City Council meeting, April 13, 2015

This Ollie's sign is similar to one proposed on the old Mazer's building. A representative came prepared to "drop the head" of Ollie, but the council wanted something much more buttoned down.

This Ollie’s sign is similar to one proposed on the renovated Mazer’s building for a May grand opening. But council members postponed a vote, leery of offending West Homewood residents.

Sensitive to the possibility of offending West Homewood residents even further after agreeing to relocate a universally disliked billboard in their midst, the council decided to take it slow with the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet “Good Stuff Cheap” sign. A request for a sizable variance for the discount store and its sign featuring a bucktoothed namesake, was carried over to the next meeting.

This bird's-eye-view looks north over the Econo Lodge at the intersection of Oxmoor Road and Cobb Street by a Chevron station (upper right). The overlay shows most of the existing motel to be removed except for an L-shaped section facing Cobb Street (to the right), which would be renovated. The company is asking to rebuild the section on Oxmoor (center, top) as an extended-stay hotel with four stories--a height that exceeds West Homewood District regulations without a special waiver by the review panel. A two-lane road shown on this plan would run between the motel and an adjacent dentist office (lower right), and meet Scott Street at an intersection being improved as part of ALDOT's Oxmoor Road improvement project. The road is a city proposal not shown on plans for the ALDOT project, which was scheduled to be underway this year. Ideas to be phased in later include a new office and expanded parking on property behind Gillon Street houses, and an office or mixed-use building wrapping around Oxmoor and the new road.

Portions of this EconoLodge redevelopment proposal will go before a new West Homewood District review panel for approval.

Also for West Homewood, a move to appoint a review board mandated in the new West Homewood District fell short by one vote of the required unanimous consent to pass on the first reading. The Community Design Review Committee must be activated to hear the first development application submitted under the district’s new Village guidelines. But residents weren’t happy that it was the  EconoLodge making the application. The motel’s bid to expand was not aired until a few days ago. More on everything below. For more details, see this post.

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

Members absent: Vance Moody and Heather Reid. Mayor McBrayer was also absent.

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

Audience attendance: 22

Board vacancies

Board of Education vacancy: There are three applications submitted for the Ward 5 board seat, appointed by the council. Applications are being accepted through the end of April.

Industrial Development Board: Mr. Kendrick said vacancies needed to be filled by the Chamber of Commerce, or in its absence, by the council. Mr. Thames, Chamber liaison, said he would get the names this week.

Approved minutes of the Feb. 22, 2015, meeting.

CONSENT AGENDA – The following actions were approved in one vote:

  • Dropped a  “Turn Lane Addition” to Valley Avenue
  • Dropped considering a presentation of “form-based code” for Reese Street.
  • Dropped considering measures to stop water from collecting on a portion of Edgewood Boulevard.

OLD BUSINESS AGENDA

Carried over again a series of changes to the city’s zoning book: Six changes were requested by city engineer Vanessa McGrath at the Feb. 3 Planning Commission meeting, and approved. Work is still being done before the council will approve them. To see the changes itemized, click here and scroll to the last item.

Pam Clark has closed her business near the corner of Green Springs Highway and Oxmoor Road. The council has delayed action on a measure allowing the transfer of city-owned parking to a new buyer.

Pam Clark has closed her business near the corner of Green Springs Highway and Oxmoor Road. The council has delayed action on a measure allowing the transfer of city-owned parking to a new buyer.

Sent back to the Finance Committee a lease matter from the former Garden Shop of Homewood: The matter involves the pending — or concluded — sale of the building at 309 Oxmoor Road and undisclosed and unresolved issues of a billboard leased on the property and an city-owned parking lot leased for use of customers. A pre-paid cellphone store rents out one side. The garden store closed recently.

This Ollie's in Durham, N.C. has a scaled-back sign preferable to the city council considering the company's variance request. The matter was carried over.

This Ollie’s in Durham, N.C. has a scaled-back sign preferable to the city council considering the company’s variance request. The matter was carried over.

Carried over — to the chagrin of the property owner — a sign variance for Ollie’s at the former Mazer location: Does it matter to West Homewood residents if the new Ollie’s Bargain Outlet “Good Stuff for Cheap” sign is five times the area usually allowed, features a cartoon head of the business proprietor, “Ollie,” and the word O l l i e ‘ s spelled out in big red crooked letters? Not knowing, but not really wanting to offend West Homewood residents further after recently moving a widely disliked digital billboard to the area, council members put Dunn Real Estate principal Chris Hoyt to the test with questions about the sign choice. Mr. Wright said it was a very sensitive matter, how this business and sign were perceived.

Mr. Hoyt, however, quickly parried that he was authorized to “drop the head” of Ollie to get the required variances. That concession missed its mark, though. Ms. Smith said she disliked the letter style and Mr. Jones brought out his iPad with images of more stately Ollie’s sign prototypes from other stores in the chain, asking why they couldn’t drop Ollie’s head AND have regular normal-looking letters? Mr. Thames asked if there would also be a monument sign placed in front of the building. The answer was yes, to which Mr. Thames said it sounded like a lot of signs to him.

The business at 808 Green Springs Highway, in the substantially renovated Mazer’s building, will be on the far left next to other tenants. The building is almost 400 feet from the street, hence the request for larger signs, Mr. Hoyt said.

To his irritation, the matter was carried over despite a planned mid-May grand opening.

The Econo Lodge motel recently underwent relatively minor upgrades, and sports bright orange guest room doors.

The EconoLodge motel recently underwent relatively minor upgrades, and sports bright orange guest room doors. Its plan for a major expansion under the new West Homewood District guidelines prompted the council’s belated move to activate the district’s Community Design Review Committee.

Heard comments and concerns about the West Homewood District review committee and procedure; failed to get unanimous consent for immediate passage:  Nearly a year after the West Homewood District was passed into law–in May 2014–a mandated design review committee still hadn’t been activated. The council was prompted to begin those proceedings a month ago after the EconoLodge motel on Oxmoor Road applied for a redevelopment under the new district rules. Tonight, however, an attempt to pass the measure on the first reading failed to get the required unanimous consent with a no vote from Mr. Hallman. Mr. Hallman had specifically asked to delete a section of the committee’s by-laws that authorized the CDRC to “appoint employees” for certain work under certain circumstances. Ms. McGrath said she had lifted the by-laws, with minor adjustments, from the rules governing the city’s Planning Commission, which contained the same section. The council then moved to adopt without the deletion, triggering the “no” vote that put off the measure’s passage until the next meeting.

But not before several residents made comments during the public hearing.

Comments: Liz Ellaby (reporting) asked that the 5-member committee be expanded to include two regular residents in the area, preferably people with design or planning background. In discussion, the council said it would consider that change, but would not begin the lengthy amendment process until after the committee heard the EconoLodge application, since time was of the essence.

A resident of Edgeknoll Drive said he was not in favor of the digital billboard, hotel expansions or other “junk” that in his opinion drew the wrong crowd to the area.

Michael Higginbotham of Ward 2 asked for a copy of the operating procedures being considered, saying it was impossible to comment on them without having them in advance to read.

A resident of Gillon Drive said he loved where he lived but was there to “plead and beg” the council not to allow any more projects to move forward without community input.

Approved spending up to $3,500 for a pedestrian barrier by La Bamba, Dreamcakes area of Edgewood: The pedestrian barrier is a low metal fence to keep children from running into the street. The barrier will be paid from the sidewalk fund.

Carried over a road consultant’s pitch for a scheduled maintenance plan. Volkert Engineering had pitched a $40,000 plan to inspect 125 miles of city streets and recommend a schedule of maintenance involving a spectrum of sealants, repaving, resurfacing and other treatments, to prolong their life. The maintenance program ultimately will save money on road maintenance.  In committee it was learned that the project would qualify for a federal grant with the usual 20% local contribution, or only $8,000. Tonight the matter was carried over.

Agreed to amend FY2014 and FY2015 budgets for General, Capital and Special Revenue funds: Monies were transferred around, no details.

DECORATIVE LIGHTS

Placement of decorative street lamps on Oak Grove Road by Patriot Park.

Approved on a split vote spending $1,226.77 per month for 21 decorative street lights: The lights are to be installed and maintained by Alabama Power Co., on Oak Grove Road near Patriot Park as part of a face-lift for the West Homewood District.

Voting no: Michael Hallman. Mr. Hallman explained later that the lights are funded from an unstable/limited funding source (7-cent gas tax) and the city hasn’t been able to keep up maintenance on lights it already has. Also, he received some resident opposition to having excess nighttime light — or light pollution — in the area.

Approved an $8,972 grant for Fire Department equipment: The grant is from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

COMMITTEE REFERRAL AGENDA

WOODCRESTPLACE

The Finance Committee will consider an incentive package to bring a financial institution to this office park near Embassy Suites.

To Finance – To consider, 1) A franchise agreement for fiber optics with Crown Castle NG East LLC; 2) An incentive package for a financial institution considering a move to the Woodcrest Place office park, near the Embassy Suites; and 3) Setting a bid opening date for the purchase of Tasers.

To Public Safety – To consider 1) Supporting a state liquor license application for Machetes, a restaurant at 406 West Valley Avenue, ste. 104; 2) Supporting an off-premises beer and table wine license application for AF Rise N Shine 2 Mini Mart LLC, dba Oxmoor Texaco station at 208 Oxmoor Road; 3) Supporting a state retail off-premises beer license for Alabama Goods, at 2933 18th Street South; 4) Supporting a retail off-premises beer and wine

The Homewood location will be a second one. This picture taken in Crestline.

The liquor license request was dropped from consideration at the last meeting because of improper zoning for the proposed Homewood location. The request is back on a committee agenda.

license for Champagne Cascade, LLC, dba Neighborhood Hops and Vine at 1712 28th Avenue South. This matter was dropped at the last meeting due to improper zoning and the opinion of Jim Wyatt that the business was not ready to open anytime soon; and 5) Supporting a restaurant retail liquor license for Island Hospitality Management V, Inc. dba Aloft Birmingham, SoHo Square at 1903 29th Avenue South.

To Public Works: To consider 1) A request to work in the ROW near 225 State Farm Parkway.

To Planning and Development – To consider 1) Hiring a consultant to conduct a Central Business District Revitalization and Zoning Study; 2) An agreement between ALDOT and the city? regarding the Greenway Trail, Phase II; and 3) The creation of a medical enterprise.

OTHER NEW BUSINESS

Set a May 11 public hearing on rezoning Southern Progress property purchased by Samford University: Three of four buildings at 2100 Lakeshore Drive have been recommended for rezoning from PCD (Planned Commercial District) to I-3 (Institutional) for use as a college campus. The rezoning comes with certain variances already approved, such as allowing commercial building height and waiving a setback requirement in order to keep a pond on the same property with its related infrastructure.

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The gray building on Linden is proposed as a satellite assembly and program location for the downtown Church of the Advent. Many of its neighbors–including Plainclothes owner next door–object strenuously to the advent of more parking problems.

Set a May 11 public hearing for rezoning commercial property on Linden Avenue for church use. This hotly contested request by the Church of the Advent downtown relates to using a leased building at 2814 Linden for church assemblies. Some surrounding businesses object to the rezoning from C-4 to I-2, saying there is inadequate parking and breaks up the unified Central Business District zoning.

Accepted $17,700 for a vacated right-of-way to the Islamic Academy: The city relinquished for $17,700 a strip of unused right-of-way lying across property recently purchased by the Islamic Academy. The property was initially offered at $5,000 but was later revalued.

Paid the bills: The council approved payment of invoices for the period March 23-April 10, 2015.

FYI-Econo Lodge expansion, new road, sketched out in West Homewood

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 of a West Homewood commercial district built to specified “village” forms. The first building to be redeveloped under the new district — an aging EconoLodge motel–will test how well the concept is realized.

First test of the new West Homewood District

Last month the council was reminded that it must empanel a design review committee to oversee a redevelopment application in the new West Homewood District. The new district, passed by the planning commission a year ago and ratified by the council in May, includes 24 mainly commercial parcels on Oak Grove Road and Oxmoor Road where any future development must be built to new appearance standards resembling the form of a neighborhood village, with walkable, easy-to-access storefronts and small businesses.

Existing buildings are of course grandfathered. Now, however, the EconoLodge on the corner of Cobb Street and Oxmoor Road has proposed a sweeping multi-phase expansion and redevelopment starting with a proposed four-story extended stay hotel fronting Oxmoor. Engineering drawings also indicate the reappearance of the city’s earlier proposal to build a new two-lane road connecting Cobb Street to Oxmoor Boulevard via an extension of Scott Street.  Interestingly, the latest drawing closely resembles a 2013 drawing from an early draft of the West Homewood District plan. More on that later.

This bird's-eye-view looks north over the Lodge Lodge at the intersection of Oxmoor Road and Cobb Street by a Chevron station (upper right). The overlay shows most of the existing motel to be removed except for an L-shaped section facing Cobb Street (to the right), which would be renovated. The company is asking to rebuild the section on Oxmoor (center, top) as an extended-stay hotel with four stories--a height that exceeds West Homewood District regulations without a special waiver by the review panel. A two-lane road shown on this plan would run between the motel and an adjacent dentist office (lower right), and meet Scott Street at an intersection being improved as part of ALDOT's Oxmoor Road improvement project. The road is a city proposal not shown on plans for the ALDOT project, which was scheduled to be underway this year. Ideas to be phased in later include a new office and expanded parking on property behind Gillon Street houses, and an office or mixed-use building wrapping around Oxmoor and the new road.

This bird’s-eye-view looks north over the EconoLodge at the intersection of Oxmoor Road and Cobb Street by a Chevron station (upper right). The overlay shows most of the existing motel to be removed except for an L-shaped section facing Cobb Street (to the right), which would be renovated. The company is asking to rebuild the section on Oxmoor (center, top) as an extended-stay hotel with four stories–a height that exceeds West Homewood District regulations without a special waiver by the review panel. A two-lane road shown on this plan would run between the motel and an adjacent dentist office (lower right), and meet Scott Street at an intersection being improved as part of ALDOT’s Oxmoor Road improvement project. The road is a city proposal not shown on plans for the ALDOT project, which was scheduled to be underway this year. Ideas to be phased in later include a new office and expanded parking on property behind Gillon Drive houses, and an office or mixed-use building wrapping around Oxmoor and the new road. CLICK TO ENLARGE

Public hearing for establishing review committee and by-laws

It is the first phase application of this redevelopment that prompted the city last month to begin activating the mandated Community Development Review Committee and to adopt the CDRC’s operating procedures–all of which will first get a public hearing on Monday, April 13, at the 6 p.m. council meeting.

The motel plans are not part of this hearing, but will be presented to the new CDRC once members are seated.

The CDRC –not the Planning Commission–will be the governing body for the new district because its new form-based regulations supplant traditional zoning rules. By ordinance, the CDRC is composed of the mayor, a city council member, a Planning Commission member, the city engineer (Vanessa McGrath) and Fire Marshal. (unfavorable decisions by the CDRC can be appealed to the city’s BZA, and then to Jefferson County circuit court.)

Then and now

This 2013 illustration shows Scott Street extended behind the Econo Lodge to Cobb Street. The unpopular idea was withdrawn when the final plan was passed in 2014.

This detail of a 2013 illustration shows Scott Street extended behind the Econo Lodge to Cobb Street, and reflects parts of the motel expansion just made public. CLICK TO ENLARGE

2013 The extension of Scott Street through the neighborhood appeared in a 2013 draft of the West Homewood District plan, where it would mesh with an extensive ALDOT road improvement project scheduled for Oxmoor Road. It was eliminated from the revised version passed in 2014.

ALDOT later discarded the roundabout at Scott Street shown in this Regional Planning Commission’s drawing.

The final West Homewood District plan passed in 2014 does not show an extension of Scott Street through the neighborhood.

The 2014 illustration drops a reference to extending Scott Street. CLICK TO ENLARGE

2014 The Scott Street extension did not appear in the drawing for the final district plan, adopted in 2014.

Provisions for the West Homewood Renewal District, and maps, are on page 38 of the city’s latest zoning ordinance.

In gathering information about the motel’s plan, city staff initially said the motel’s engineering drawing wasn’t public until the application was complete. That decision was later reversed, allowing these cell phone pictures to serve as a first look at how the new West Homewood “Village” District might unfold.

The Econo Lodge motel recently underwent relatively minor upgrades, and sports bright orange guest room doors.

The Econo Lodge motel recently underwent relatively minor upgrades, with bright orange paint on outdoor guest room doors. Click to enlarge.

City officials offer these points, and cautions about the EconoLodge’s plans:

    • The motel’s application wasn’t complete as of one week ago, and much of the drawing is subject to change;
    • The application being submitted only includes changes planned to the motel–not the expanded parking, road, or office building development.
    • The motel’s request for four stories exceeds district height regulations without a special waiver.
    • The proposed Scott Street extension would provide a left turn alternative from Cobb Street onto Oxmoor, which the ALDOT project will eliminate at the existing intersection. The road would come before the Planning Commission, not the CDRC.
    • It is the opinion of city staff that the neighborhood would love having a new road that would bring in traffic off Oxmoor. City staff believe the road will also create a clear dividing line between commercial zoning and houses on Gillon Drive.

Park Board meeting, April 9, 2015

Paula Smalley, who is in the midst of recovery from a traumatic hit-and-run injury sustained in December, returned for the business meeting tonight. (She was recently re-appointed the Ward 3 representative over applicant Fred Azbik, who serves on the Planning Commission, although her duties as Programs Chairman were given to Michael Murray.)

Also tonight, Public Services Superintendent Berkley Squires was absent after his wife experienced medical symptoms, cause unknown, and was taken to Brookwood Hospital. She will likely be released tomorrow, according to Mr. Holley.

The main business items tonight were an earlier summer pool closing and a final version of a shared parking arrangement, provided here, to be submitted to the Exceptional Foundation.

Members present: Tom Blake, Jody Brandt, Chris Meeks, chairman, Becky Morton, Keith Stansell, Marjorie Trimm, Michael Murray, and Tyler Vail, who left shortly after the first vote. Also present was council liaison Richard Laws.

Members absent: Marjorie Trimm, Michael Murray, and, leaving after the first vote, Tyler Vail.

Staff present: Rusty Holley, Rec Center Supervisor, Jakob Stephens, athletic director, Angie Montgomery and Heddy Fitts, taking minutes.

Staff absent: Berkley Squires. Mr. Squires was absent due to his wife’s sudden illness.

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 and park board have been at odds over the Foundation’s expansion, which was more extensive than announced and happened ahead of schedule, taking up precious parking spaces. Some have said the park board was equally insensitive during the rec center’s expansion.

Approved a shared-parking agreement to present to the Exceptional Foundation: After long months of conflict over sharing limited parking with the Exceptional Foundation, which is undergoing an expansion, the park board settled on a final agreement that softens some language and, after review by the city attorney, removes car towing as a possible penalty for unauthorized parking. Mr. Meeks said he was reluctant to drop the towing option because it might weaken enforcement.

In general, the agreement gives the park board priority for its lot and restricts any after-hours use by the Foundation to what the board’s Facilities Committee pre-approves. The committee must get a calendar of events with estimated attendance one month in advance, according to the agreement.

The lot is off-limits to the Foundation on Saturdays, 8 a.m.-2 p.m., during basketball season, defined as December through February. Violations immediately terminate the agreement, i.e., the Foundation will lose all parking privileges.

Ms. Morton objected last month to using such definite penalties, but this one remains.

Click here to read the final shared-parking agreement.

Let drop a proposal to use pool wristbands as a safety feature for special needs children: The so-called “Lucas Band,” proposed last month by the mother of a special needs child, could be worn voluntarily by certain children who may not hear or respond appropriately to hearing a whistle or other alert from lifeguards. Mr. Stansell said the park board would be assuming too much liabiity to adopt a program that told parents, in essence, that it would give extra attention to certain children over others.

“If this information comes from parents, that’s one thing,” Mr. Stansell said, “But we as a park board can’t look out for one child more than another.” The matter died in committee for lack of a motion to recommend it.

ATEAMApproved the following events:

  • A-Team Ministries community kick-off event to raise awareness of Childhood Cancer, at Central Park, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015.
  • Christ Fellowship Church vacation Bible school at Patriot Park, June 1-4. This second annual program at Patriot will use two pavilions and attract about 25-40 children. It does not reserve the park grounds or restrict other activities.

Approved an earlier closing of the central park pool: Traditionally, the West Homewood Pool closes on the first day of school, leaving the main pool open through Labor Day. This year, recognizing typical attendance decline after the first two weeks of school, the board is closing the pool those weeks Monday-Thursday on these dates:  Aug. 24, 25, 26, 27 and Aug. 31, Sept. 1, Sept. 2 and Sept. 3, 2015.

The Homewood Youth Baseball program presentation was postponed to next month’s meeting.

The meeting adjourned at 6:45 p.m.

Planning Commission, April 7, 2015

If you like your church a little less medieval, the Church of the Advent has some suburban options.

If you like your church a little less medieval, the Church of the Advent has some suburban options.

The sleeper case of the evening was the staunch, unified opposition to a request to rezone a Linden Avenue building for off-hour and Sunday morning church programs by a downtown Episcopal church.

The Cathedral Church of the Advent, which operates another over-the-mountain meeting space in Mountain Brook, is seeking rezoning to use the space for various programs such as meetings, Bible studies, speakers, and youth outreach. Four nearby business and property owners objected to a lack of dedicated parking, the likelihood that parishioners would be using their own business parking lot instead, and the folly of introducing an institutional use in a fully commercial business district. The commission, with one exception, thought otherwise. The recommendation goes to the city council for a final vote, after a separate public hearing. More details, below.

Members present: Fred Azbik, Mike Brandt, Billy Higginbotham, chairman, Jeffery Foster, Fred Hawkins, James Ponseti and James Riddle.

Members absent: Batallion Chief Nickolas Hill and Mark Woods.

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

Audience attendance:  25

All votes are unanimous unless noted otherwise. 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.

This 2010 photo by Nelson Glass ran with a blog article about the fading of Southern Progress' operations. Time Inc. sold its property to Samford last year, retaining use of one building in which 250 are employed, compared to more than 700 five years ago. Blog by Wade Kwon.

This 2010 photo by Nelson Glass ran with a blog article about the fading of Southern Progress’ operations. Time Inc. sold its property to Samford last year, retaining use of one building in which 250 are employed, compared to more than 700 five years ago. Blog by Wade Kwon.

Approved a Samford University request, with conditions, to alter the development plan on its Southern Progress property and recommend rezoning for college use: Samford’s purchase of the Southern Progress property at 2100 Lakeshore Drive require rezoning three built lots from Planned Commercial District to I-3, Institutional use. The commission voted to recommend that rezoning, which along with contingent BZA-approved variances will go before City Council for a final decision. The rezoning, however, doesn’t include a fourth Southern Progress building that will retain its commercial standing but be cut out of a shared parking arrangement–throwing it technically out of zoning compliance. Commissioners said much of the building isn’t used for offices and could be recalculated to bring it into compliance.

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The Cathedral Church of the Advent downtown has opened a satellite program space in Mountain Brook and is now seeking space in Homewood to serve a  suburban demographic.

Recommended rezoning a Linden Avenue commercial building for a church:  A little gray building at 2814 Linden Avenue was the center of controversy tonight as a Church of the Advent official asked to rezone the building from C-4 Central Business District, I-2 for church purposes. The rezoning, if allowed, would require it to have 27 parking spaces, although the church said it anticipated 60 people attending at any one time, and has a large conference room that seats 108. The building, which is being leased from owner Birchfield Penuel Properties, comes with 10 spots onsite and the church would lease 13 more from a Wells Fargo branch building, also owned by Birchfield, the official said. He said the church had found another 20 spaces somewhere else it could use, since most programs would not conflict with business hours.

Objecting primarily on the basis of parking were Walter Busenlehner, owner of the Homewood Toy and Hobby Shop and Homewood Cycle on 18th Street, and adjacent shop and property owner J. L. Shaia. Both said the church goers would end up using their rear parking lot, for convenience, intensifying an already unmanageable parking situation.

Also speaking against the rezoning were two business owners on Linden, saying the rezoning was not “the right fit.” Citing the 2007 Master Plan, Steven Fasio of Plainclothes, on Linden, said he disagreed with inserting a new use to the Central Business District. “We want to keep the Central Business District just that,” he said.

With one exception, the commission voted in favor of recommending the rezone. Based on audience reaction, the objections will likely continue when the case comes before the council for a vote.

Voting no: Jeffrey Foster.

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The “triangle” on Broadway will be divided into six lots for a row of 1 1/2-story houses, thanks to substantial area and setback variances.

Divided a parcel into six lots for houses on Broadway: This case, which a year ago would have brought angry crowds to a Planning Commission meeting, sailed through a request to divide the Broadway “triangle” by GianMarco’s into six lots on which to build five houses with no off-street parking. The Board of Zoning Adjustments pre-approved substantial lot-area and setback variances if the commission agreed to the re-surveys. 

Houses proposed on Broadway, backing up to "short" Saulter Road, required substantial size and setback variances to go forward.

Houses proposed on Broadway, backing up to “short” Saulter Road, required substantial size and setback variances to go forward. The Planning Commission approved dividing one parcel into six, contingent on a proper survey.

Four neighbors spoke in favor of the development, persuaded by the look of proposed houses, personal attention and explanations by applicant William Tucker, and the protracted limbo of the property at 902 Broadway, which could have been sold for commercial use. Frank Dichiara, who is selling on behalf of the owner, his mother Rose Dichiara, said two of his four offers were for commercial developments. Residents two years ago united to lobby the city to purchase the land for a pocket park, which after months of encouraging discussions the city council ultimately voted down. Neighbors later lobbied successfully to kill an office and a townhouse development proposed at the site.

The commission’s vote, however, was condition its approval on submission of a proper survey instead of a hand-drawn sketch, and determination by city staff if the application should be re-submitted as a subdivision.

This house sits right of the Irving portion of the Sims Ecoscape property.

This existing house sits to the right of the Irving portion of the Sims Ecoscape property. The lot will be divided for two new houses.

Divide one parcel into two parcels on Irving: Ward 1 councilman Michael Hallman asked  the commission to consider the narrow streets on the crest of a hill and parking hazards before deciding to divide one 100′ X 140′ lot into two lots 50-feet wide. at 909 Irving Road. Ms. McGrath, however, said each of the resulting lots would have to provide room for two off-street parking spaces.

Looking north, the Irving property will be divided into two lots and, presumably, two new houses.

Looking north, the Irving property will be divided into two lots and, presumably, two new houses.

The Board of Zoning Adjustments, with one dissenting vote, recently approved variances in lot width and area pending this division, which the commission approved unanimously. The dissent related to the lot’s proximity to the Sims Ecoscape, which is adjacent to the east on Irving and extends south, behind the property, fronting on Highland Road.

There being no further business, the meeting adjourned at about 7 p.m.

Board of Zoning Adjustments, April 2, 2015

Concept drawing of houses on the Broadway "Triangle" property.

Concept drawing of houses on the Broadway “Triangle” property. Click to enlarge.

The BZA unanimously voted to replace member Valerie Askew, who is present less than half the time, and to deny variances allowing an absentee property owner to divide and build two houses on a lot in Lake Ridge Estates.

Houses proposed on Broadway, backing up to "short" Saulter Road, required substantial size and setback variances to go forward.

Houses proposed on Broadway, backing up to “short” Saulter Road, required substantial size and setback variances to go forward. Click to enlarge.

But the most notable case in this long meeting involved granting variances for a 5-house development planned on the triangle of land between Short Saulter Road and across the street from a dry cleaners and corner bar on Broadway. Neighbors had lobbied the city en masse — and unsuccessfully –to purchase the property for a park, then campaigned successfully against two other developments–an office and proposed townhouses . Two neighbors spoke in favor of the latest idea, with one expressing reservations that the wooded, irregularly shaped lot had provided a welcome buffer between them and traffic, GianMarco’s, the dry cleaners, and JoJo’s bar and restaurant.

Members present: Brian Jarmon, Jeffrey Foster, Beverly LeBoeuf, Hope Cannon, Lauren Gwaltney, and new, but returning member, Ty Cole, representing Ward 3. Mr. Cole replaces Ross McCain, whose term had expired.

Members absent: Valerie Askew (S).

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

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 substitutes (S) to sit in and vote if needed. All decisions are made following a public hearing. Variances expire in 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained.

The board welcomed new Ward 3 member Ty Cole, a former BZA member who replaces the outgoing chairman Ross McCain. Mr. Cole quickly established himself as the board’s leader on BZA principle and procedure, firing off questions about what hardships justified each variance request and sometimes finding there were none but convenience or profit.  The board selected Ms. Gwaltney as the new chair, then voted to have Ms. Askew removed due to excessive absence. Ms. Askew held one of two substitute positions.

Approved minutes of the March 5, 2015, meeting.

This drawing shows one of two proposed house designs for 909 Irving. The drawings are a concept only and subject to change.

This drawing shows one of two proposed house designs for 909 Irving. The drawings are a concept only and subject to change. Click to enlarge.

Allowed, on a split vote, lot width variances for property being divided into two lots: The applicant will be asking the Planning Commission to divide the property at 909 Irving Road into two separate lots. Pending commission approval, the BZA granted a 5-foot width variance on each newly created lot, i.e., allowing the lots to be narrower than code requires. The board was concerned that the large houses (2,800 square feet) planned on each lot would leave no room for a required driveway and off-street parking. The approval is contingent on the Planning Commission granting the division next week, and came with a warning that the owner not return for further variances.

Voting no:  Brian Jarmon, saying he just didn’t like all the unknowns.

A two-story house will replace this tiny house on Morris.

A larger two-story house will replace this tiny cottage at 702 Morris.  [Photo from a real estate website.] Click to enlarge.

Approved a variance for a new two-story house on Morris: A homeowner received a 5-foot right building setback variance on a planned second floor, but will have to return to seek a left-side variance for a carport, overlooked by zoning staff. A next door neighbor spoke in favor of the variance.

This 2010 photo by Nelson Glass ran with a blog article about the fading of Southern Progress' operations. Time Inc. sold its property to Samford last year, retaining use of one building in which 250 are employed, compared to more than 700 five years ago. Blog by Wade Kwon.

This 2010 photo by Nelson Glass ran with a Media of Birmingham blog about the fading of Southern Progress’ publishing operations. Parent company Time Inc. sold its property to Samford last year, retaining use of one building in which 250 are employed, compared to more than 700 working campus-wide during its heyday. Article by Wade Kwon.

Allowed a variance for re-configuring boundaries on the Southern Progress property acquired by Samford: Samford University will be asking to rezone to Institutional three of four lots and buildings it acquired from Time, Inc.’s Southern Progress campus at 2100 Lakeshore Drive. One of the lots will continue under its existing commercial zoning to be leased to Time, Inc., which plans a building renovation. Tonight Samford requested a 20-foot variance that would allow the boundary of one of its other lots to remain the same despite the requirements of the expected rezoning. The variance allows a pond and related pipes and sewer lines from lying across two lots. Two other variances allow the extra height of the Southern Progress buildings under the new institutional zoning, of 25.92 feet and 22.40 feet respectively. Rezoning will be addressed at next week’s Planning Commission meeting.

However, the board also discovered that parking will be 96 spaces short for the Time building, which will retain its Planned Commercial District zoning under a long-term lease to Samford and isn’t part of the shared parking arrangement with the other buildings or the university. About 250 employees work in the building currently.

Abstaining: Ms. Cannon abstained, saying later that as an employee of another university (UAB), which also owns and develops property, she would prefer to stay uninvolved.

Allowed a house addition on Stuart Street: A house at 901 Stuart Street was granted a 9.17-foot left setback variance to expand.

The BZA said no to dividing a large residential lot on Lake Ridge Road to build two houses.

The BZA said no to dividing a large residential lot on Lake Ridge Road to build two houses. Click to enlarge.

Denied a request to divide a lot in Lake Ridge Estates for two houses: Opponents offered many sentimental and aesthetic reasons for denying the property owner variances to divide a lot at 1802 Lake Ridge Road and build a house on each of them. But in the end it was the lack of any justifying hardship that convinced the board to vote no.

The property was purchased by a man living in Washington state who intended to renovate a dilapidated house but instead tore it down, sometime in the early 2000s, according to his real estate agent. The property stayed in this condition and was put on the market but has failed to sell for well over a year. The agent, Tom Douglass of Vestavia, argued that each resulting lot on the divided property would still exceed the minimum lot area required under the city’s Neighborhood Preservation District zoning, which is 27,173 square feet. However, the owner is requesting width variances of 24-feet and 36.5 feet on each of the proposed new lots. Mr. Douglass suggested that a horizontal property division wouldn’t require any variance, but would create drainage problems on the inclined property and interfere with a shared private drive for four households

Neighbors argued that the subdivision is one of the few remaining residential areas in Homewood with estate-sized lots, trees and natural areas. Granting such large variances would harm the feel of the neighborhood, they said.

Mr. Douglass said his client didn’t think the area could support a $1 million house on the single lot, but Mr. Cole said financial concerns weren’t a qualifying hardship to justify the variances. Three neighbors objected, one by letter, and one being former Park Board member Tim Baggett, who said the property division would interfere with his plans to sell his own house.

The request was unanimously denied.

The existing house on the Broadway Triangle is owned by Rose Dichiara, who will turn 100 in a few months. Ms. Dichiara's son has been trying to sell the house and wooded property for years, offering it to the city as a potential park, garden or dog park. Resident objections killed one proposal for townhouses. They seem to accept the latest plan for detached housing.

The existing house on the Broadway Triangle is owned by Rose Dichiara, who will turn 100 in a few months. Ms. Dichiara’s son has been trying to sell the house and surrounding wooded property for years, offering unsuccessfully to sell it to the city for a park, garden or dog park. Resident objections killed one developer’s proposal for townhouses; they seem accepting of the latest plan for a row of detached houses.

Granted, on a split vote, large substantial variances to allow a row of houses on the Broadway “triangle.”
Compared to the recent past, tonight’s approval signaled a comparatively quiet neighborhood acceptance that this strip of wooded land will be developed into a row of small houses, not a park, garden or wooded buffer between houses on Saulter and businesses on Broadway. The row of houses will be complementary in style but not identical and will range in size from 1,100 square feet to 1,600-1,700 square feet.

The board granted builder William Tucker 1) A 15-foot setback variance on the rear of each of the five planned houses along Saulter Road; 2) A 10-foot setback variance for the exposed side of the end house by Carr Avenue; and 3) Lot size variances ranging from 4,123 square feet to 6,370 square feet less than required by the code. Two residents on Saulter spoke in favor, with one saying he preferred the buffer the property had provided and hoping the end lot, which will not be developed, wouldn’t be clear-cut.

A plan for fences connecting the fronts of the houses and for fences across the rear must be approved by the City Council. Of the 20+ people in attendance, the majority were present to hear the results of this case.

Voting no: Ms. LeBoeuf, saying after the meeting that she was worried about parking, traffic and what would happen to the undeveloped end lot.

A second story is being added over the garage at this house on Roxbury.

A second story is being added over the garage at this house on Roxbury, and also a front porch.

Approved an addition to a garage on Roxbury: The homeowners plan to add a second story over the existing garage and a front porch. The porch requires an 8-foot variance beyond the required setback area. The variance for the second floor addition was granted contingent on the owner furnishing automatic sprinklers, due to its proximity to the neighboring house.

The meeting adjourned after 7:30 p.m.

City Council meeting, March 23, 2015

Efforts to have this sign relocated from unincorporated Jefferson County along Homewood's Lakeshore Drive is prompting a city overhaul of its own sign ordinance.

The City Council approved changes to the sign code tonight that would allow this digital billboard to be relocated Lakeshore Drive, near Homewood residences, to a location nearer I-65 and Oxmoor Road in the city’s Green Springs Urban Renewal District. In the same measure, new pole signs and pylon signs are to be banned in commercial areas.

Councilmen tonight said “pending litigation” has kept them mum about the likely relocation of the controversial digital billboard installed over a recent weekend on Lakeshore Drive, in unincorporated Jefferson County. But changes finalized tonight in the city’s sign ordinance point to a site within the Green Springs Renewal District, which was newly rewritten to allow interstate billboards, under certain conditions.

Ward 5 representative Peter Wright was an outspoken critic of the digital billboard installation on Lakeshore Drive. The sign is being relocated to a site in Homewood, but nearer I-65.

 

The sign must be within 75 feet of the Interstate right-of-way and at least 600 feet from any residential building, among other conditions. The distance required between same-facing billboards on the highway was reduced from 750 feet to 600 feet. Asked after the meeting why the city wasn’t more forthcoming with its own plans, Britt Thames and Patrick McClusky said it was the threat of legal action coupled with their idea that the new location is superior and in the best interests of Homewood. Peter Wright, who stood out with protesters earlier this month, echoed the same sentiment. The sign — wherever it is to be located — has not yet received final approval from the state Department of Transportation.

Also tonight, the Islamic Academy property was finally rezoned, to be cleared for a parking lot and expanded playground. The council dropped a beer and wine license request from Neighborhood Hops and Vine.  See below.

Approved minutes of the Feb. 9, 2015 meeting.

Appointed a BZA member and opened a Board of Education vacancy: On the recommendation of Ward 3 representatives, the council appointed Ty Cole to the Ward 3 seat of the Board of Zoning Adjustments. Mr. Wright announced the opening of the Ward 5 Board of Education seat; applications will be taken during the month of April.

OLD BUSINESS AGENDA

Postponed action on a laundry list of changes to the city’s zoning book: Instead of voting on the changes, which were detailed at the February Planning Commission, the vote was postponed until after the April 24 retreat involving the council and members of the Board of Zoning Adjustments and Planning Commission. The idea came from Mr. Thames, who thought the various issues would be good fodder for discussion.

Pole signs like these and hundreds of others across the city would be banned under proposed amendments to the sign ordinance.

Sign ordinance changes banned future pole signs like these and hundreds of others across the city, along with shopping center pylon signs.

Approved billboard and sign amendments:  Saying there were certain grammatical errors and other minor adjustments to the ordinance read at the last meeting, the city attorney re-read the ordinance, which the council gave  unanimous consent to vote on tonight, approving it unanimously. The ordinance bans pole signs (on-premise signs held aloft on a pole) and pylon signs (tall business identification signs at the gateway to shopping centers).

It also makes very specific changes to the sign code allowing billboards in the Green Springs Urban Renewal District, setting a 600-foot minimum clearance between billboards and residential buildings, and decreasing the allowed distance between two such billboards from 750 feet to 600 feet. These changes point to the likely site of the relocation of the digital billboard from Lakeshore Drive following boycotts and other protests earlier in the month. The measure also repealed the pole sign moratorium currently in effect.

The Islamic Academy must remove unsuitable fill dirt and repair damage to the public right-of-way when it attempted to build an unauthorized parking lot.

The Islamic Academy won rezoning of 4 acres adjacent to the school, but must remove unsuitable fill dirt from its prior, unauthorized attempt to carve a parking lot into the slope. The rezoning is conditioned on the school not removing any of the underlying rock from the slope along 18th Street.

Approved two measures rezoning Islamic Academy property and surrendering an unused city right-of-way within it: The city has delayed action for months on the Islamic Academy’s request to rezone 4 acres it purchased last year on a steep slope adjacent to its Rosedale location. The hold up involves questions over whether the school is responsible for damaging the  rock slope along 18th Street South when it attempted unauthorized work to build a parking lot on the site, cutting into the ground and filling it with unsuitable bill dirt. Geotechnical engineers later reported the school’s work didn’t cause the damage. The council passed the rezoning request on condition that there would be no permit issued for any rock removal that would destabilize the slope. The city also vacated the right-of-way in exchange for $5,000.

Voted in support of a state liquor license application for a Brookwood mall restaurant: The license is for the sports grill chain restaurant Hickory Tavern.

The Homewood location will be a second one. This picture taken in Crestline.

The Homewood location will be a second one. This picture taken in Crestline.

Dropped a request for a beer and wine license for a new business, Neighborhood Hops and Vine: The matter was dropped because the business proposed at 1712 28th Avenue South is in a C-2 zoning district, which allows restaurants but not restaurants whose business is primarily as a bar or tavern. Mr. Wyatt explained that the property would have to be rezoned first. The business is “months away from being ready to apply for a liquor license,” he said.

Approved an appraisal for property due to be purchased for the Greenway, Phase II. The measure authorizes payment of $4,250 to Pless Appraisals for appraising property, and if acceptable, writing a letter of intent to purchase it for the western access point of the Greenway Trail.

Declared two large trucks surplus, to be sold, and approved purchase of two rebuilt trucks for $77,000.

Asked the state DOT to place No Jake Brakes signs on I-65: The city outlawed loud “jake braking” by trucks in city limits. Due to complaints from residents on Berry Road near the highway, the mayor will ask ALDOT to also place signs nearby on the Interstate.

Set an April 13 hearing about a West Homewood District review committee: The review committee will look over any proposed new buildings or modifications in the West Homewood District, where any new or modified structures must now conform to an appearance-based code that replaced traditional zoning. The committee membership is alreadyd determined by the ordinance establishing the district, including two council members, certain Planning Commission members, and mayor. The measure was brought up because the Econo Lodge, in the new district, has plans for a major building modification.

COMMITTEE REFERRAL AGENDA

To Finance – Request to consider 1) Authorizing a Personnel Study; 2) Amendments to FY 2014 and FY2015 budgets for General, Capital and Special Revenue Funds; 3) Purchasing from Alabama Power Co. 21 decorative acorn-type street lamps for the West Homewood district; and 4) Accepting a $8,972 Homeland Security grant (for something).

To Public Safety – To consider traffic calming measures on Lancaster Road.

To Planning and Development – To consider a Bike Share program.

OTHER NEW BUSINESS

Pam Clark has closed her business near the corner of Green Springs Highway and Oxmoor Road. The council has delayed action on a measure allowing the transfer of city-owned parking to a new buyer.

Pam Clark has closed her business near the corner of Green Springs Highway and Oxmoor Road. The council has delayed action on a measure allowing the transfer of city-owned parking to a new buyer.

Carried over a measure involving the sale of a business involving city property:  Great confusion followed the council president’s decision to carry over a request from the Garden Shop of Homewood to sell its building at 309 Oxmoor Road. The property owner said she leases an adjacent parking lot from the city, which is why the matter is before the council. which must be part of the transaction. Lamar Advertising, whose general manager was present for the proceedings, has a billboard erected on the adjacent property, next to the building. Before postponing the matter, Mr. Limbaugh had said he was not clear about the city’s/business owner’s relationship with Lamar Advertising. [contains corrections from a previous post.]

Paid the bills: Invoices for the period March 16-20, 2015, were approved to be paid.

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

Members absent: Vance Moody

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

Special topics, sign and billboard amendments.

GROUNDSIGNWILDWOOD

This Wildwood sign, with its entire base anchored to the ground and surrounded by landscaping, is an example of the city’s proposed new requirement for monument-style freestanding signs.

Homewood is poised to make changes to its sign regulations that, as expected, would eliminate “pole signs” throughout the city, but which also would ban shopping center pylon signs in favor of monument-style signs, and spell out where interstate billboards may go, including the city’s Green Springs Urban Renewal District (GURD), but at least 600 feet from residential buildings. Pole signs are defined as “on-premises” signs advertising the business at the location. A billboard is defined as an “off-premises” sign.

The amendments were given a first reading Monday, March 16, with a second and final reading slated for the upcoming meeting this Monday.

This Wildwood pylon sign, held aloft by two pillars, would not meet the new requirements for freestanding shopping center signs.

The city’s sign amendments, if passed, would do away with towering pylon signs and replace them with low-profile monument signs.

If the measure passes, no new pole signs will be allowed, while their cousins, pylon signs–the stacked tower of business names at the gateways to shopping centers–will in the future be replaced with “ground” or monument signs. For the most part, the amendments simply eliminate the tall signs in favor of the lower-profile monument signs, without imposing on them any new restrictions or metrics.

However, there are a couple of exceptions, noted in light of the recent protests over the digital billboard erected on Lakeshore Drive in unincorporated Jefferson County and successful campaign to relocate it away from neighborhoods and in Homewood’s jurisdiction:

Efforts to have this sign relocated from unincorporated Jefferson County along Homewood's Lakeshore Drive is prompting a city overhaul of its own sign ordinance.

Word has it that this electronic billboard in unincorporated Jefferson County along Homewood’s Lakeshore Drive, will be relocated in Homewood near I-65, and under some newly proposed billboard regulations.

Changes proposed in Section 5-184 of the sign code, “Limitations on billboards and other off-premises signs,” adds the GURD to the areas that allow billboards and other off-premises signs, “as long as the sign is within an area that is no more than 75 feet from the right-of-way of the Interstate Highway 65.” (The  section is already worded to allow billboards, under certain conditions, in Sign District II within commercial zoning designations C-3, C-5 and M-1 “on lots adjoining the right-of-way of Interstate Highway 65, and within 3,000 feet of the center point of intersection of I-65 with Oxmoor Road.” The amendment would remove the C-5 zoning classification. )

Finally, an added clause would reduce the minimum distance required between two such billboards facing the same direction from 750 feet to 600 feet, and set a new minimum 600-foot clearance between any billboard and the nearest residential building.

Tubular lights outlining a roof, building structure, or storefront, are already outlawed in the city's sign ordinance.

Interesting distinction:  These bright tubular lights outlining a storefront window (or other “architectural features”) are specifically allowed in the city’s sign ordinance. Strings of lights are NOT allowed to outline property lines, sales areas, roof or building lines, however.

Click here to read the current sign regulations of the city’s code.  The following is a recap of the amendments proposed last week:

  • Pole signs, which are literally signs on top of poles, would be  prohibited throughout the city.
  • Pylon signs, those stacked signs at gateways to multi-tenant buildings such as shopping centers, would be prohibited in favor of monument signs.
  • Monument signs are redefined as signs attached directly to the ground by their entire base, not held up on pillars, braces or posts.
  • Amendments would apply to special planned districts, such as Brookwood Mall and Wildwood Center, which have their own signage rules.
  • Interstate-facing billboards would be allowed in GURD if no more than 75 feet from I-65 right-of-way.
  • Billboards and other off-premises signs would not be allowed within 600 feet of residential property.