City Council, May 18, 2015

Heather Reid hears a resolution in praise of her council work after resigning to move out of Homewood, effective immediately.

Heather Reid hears a resolution in praise of her council work after resigning to move out of Homewood, effective immediately.

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

Members absent: Fred Hawkins and Patrick McClusky.

Staff present: City clerk Linda Cook, mayor’s chief of staff J. J. Bischoff, police Chief Jim Roberson, Inspection Services director Jim Wyatt, Melody Salter, finance director, and John Bresnan, fire chief. City Attorney Mike Kendrick was absent, with a substitute filling in.

Audience attendance: 37

Approved minutes of the April 14, 2015, meeting.

OLD BUSINESS AGENDA

Carried over a pavement maintenance planpending a funding decision: The city awaits a Regional Planning Commission decision on a grant to offset the $40,000 cost of a comprehensive street maintenance plan, pitched by Volkert Engineers some months ago. Mr. Wyatt said he expected word by mid June. The plan is eligible for an 80% federal grant, leaving the city to pay only $8,000.

Longstanding Homewood merchants opposed to the rezoning of the Linden Avenue property hear the 6-3 vote in favor. Expecting a loss, some have talked of appealing the decision to circuit court.

Longstanding Homewood merchants opposed to the rezoning of the Linden Avenue property hear the 6-3 vote in favor. Expecting a loss, some have talked of appealing the decision to circuit court.

Approved 6-3 a rezoning on Linden Avenue for a church satellite: Galloping opposition from well over 100 downtown merchants and residents failed to dampen the council’s enthusiasm to rezone a vacant copier business for an Advent Episcopal Church satellite program location. Merchants and those owning parking lots opposite the building have warned that church-goers will fill the limited private parking they need for their own paying customers. The measure failed last week to get the required unanimous consent needed to pass on the first reading. It was clear then, however, that a council majority intended to approve it on second reading, with only a simple majority.

Most outspoken in favor were Ward 1 councilman Britt Thames, an Advent member, who said that the city was working on parking solutions downtown and that his wife–who operates a restaurant in Mountain Brook near the church’s current shopfront location–reports no parking problems from the Advent space there.

Mr. Wright, who was absent at last week’s packed public hearing, said he was “perplexed” at so much opposition to a such a seemingly benign development. The church, he said, had made arrangements to secure ample parking for its stated peak assemblies of 80 or so people.

“I am struggling to see how these two stories fit together,” he said, asking the council to delay a vote while the two groups could discuss and possibly resolve their differences.

Nevertheless, with a motion and second on the floor, the vote was allowed to proceed, which it did, delivering the expected approval.

Voting no: Michael Hallman, Peter Wright, and Bruce Limbaugh.

Dropped, with some disagreement, a move to transfer funds for a new police car:  The issue, to transfer funds to replace a wrecked vehicle with a new Tahoe, was dropped for the next few months on the recommendation of Mr. Jones with the mayor’s assent. To questions by Ms. Smith, Chief Roberson said a purchase now would get a better price. Mayor McBrayer then explained, with a smile, that Ms. Smith’s questions put the chief — who had put the matter on the agenda — in the uncomfortable position of disagreeing openly with the mayor over the purchase.

Voting no: Vance Moody and Barry Smith.

Approved property appraisals needed for the Greenway Trail, Phase II, project: The measure authorizes the mayor to enter into multiple agreements with Pless Appraisal Group for property appraisals totaling $21,950. 

Declared a 2010 Chevrolet Camarro surplus, due to be sold.

Switched to T-Mobile for cell phone equipment and services: Few details were provided, except to say the switch would save the city $50,000 over the course of a year. The city in August signed a contract with Verizon for cell phones and service. It is unclear if this contract replaces that one. 

 Approved a stop sign and no parking at Wena Avenue and Edgeland Place: The stop sign includes a no-parking area within 30 feet of the intersection.

COMMITTEE REFERRAL AGENDA

To Finance – To consider 1) Participating in an area-wide sales tax holiday on Aug. 7-9.

IMG_5715

1659 28th Avenue South

To Planning and Development – To consider 1) Amending a development plan for parking at 1659 28th Avenue South as required in MXD zoning.

 

 

 

A row of houses and a variance from front yard fences is slated for the Broadway "triangle."

A row of houses and a variance from front yard fences is slated for the Broadway “triangle.”

To Special Issues – To consider 1) Requesting a public hearing for June 8, 2015, for a front yard fence at 902 Broadway; and 2) A change to the sign regulations affecting the SoHo district.

 

 

 

OTHER NEW BUSINESS

Set a June 8 public hearing for a front yard fence on Broadway: The fence variance request relates to the Broadway/Short Saulter “triangle” development.

Put downtown merchants on notice about trash and garbage collection: Businesses backing up to the 18th Street alley will be receiving notices about keeping garbage and trash in containers or commercial Dumptsters.

Directed the mayor to intervene in a resident’s quarrel with ALDOT on Lakeshore & Riviera: The mayor was asked to formally ask ALDOT to maintain the grass and weeds around an AT&T fiber optics box that is installed in a homeowner’s yard but on state highway department property.

Paid the bills: Invoices were approved to be paid for the period May 11-15, 2015.

Council member Heather Reid and Denny England, videographer of 14 years, both said farewell to the council tonight.

Council member Heather Reid and Denny England, videographer of 14 years, both said farewell to the council tonight.

Said farewell to 14-year city council videographer Denny England: Oh the stories he could tell. But won’t. Mr. England holds a management position with Whirlpool and is moving to South Bend, Indiana, for a promotion to a corporate position. The city sweetened the farewell with a plaque and commendation for his years of service.

Accepted the resignation of Ward 4, Place 2 council member Heather Reid, opened the vacancy for applicants: Ms. Reid tearfully announced her resignation, effective immediately, to move out of Homewood to family land in Corner, a northwest Jefferson County community. Ms. Reid said it was always her intention to retire there with her husband, but an opportunity came sooner than expected. Despite expressions of sentiment from all council members and a resolution commending her hard work for the last three years, council was reminded to open the vacancy for a replacement. The council will accept applications through June 8, and begin interviews the following week before appointing her replacement.

Ms. Reid’s ward mate, Jenifer Wallis, resigned last year to move to Los Angeles, and was replaced by appointee Barry Smith. Ms. Smith is now the only woman member of the council.

City Council meeting, May 11, 2015

Two council members defended a bid by Cathedral Church of the Advent to rezone a Linden Avenue commercial building for satellite programs and meetings, saying the direction downtown was in favor of “mixed use,” and that lack of parking was no reason to turn away growth. Talk veered toward parking decks before the matter came to a vote, which failed a motion for immediate consideration. The lack of parking was the death knell for the former business, Dex Copiers, said one critic of the rezoning plan.

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

Members absent: Barry Smith, Heather Reid and Peter Wright. Richard Laws left midway through the meeting, as noted below.

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

Audience attendance: 47

Approved minutes of the March 23, 2015 meeting.

Appointed a Ward 5 representative to the Board of Education: The council voted to name Ms. Judy Truitt to the open Ward 5 seat on the school board. BOE terms are five years.

A crumbling street in the Edgecrest neighborhood. The city is considering federal funds to start a city-wide pavement maintenance program.

A crumbling street in the Edgecrest neighborhood is going back to nature. The city is trying to get federal funds to start up a city-wide pavement maintenance program.

Carried over action on a pavement maintenance plan, pending funding: The plan by Volkert Engineering to rank the city’s 125 miles of streets and recommend a maintenance schedule using a graduated spectrum of remedies from sealants to repaving was once again carried over while the city waits to see if it can win federal funding at 80% with a 20% local match. Without funding, the city would pay 100% of the program’s $40,000 cost.

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.

Rezoned Southern Progress property acquired by Samford: The council approved a non-controversial re-zoning of three of four parcels the university purchased from Southern Progress Company late last year. The three parcels at 2100 Lakeshore Drive are being rezoned from PCD-1 (planned commercial district) to I-3 (institutional) for use as a college campus, specifically Samford’s new College of Health Sciences complex. The remaining lot will retain its zoning and use as a Southern Progress office building. The case has won several variances in advance of the rezoning.

Overwhelming opposition has followed a request by the Church of the Advent to rezone a building for satellite programs on Linden.

Overwhelming opposition has followed a request by the Church of the Advent to rezone this Linden Avenue building, on right, for satellite programs.

Failed approval to immediately rezone a Linden Avenue building for a church satellite: As promised, Homewood merchants showed up in force to oppose a bid by the Cathedral Church of the Advent to transform a former Dex Copier location at 2814 Linden Avenue to a church satellite, pointing to inadequate parking. Speaking against the move and imploring the council to vote likewise were 11 business and business property owners, including Steve Thomas, owner of Soho Retro, who also represented the majority membership of the city’s Chamber of Commerce. Joining him were owners of Pure Barre, Shaia’s, Soca Clothing, and Momma Goldberg’s as well as all 11 households of the nearby Mayfair Circle Homeowners Association. Residents said parking congestion on Linden created a dangerous intersection by Mayfair Circle’s outlet onto Oxmoor Road.

The strongest voices had already been heard at the previous Planning Commission meeting, including J. L. Shaia, and Homewood Toy & Hobby Shop ownership. Tonight Kevin McCain, co-owner with his wife of the toy and hobby business, said he and his in-laws — who own the property and rear parking lot– stood to lose customers when church users inevitably park in the convenient rear lot. Soca, Pure Barre and other businesses on 18th Street have extended weekday hours and are open on weekends, disputing the church’s claim that its program times don’t conflict with normal business hours.

Mr. McCain also presented a petition of 129 signatures to be included in the minutes. The Planning Commission had voted to recommend the rezoning 6-1.

Specific objections focus on the church’s potential occupancy of over 100 compared to only 11 onsite parking spaces.

In favor

Speaking in favor were the church representative, a part-time employee, and a Homewood resident who called the parking objections “overblown” after interviewing three businesses on the east side of 18th Street.

Jim Brewster, Sr. Warden of the church, said the church had arranged for 69 more parking spaces through off-hours leases in addition to the 11 that come with the building. He emphasized that the current over-the-mountain satellite, in Mountain Brook’s retail village, has only drawn four assemblies of 70-80 people.

Clay Birchfield, whose firm Penuel Birchfield is prospective landlord, also spoke in favor.

Not so fast

The measure was left hanging, however, when Mr. Hallman voted against a motion to consider passage on the first reading. Failing such “unanimous consent,” it will be reintroduced at the next council meeting.

With their votes un-cast and unknown, Mr. Thames and Mr. Jones both spoke in favor of the rezoning, Mr. Thames saying that the current zoning allowed uses with worse parking impact (such as a movie theater), and his wife had a business in Mt. Brook near the current church space, and didn’t see any problems there.

The conversation ended shortly after Mr. Jones raised the possibility of a city-built parking deck to relieve the parking situation downtown.

Massive digital billboard screen before installation at Lakeshore Drive, earlier this year.

Massive digital billboard screen before installation at Lakeshore Drive, earlier this year. The council banned such billboards tonight after relocating this sign to Oxmoor Road and I-65.

Changed the sign ordinance, again, to ban digital billboards: The council tonight voted to ban digital billboards following an exhausting, 3-month  uproar over the surprise installation of a digital billboard on Lakeshore Drive by an advertising company, and the following relocation–with the city’s assistance and to the distress of West Homewood residents–to Oxmoor Road.

Banned parking around a Roseland Drive intersection: The council voted to prohibit parking 50 feet from the intersection of East Edgewood Drive and Roseland Drive. 

Annexed a residential lot in Forest Brook: With no opposition or discussion, the council passed an ordinance annexing a residential property at 1616 Forest Ridge Road.

Mr. Laws left the meeting at this point.

Decorative light posts, and construction for streetscapes and angled parking are slated for this section of Oak Grove Road. A proposed deli and bar are asking the council for tax abatements up to $6,000 over several years to counteract the inconvenience.

Decorative light posts, and construction for streetscapes and angled parking are slated for this section of Oak Grove Road. A proposed deli and bar are asking the council for tax abatements up to $6,000 over several years to counteract the inconvenience.

Sent back to committee a tax abatement request for a West Homewood deli/bar: With no explanation, the council sent back to the Finance Committee a request from “Oak & Raleigh” for up to $6,000 in tax incentives over three years. The committee had voted to recommend the tax help at its last meeting.

Approved assessment/collection of property taxes, and Homestead Exemption: Every year in May the city must renew its agreement to allow Jefferson County’s tax assessor and tax collector to collect property taxes, which are then conveyed to city coffers. The Homestead Exemption for homeowners is also extended in a separate resolution, both of which passed tonight.

Dropped, for now, a telecommuications franchise to Samford University: With work on the agreement still in process, the city attorney advised dropping consideration of a telecommunications franchise/right of way agreement  by Windstream KDL, LLC.

Kicked back to committee, to be tabled, another telecommunications franchise: A pending franchise agreement with Southern Light, no details provided, was referred back to the Finance Committee.

Terminated a controversial court system probation provider: The city dropped its contract with outsourced probation provider Judicial Correction Services, which in 2012 was accused by a Shelby County judge of operating “debtors prison” conditions in Harpersville. JCS disputed the claim point by point to the state Supreme Court and has not been accused of any wrongdoing, including keeping probationers continually owing fines and fees, in Homewood. The company’s contract was terminated, however, and replaced by another third-party firm, Freedom Probation Services, Inc., which has no such tainted reputation. Cities outsource such services, which collect revenue solely from the offender, rather than take on the expense of managing their own programs and hiring probation officers. MotherJones article here: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/03/its-been-bad-year-judicial-correction-services

Amended the current budget: No details. 

COMMITTEE REFERRAL AGENDA

To Finance – To consider 1) Multiple agreements with Pless Appraisal regarding Greenway Trail phase II properties; 2) Declaring as surplus a 2010 police vehicle; and 3) Cellular service and equipment.

To Planning and Development – To consider an 18th Street downtown revitalization project.

To Public Safety – To consider 1) Prohibiting parking at Gatsby Court and North Shadesview Terrace; 2) Adding a stop sign at Wena Avenue and Edgeland Place; and 4) A city-wide study of traffic flow, walkability and bikability in the city.

To Special Issues – To consider 1) A sign variance at 1831 28th Avenue South; and 2) A “solution” to trash accumulation on an 18th Street alleyway.

OTHER NEW BUSINESS

Paid the bills: The council approved payment of invoices for the period April 27-May 8, 2015.

Approved a special events liquor license for a crawfish boil at JoJo’s.

 

Board of Zoning Adjustments, May 7, 2015

WINDSORGARAGE

Too close for comfort? The house (left) at 300 Windsor Drive was denied a variance needed to rebuild and enlarge a garage following a neighbor’s objection about encroachment and in light of conflicting surveys from both parties.

The board denied one request this month for variances allowing a significant 1 1/2 floor garage expansion. Five cases were approved for additions and storage sheds.

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

Members absent: 0

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

Audience attendance: 12

Approved minutes of the Feb. 5, 2015, meeting minutes.

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

A two-story house — and carport –will replace this tiny house on Morris.

Approve variances for a major addition on  Morris: The applicant for 702 Morris Avenue last month was granted a 7.2-foot left building setback variance on a planned second floor, and returned this month to request a left-side variance for a carport, initially overlooked by zoning staff.

Variances were granted for a bathroom and deck addition that preserved a tree on the property.

405 St. Charles Street. Variances were granted for a bathroom and deck addition that preserved a tree on the property.

Granted a variance that save a tree: The applicant at 405 St. Charles Street was granted a 2-foot right building setback variance for a bathroom and 2.5-foot left building variance for a deck. The applicants said they chose the location of the bathroom to avoid removing a large tree on the lot.

 

 

 

 

IMG_5710

121 East Hawthorne

Allowed a shed on a narrow East Hawthorne lot: A homeowner at 121 East Hawthorne were allowed 5-foot side and rear accessory structure variances for a pre-fab shed. The lot is triangular, narrowing to only 17 feet at the rear. The homeowners said they would set the shed as far into the lot as possible.

IMG_5712

313 LeJeune Way

Approved variances for an expanded deck on LeJeune Way: The board granted a 7-5-foot right building setback variance for a new deck at 313 LeJeune Way and allowed a height variance. The stated hardship for height was that building it wider would block access to ground-level garage and building deeper would require removing a large tree. The design had been altered previously to suit a next-door neighbor.

Overton Road

3125 Overton Road

An addition allowed on Overton: A 3.35-foot left building variance was allowed at 3125 Overton Drive for a first-floor master bedroom addition.

IMG_5714

300 Windsor Drive

 

 

Denied a request for a 1 1/2 floor garage on Windsor Drive: Opposition from a neighbor and confusion over conflicting surveys led to a denial for this request to raze and rebuild a larger garage at 300 Windsor Drive. A neighbor said the eaves of the applicant’s existing garage already extended into her property. The applicant denied it, saying the neighbor’s fence was built a foot onto his property. BZA members were unable to make a ruling due to oddities on the survey itself, and the request was denied.

The applicant’s design for the garage was 900 square feet on the first floor with a partial second floor that code requires setting back 10 feet. The applicant had sought a variance from that requirement,  claiming it would interfere with garage access from the driveway.

Park Board meeting, May 7, 2015

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

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

The park board, with one abstention, passed a final version of an agreement regulating how the Exceptional Foundation could use limited parking space.

The youth baseball board president gave an annual report, asking for help improving the fields at West Homewood Park.

Members present: Tom Blake, Jody Brandt, Chris Meeks, chairman, Becky Morton, Keith Stansell, Marjorie Trimm and Michael Murray.

Members absent: Tyler Vail. Also absent was council liaison Richard Laws.

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

Approved minutes of the April 9, 2015, meeting.

Homewood Patriot Youth Baseball League annual report: The League’s board president Howie Myers presented the league’s annual report. Mr. Myers said enrollment increased 3% in Spring 2014 over the previous year, and remained at that level for Spring 2015. Of the total 454 players that season, 386, or 85% were residents, with six receiving scholarships, bringing in $65,060 and fielding 47 teams. Those ratios stayed roughly the same for the fall season, although Fall ball numbers are significantly lower, with 97 players fielding 10 teams.

Giving some detail, Mr. Myers the league didn’t win any Metro All Star tournaments; It is trying new ways to give older players competitive play while still remaining on the park league.

Financially, the program brought in $76,508 against expenses of $66,874 for a net $9,633 in the black. The current checking account balance is close to $80,000. With that, Mr. Myers asked if some of the excess funds could be used to improve the upper baseball fields at West Homewood Park, pointing especially to drainage problems. Mr. Squires agreed. Click here for the 2014 report. Click here for the 2015 report.

Approved two events for Central Park: The board approved 1) The North Star Martial Arts Ninja Fun Run for Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, with food and other vendor booths and a 2-mile course, including a few obstacles; and 2) The Homewood Arts Council’s second annual Pickin’ in the Park bluegrass festival, inviting area musicians to a community jam session, fiddle competition, and for non-musicians games, kite flying and possibly food trucks.

EXCEPTCALENDARAccepted the Exceptional Foundation’s event calendar for June: As part of the ongoing effort to better communicate and coordinate shared parking needs between the Rec Center and the Exceptional Foundation, the Foundation has begun submitting monthly notice of planned events. Here is the June calendar.

Decorative light posts, and construction for streetscapes and angled parking are slated for this section of Oak Grove Road. A proposed deli and bar are asking the council for tax abatements up to $6,000 over several years to counteract the inconvenience.

Decorative light posts, and construction for streetscapes and angled parking are slated for this section of Oak Grove Road.

Approved West Homewood/Patriot Park improvement plans: The council-led project involves installing 21 lamp posts, streetscaping, striping parking spots along the park border and across Oak Grove Road. Construction is scheduled to occur while school is out for the summer.

Approved, with one abstention, a final final shared parking agreement with the Exceptional Foundation. The board made two concessions after the agreement was presented to the Foundation board, 1) A procedure for hearing and possibly accommodating parking requests on short notice. The board agreed that either Mr. Squires or Mr. Holley could rule on any such events that could impact parking but cautioned that they would be denied if last-minute requests became SOP; 2) Agreed to allow Foundation basketball

The Exceptional Foundation's expansion has turned a handshake agreement over shared parking into a big legal deal.

The Exceptional Foundation’s expansion has turned a handshake agreement over shared parking into a big legal deal.

games during the Rec Center’s busy basketball season, December-March, as long as vans and buses were parked on Foundation spaces or offsite and provided the Foundation doesn’t schedule any other events on those Saturdays that the two basketball seasons overlap.

A clause added by the city’s attorney asks the Foundation to move its games to the afternoon or find other remedies if the situation results in parking complaints to the Rec Center. Park Board representatives Meeks and Stansell said the suggestion wasn’t well received by the Foundation.

As in the past, Ms. Morton objected to some of the provisions, saying it would be practically impossible to monitor whose cars belonged to Foundation drivers and whose belonged to Rec Center drivers.

Click here to read the proposed final agreement.

Abstaining: Becky Morton, saying some provisions were unenforceable.

There being no further business, the board adjourned at 6:45 p.m.

Planning Commission, May 5, 2015

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

EconoLodge owner Sanjay Patel, second from left, met with purported members of the city’s Community Development Review Committee Monday to discuss his redevelopment plan for the aging West Homewood motel. Two neighborhood residents sat in along with councilmen Vance Moody (Ward 2) fourth from left, Fred Hawkins, second from right, and Mayor Scott McBrayer, right foreground. The meeting’s business was disqualified by an absence of public notice and the commission tonight appointed James Ponseti as its committee representative. A special meeting will be scheduled to consider more far-reaching changes to the ordinance, including whether to grant community member seats on the panel. Photograph by the Homewood Star, Madoline Markham. See link to article below*

 

The meeting included an extended discussion about the role and procedures for the newly established Community Development Review Committee, a 5-member review panel mandated by the new “form-based” zoning passed a year ago for 22 parcels in West Homewood which dictate the appearance, size and other aesthetic elements of new or redeveloped buildings along Oak Grove Road and Oxmoor Road.

The commissioners for the first time tonight expressed reservations about implementing the ordinance as it was passed, specifically questioning a clause allowing automatic approval of variances after 21 days of panel inaction.  Commissioners voted to appoint member James Ponseti to serve as the commission’s representative to the CDRC, with co-chair Mike Brandt as alternate (the ordinance sets forth membership by city office:  council member, mayor or his designee, fire marshal, Planning Commission member, and city zoning office representative) However, it put off until another meeting considering changes such as including two citizen members on the committee. Councilman Fred Hawkins recommended that the council make the committee advisory to the BZA.

The discussion is being driven no doubt by the first application submitted under the district–to rebuild and reconfigure an existing EconoLodge motel to a four-story extended stay hotel, and eventually add a mixed-use building and even a new road. Residents were hit with revelations about the plan last moth on the heels of the city’s decision to relocate an electronic billboard to Oxmoor Road without public disclosure.

See more detail under the case, below.

Tonight’s two other cases involved submission of the (Mike and Dianne) Kendrick family subdivision plat for final approval and a change to a development plan for a mixed-use property near the Creative Montessori School.

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

Members absent: Mike Brandt, vice-chairman, and Mark Woods.

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

Audience attendance: 9

All votes were unanimous.

The map shows the final division of property belonging to Dianne Kendrick, wife of Homewood's city attorney. The division allows multiple residences, to be used at first for Kendrick family members.

The map shows the final division of property belonging to Dianne Kendrick, wife of Homewood’s city attorney. The division allows multiple residences, to be used at first for Kendrick family members. Click to enlarge.

Approved minutes of the April 7, 2015, Planning Commission meeting.

Approved a final property subdivision for city attorney’s family: The commission approved the subdivision of property located at 1051 Columbiana Road owned by Dianne Kendrick, wife of city attorney Mike Kendrick. Mr. Kendrick, who was present, explained that certain setback changes had been approved administratively (met the law) and the Commission had no changes to consider.

During the public hearing, a neighbor raised questions about the setback changes, and Mr. Kendrick indicated those changes on the subdivision map.

This project had come before the Planning Commission during its meeting in July 2014 when the Kendricks were granted waivers of street and curb requirements. The Kendricks plan to use the 2-acre, 3-lot property as a family compound, but there are no restrictions to prevent nonfamily members from purchasing any of the lots in the future.

Approved another change to a mixed-use development plan near Central Avenue: Tonight’s change relates to the development plan for 1659 28th Avenue South, a single lot located near Creative Montessori School. The property owner had plans to build a residence on the front of the property and a retail shop in back. The case has drawn criticism during visits before the Planning Commission and council several, including as recently as October 2014. Tonight the owner asked to reduce business parking from 4 spots to 3 in order allow more green space next to the house.

During the public hearing, a neighbor expressed concern about increased traffic on 28th Avenue, saying there was a problem with speeding and with using the street as a short cut from Central to Valley Avenue. Mr. Hawkins encouraged him to bring the issue to the council’s Public Safety Committee.

Decorative light posts, and construction for streetscapes and angled parking are slated for this section of Oak Grove Road. A proposed deli and bar are asking the council for tax abatements up to $6,000 over several years to counteract the inconvenience.

Decorative light posts, and construction for streetscapes and angled parking are slated for this section of Oak Grove Road in the new West Homewood District. Owners of a proposed deli and bar are asking the council for tax abatements up to $6,000 over several years to counteract the inconvenience.

Appointed a commission representative and alternate to the West Homewood District’s Community Development Review Committee, etc. The last item tonight was a request to amend the Community Development Review Committee (CDRC) for West Homewood to include two “At-Large Committee members, to be recommended by the Ward 2 Council representatives and approved by City Council, and other amendments.” Most commission members agreed that there were implementation issues relating to the ordinance, which is intended to bring “form based” zoning to 22 parcels in West Homewood.

As was explained in a 2013 informational meeting, a “form-based code” is designed to replace current use-based zoning regulations by providing developers specific  building prototypes that would create a more pleasing, uniform and pedestrian-friendly look and function to commercial buildings and areas. The transformation would likely take place over 20 years or more as buildings changed ownership or use.

Although commission members tended to agree that the new goals were desirable, almost all expressed reservations about provisions in the existing ordinance, which was based on model language provided by the Regional Planning Commission. They had concerns about the required closing time for restaurants (9 pm), the provision for automatic approval of applications not acted on in 21 days, and possible confusion about the role of the CDRC versus the roles of staff and the Board of Zoning Adjustments. They agreed that the ordinance needed further study and revision, and they voted to set a special meeting for about two weeks hence, TBA, when they hoped to have more time to discuss the issues and seek input from the city attorney, Engineering, Planning and Zoning Department staff, and a representative of the Regional Planning Commission.

In the interim, they chose Planning Commission member James Ponseti to serve as the Commission’s representative to the CDRC, with co-chair Mike Brandt as an alternate.

Commissioners took no action with respect to amending the CDRC to add two at-large members recommended by Ward 2 representatives and chosen by the Council; rather, they discussed recommending that the Council fill those vacancies in the same way that it chooses other Board positions.

*Link to Homewood Star article about the Monday meeting http://thehomewoodstar.com/news/developer-residents-discuss-details-for-econo-lodge-propert-0504/

Adjourned 7:05 pm.

City Council, April 27, 2015

ServisFirst's headquarter is currently at 850 Shades Creek Parkway, across from Brookwood Village

ServisFirst’s headquarter is currently at 850 Shades Creek Parkway, across from Brookwood Village

The city council barely had a quorum while it passed a tax incentive package of historic proportions to woo ServisFirst bank headquarters and operations facility to the Woodcrest office park area near Embassy Suites. Supporters point to the investment at an entry point to the city and, rather nonspecifically, to the bank’s impact on adjacent Rosedale neighborhood. But those numbers didn’t impress Ward 5 representative Peter Wright, who announced his intention to vote no before the vote was called, saying it set a bad precedent and sent the wrong message to existing corporate citizens. Under the plan, the city has agreed to not collect property taxes on the building for 20 years, a value estimated at well over $1 million, according to Mr. Wright, but which would be offset by yearly payments from the bank of $30,000.

In a case of locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen, the city is proposing a ban on digital billboards, now that a hotly contested two-sided digital billboard has been removed from Lakeshore Drive and installed at K-Mart,

In a case of locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen, the city is proposing a ban on digital billboards, now that a hotly contested two-sided digital billboard has been removed from Lakeshore Drive and installed at K-Mart,

The fury of residents over installation of an enormous digital billboard, first on Lakeshore Drive and later relocated to Oxmoor Road, prompted a proposal to ban digital billboards altogether. A hearing is set May 11. In another action, the city will terminate a lease on a parking lot it owns near Green Springs Highway in order to remove a Lamar Sign Co. billboard there.

Members present: Britt Thames, Walter Jones, Heather Reid, Peter Wright, and Bruce Limbaugh, council president. Richard Laws came in midway through the meeting. Fred Hawkins left midway through the meeting to hold a conference in the hallway, and wasn’t present for many of the votes. Also present was Mayor Scott McBrayer.

Members absent: Michael Hallman, Vance Moody, Patrick McClusky. and Barry Smith. Richard Laws was absent at roll call and several initial votes.

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: 31

Board vacancies: There are six applicants so far for the Ward 5 Board of Education vacancy. Interview schedules will be set and posted next week. The application period ends Thursday, April 29.

Approved minutes of the March 6 and March 16, 2015 meetings.

CONSENT AGENDA

Dropped a request to review security procedures at City Hall until a police report is made. A report is being prepared for Mr. Jones, apparently on some city hall incident, by the person assigned to the building’s security.

OLD BUSINESS AGENDA

The EconoLodge on Oxmoor and Cobb Street has proposed redeveloping a portion of the property as a four-story extended-stay hotel, requiring several variances under the new West Homewood District village form. Revelations about the plan, and its extent, have created a furor in the surrounding neighborhood.

The EconoLodge on Oxmoor Road and Cobb Street has proposed redeveloping a portion of the property as a four-story extended-stay hotel, requiring several variances under the new West Homewood District code. Revelations about the plan, and the extent of the full expansion plan, have spsarked a furor in the surrounding neighborhood.

Approved, with a promise of more changes to come, a design review panel and by-laws for the new West Homewood District: The council approved a five-person Community Development Review Committee to rule on any variances sought by businesses redeveloping in the new West Homewood District, and mandated in the establishing ordinance. The district was set up a year ago based on codes that reflect building appearance and form rather than use, as in traditional zoning.

In recent days the committee has come under fire for lacking independence from city hall (membership includes the mayor, fire marshal, planning commission member, city engineer, and council member), familiarity with variance procedures and community representation after a motel applied for several variances to redevelop in the district. In response, and because so much time had elapsed since the motels’ application, Mr. Hawkins proposed passing the CDRC unchanged to hear the motel case without delay but “inviting two or three” people from the community to sit in on the proceedings. The zoning ordinance meanwhile would be amended to make the committee advisory to the Board of Zoning Adjustments, which already hears zoning variance requests. Mr. Hawkins proposed that those amendments could also allow the “at-large” community members to become voting members. Click here to read details from the last meeting.

In a process that could take up to two months, Mr. Hawkins’ suggestions will be referred to the city’s Planning Commission before returning to the city council for final approval.

Mr. Laws entered the meeting at this point.

A cardboard model of the new ServisFirst headquarters. Few were on hand to vote on the historic property tax abatement, valued at a cost to the city of well over $1 million in lost taxes over 20 years.

A cardboard model of the new ServisFirst headquarters. Few were on hand to vote on the historic property tax abatement, valued at a cost to the city of well over $1 million in lost taxes over 20 years.

Approved, with two dissenting votes, a hefty incentive for a ServisFirst bank headquarters and operations center near Rosedale: The council, with a bare quorum attending, passed a 20-year abatement of property taxes to bring the ServisFirst bank headquarters to Homewood, but not before Mr. Wright announced he could not support such a large waiver of property tax, which he estimated to be well over $1 million.

Mr. Jones asked if the incentive package could be adjusted to win his vote, but he declined. The project brings to Homewood a corporate headquarters of Alabama’s second largest bank to the Woodcrest office park area near Embassy Suites. There will be 150-200 employees at first and eventually as many as 350. The HQ currently is on Lakeshore Drive across from Brookwood Village, but not in Homewood.

ServisFirst's headquarter is currently at 850 Shades Creek Parkway, across from Brookwood Village

ServisFirst’s headquarter is currently at 850 Shades Creek Parkway, across from Brookwood Village

The bank’s operations center will eventually be merged at the new office site. A presentation by Brian Giattina for the architects emphasized that the new building would improve an entry point to the city. The bank will be investing $700,000 toward substantial site improvements, he said.

Before the vote, Ms. Reid asked that the incentive package be non-transferable if the bank is sold or merged with another business, without city council approval.

Without elaborating, Mr. Thames and others praised the bank, particularly for its positive effect on Rosedale. “They will impact the properties around there,”  Mr. Limbaugh said. Mr. Thames called the development an “impactful positive change for the area.”

Voting no: From Ward 5, Mr. Laws, and Mr. Wright, saying the $1 million-plus incentive was too great, sets a dangerous precedent and “sends the wrong message to existing corporate citizens.”

Mr. Hawkins left the meeting for good at this point to talk to a person from the audience and several others in the hall.

Approved six changes to the city’s Zoning Book: Going back to a February Planning Commission meeting, when they were introduced, these six changes to the zoning book were finally passed by the council tonight. Here they are in a nutshell:

  • Clarified the definition of  the “front of a corner lot,” to distinguish between the actual front with the address, and the exposed side of the house, which the zone book also referred to as a “front” side.
  • Simplified residential setbacks at 10 feet on each side for houses over 66 feet wide. The current percentage method of figuring the setback is too difficult to calculate on irregular  lots.
  • The changes eliminate the required 20-foot fire lane clearance between second floors on adjacent houses, and also offer homeowners options for building second floors without “stepping in” the second floor 10-feet from the ground floor. The proposed change keeps the 10-foot step-in requirement, but offers homeowners the option of building straight up with non-combustible materials or furnishing interior sprinklers instead.
  • Imposed uniform setbacks for accessory buildings, making it 5 feet for one-story structures and 10 feet for two-story structures. The previous method was based on square footage.
  • Allowed HVAC equipment to be installed in a setback area as a matter of law. A reinterpretation of the code last year has sent numerous homeowners in front of the BZA for a variance to allow air conditioning equipment. The change eliminates the need for a variance.
  • Clarify the wording that requires businesses to enclose waste receptacles.
Gone are the hillybilly letters and the bucktoothed cariacture of "Ollie" in the bargain store's sign, approved tonight.

Gone are the hillbilly letters and the bucktoothed caricature of “Ollie” in the bargain store’s sign, approved tonight.

Approved a more sedate sign for Ollie’s bargain store while still granting variances: The council, leery of further offending West Homewood residents in the aftershock of moving the digital billboard to Oxmoor Road from Lakeshore Drive, had asked the discounter on April 13 to reconsider its hillbilly-inspired sign and slogan, “Good Stuff Cheap” when it asked for sign variances at the last meeting. Ollies representatives dropped the Ollie character and the slogan from its sign, also choosing a more straightforward typeface. The variances passed.

Carried over a consultant’s plan for a Road Pavement Management System:  Volkert Engineers has pitched a $40,000 plan to help prolong the life of 125 miles of city streets through a varied schedule of resurfacing, sealing, repaving, and other treatments. The $40,000 covers the company’s work to rate the streets and recommend the schedule. The project may qualify for a federal grant with a 20% local contribution and was held over to identify funding sources.

Voted to support the following five state ABC board license applications: 1) A restaurant retail liquor license for Machetes Mexican Restaurant, 406 West Valley Avenue; 2) An off-premises retail beer and wine liecense for a Texaco station convenience store at 208 Oxmoor Road; 3) An off-premises retail beer license for Alabama Goods, 2933 18th Street South; 4) An off-premises retail beer and wine license for Neighborhood Hops and Vine, 1712 28th Avenue South. This request was previously dropped for non-compliance with the C-4 Central Business District zoning; an adjustment to the business plan brought the business into compliance; and 5) A restaurant retail liquor license for the management company of Aloft Hotel, 1903 29th Avenue South. 

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.

The shop has closed and the property sold. Tonight, the council terminated a lease with the owner on an adjacent parking lot, allowing the city to evict a Lamar Sign Company billboard on the proeprty, and renegotiate a sale price with a remaining tenant.

Terminated a parking lot lease for the former Garden Shop of Homewood location: The story is complicated. Garden Shop of Homewood owner Pam Clark recently closed her business and sold the building on Oxmoor Road near Green Springs Highway; the transaction involved the adjacent city-owed parking lot, which Ms. Clark was leasing and on which stood a Lamar Sign Company billboard, also leasing the ground. The council tonight voted to terminate the lease, which will allow it to take down the billboard, and to re-negotiate a lease after the property is appraised.

Mr. Limbaugh said the city had purchased the property 10 years ago for $275,000 and a building tenant had recently offered $25,000 for it in a lease/purchase deal. The action tonight postpones any further negotiation until the property is appraised.

Passed franchise agreement: The agreement reassigns the city’s franchise per Access Fiber Group’s acquisition agreement with Crown Castle NG East LLC

Approved a study of a city-wide bike-sharing program: The vote tonight approved a feasibility study, at no cost to the city, to study implementing a bike share program promoted by the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham.  

Scrapped a bid for Tasers: The council voted to reject all bids received earlier this evening, allowing the police chief to negotiate a price. No details given.

Approved an agreement for acquiring Right-of-Way for the Greenway Trail extension.

Approved a request to work in the ROW on State Farm Parkway: No details. The work will be done near 225 State Farm Parkway.

Announced two May 11 public hearings: Two previously set public hearings for May 11 were reiterated, one to rezone the Southern Progress properties acquired by Samford University from PCD, Planned Commercial District, to I-3, Institutional, and another hearing before voting on a request to rezone a building at 2814 Linden Avenue from C-4, Central Business District to I-2, for a satellite of Church of the Advent.

COMMITTEE REFERRAL AGENDA

PATRIOTPARKING

Looking north on Oak Grove Road by Patriot Park, where streetscaping, lighting and parking improvements have been earmarked in the cit budget. Someone is making a pitch to develop a city-owned lot on the corner.

To Finance – To consider the following: 1) Ordinances allowing the county to assess and collect property taxes, and to allow homestead exemptions discounting those assessments; 2) A telecommunications franchise/right-of-way agreement for Windstream KDL LLC to provide service to Samford University; 3) A telecommunications franchise/right-of-way agreement from Southern Light; 4) A presentation to purchase city property by Patriot Park; 5) Dropping a probation services contract with Judicial Correction Services, Inc. and entering a new agreement with Freedom Probation Services, Inc.; 6) Amending the FY2014-15 (current) General and Special Revenue Budgets; and 7) A mid-year review of city spending compared to the budget.

To Planning and Development – To consider a petition to annex property at 1616 Forest Ridge Road.

To Public Safety – To consider prohibiting parking 50 feet from the intersection of East Edgewood Drive and Roseland Drive.

To Public Works: To consider ways of addressing inadequate street cuts and repairs by the Birmingham Water Works Board.

OTHER NEW BUSINESS

Massive digital billboard screen before installation at Lakeshore Drive, earlier this year.

Massive digital billboard screen before installation at Lakeshore Drive, earlier this year.

Set a May 11 public hearing to consider amending the city’s sign ordinance to ban electronic billboards: Protests over a digital billboard installed on Jefferson County land near Homewood houses on Lakeshore Drive prompted such an outcry the city agreed to help the sign owner relocate the billboard within Homewood but a “more appropriate spot,” behind K-Mart off Oxmoor Road. Residents in that neighborhood have answered with protests of their own and questions about the city’s undercover actions on behalf of the billboard owner. Tonight the city set a hearing before amending the sign ordinance to ban digital billboards.

The billboard matter also prompted an annexation drive, below. 

Passed a resolution asking the state representatives from Jefferson County to annex certain lands into Homewood:  The resolution asks the Jefferson County delegation to adopt legislation annexing seven “islands” of unincorporated Jefferson County property located on Homewood’s city limits. The move requires four weeks’ published notice before action can be taken. Notice was first published one week ago.

Agreed to explore a project for sidewalks and streetscaping on 18th Street: The resolution passed tonight is to apply for streetscaping and sidewalk improvements with ALDOT and engineering firm Goodwyn, Mills, Cawood. Mr. Thames said the resolution and application set the process in motion but doesn’t commit the city to completing the project if it decides not to.

Paid the bills: Invoices were approved to be paid for the period April 13-24, 2015.

FY2014 Audit — Finance Committee, awaiting final version

At 140 days, the city is still at the "healthy" level for the amount of time it can operate on available funds in the bank. Here's a historic chart for comparison.

At 140 days, the city is still at the “healthy” level for the amount of time it can operate on available funds in the bank. Here’s an historic chart for comparison. click to enlarge.

At a Finance Committee meeting on March 2, 2015, the audit firm Carr Riggs & Ingram made a draft report of its FY2014 audit of city finances. The auditor’s remarks are summarized below, with brief notes from the meeting, and five charts, see below.

The report is not complete, however, until the city submits its Management Discussion and Analysis, at which point the audit should be presented to the whole council at a public meeting.  [Update: The Finance Director said there would be no additional presentation. The draft presentation will stand without change when they have finished reviewing the MD&A document.]

Until the MD&A is available, and since the draft document is 30+ pages, presented here are the bulleted remarks from the auditor, copies of the five financial charts, and a link to the city Finance Director’s  “Litmus Test” report, and Excel file, showing how well the financial statements compared with city-adopted Fiscal Policies. The Capital Fund reserves have been red-flagged as being out of compliance without a transfer of funds.

FROM THE AUDITOR

  • The auditor presented an “unqualified audit opinion,” the most common and highest possible, meaning the auditor had no reservations about the city’s presentation of financial information, that it is credible and a true statement of fact.
  • The statements show that the city ended FY2014 with a $410,000 surplus after paying one-time bonuses to employees. The surplus was higher than anticipated because of maintaining vacant employee positions and better-than-expected revenue for that year.
  • The city has a gross 315 days of operating expenses available. A rule of thumb is to have at least 90 days available. After adjusting for revenues already committed, the city has 140 days of operating expenses available, which is still “healthy” according to that rule of thumb, he said.
  • Of continuing concern, and of no surprise to the auditors or council, is the level of “Unfunded Liabilities” for employee pensions. For the latest actuarial period available — through 2013–the “actuarial value” of city assets was $52.4 million versus $85.6 million of liability, resulting in an Unfunded Liability of $33.3 million, or 61.1 percent.
  • Under “Post-Employment Benefits,” the city has $1.1 million of unfunded liabilities. The auditor said other cities the firm works with are in similar positions.
  • Next year, under accounting standards, the Unfunded Liabilities will be subtracted from the city’s net position on the audit report. (This upcoming accounting change has been publicized yearly to clients over several years now.) For example, the 2014 Statement of Net Position is $80,618,875. Next year that number will drop by about $30 million. “It will be a huge shock to the lay reader,” he said.
  • The auditor highly recommended, with a caution, setting up an irrevocable trust and contributing to it to meet the increasing financial demands of the defined pension plans. That said, the city must be careful about contributing money to such a fund, because it could not be withdrawn to cover other expenses. School boards face the same change in accounting standards that will starkly reveal financial vulnerabilities.
  • Other concerns–Every year the auditors note that there should be more segregation of Homewood’s financial duties, i.e., the Finance Director is directly responsible for too many tasks. Until more staff are hired, the auditor said the council can counterbalance this weakness by being aware of it, and holding frequent oversight meetings.

FROM THE CITY FINANCE DIRECTOR

The increase of unfunded retirement liabilities is a concern, but not one Homewood is dealing with alone: many cities don't have the funds on hand to pay out retirement benefits if every single employee were to make a claim right now. That's not likely, but the city must find ways to keep the contributions at a workable level.

The increase of unfunded retirement liabilities is a concern, but not one Homewood is dealing with alone: many cities don’t have the funds on hand to pay out retirement benefits if every single employee were to make a claim today, according to the auditor. That’s not likely, but the city must find ways to keep pace with pension commitments. Click to enlarge.

Litmus test

Fiscal policy analysisFYE2014  Finance Director Melody Salter presented a printed spreadsheet report, linked here, showing how well the city’s positions compare to its Fiscal Policies. A little background:  In 2013, the city council, at the mayor’s request, changed some of those policies, such as shortening the timeline for preparing the budget and presenting it to the council, eliminating a yearly public forum for capital projects, etc. One of the changes was to reduce the required minimum balance in the Capital Fund Reserves from $1 million to $750,000. According to the Litmus Test, the city is falling short of the new standard.

This screen grab gives an idea of the funds out of compliance with the city's self-imposed fiscal policies. To see the entire spreadsheet and notes, click the link.

This screen grab gives an idea of the funds out of compliance with the city’s self-imposed fiscal policies. To see the entire spreadsheet and notes, click the link.

Ms. Salter has red-flagged this item, saying the city will have $205,404 in the fund if it spends as budgeted through the end of this budget year, on Sept. 30, 2015. Please follow the link above to see all her notes.

GENERAL FUND TAX REVENUES 2009-14 Click to enlarge.

(You can find audits up through FY2013 on the city’s website, under Your Government, Financial Reports.)

 

 

 

 

OPERATING EXPENSES paid from the general fund. This is the main fund, but not the only one, the city uses.

OPERATING EXPENSES paid from the general fund. This is the main fund, but not the only one, the city uses. Click to enlarge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GENERAL FUND BALANCE AS OF SEPT. 30, 2014

GENERAL FUND BALANCE AS OF SEPT. 30, 2014 Click to enlarge.