt. Didcoct, HPD

Berkley Squires, public services superintendent (streets and parks)

 

 

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.