Planning Commission, July 9, 2013

planning & zoning(1)The long meeting was spent hammering out the fine points of two major redevelopment projects, the Final Development Plan for the Homewood Board of Education and the West Homewood Redevelopment Plan (West Homewood Village). The West Homewood plan and alternative “form-based code” was added to the Homewood Master Plan, while zoning changes from the plan were added to the city’s general zoning ordinances.

The opening image of a video promoting the West Homewood Redevelopment Plan. Click on image for link to video.

The opening image of a video promoting the West Homewood Redevelopment Plan. Click here to link to the video.  [It was brought to my attention Aug. 7 that the RPC was upset this PR video had been circulated prior to a commission’s planned public relations announcement. This link has been taken down by the RPC.]

All votes were unanimous.

Members present:  Billy Higginbotham, Chairman, Mike Brandt, Fred Azbik,  Battalion Chief McCombs, Fred Hawkins, James Riddle and Mark Woods

Members absent:  Joe Falconer, James Ponseti

Staff present:  Donna Bridges – secretary; Building, Engineering and Zoning staff Vanessa McGrath and Greg Cobb, department manager

Audience attendance:  3

Approved:   Minutes of the June 4th, 2013 minutes.

Approved:  The Final Development Plan for the demolished Magnolia Apartment complex on the Homewood Board of Education as it relates to demolition and re-grading.  An architect with Williams Blackstock Architects spoke on behalf of the school board.

The architect spoke briefly, outlining the  project priorities as, 1) Installation of a  pedestrian sidewalk along Valley Avenue from the Homewood Middle School to Clermont Drive; 2. Installation of a protective fence along Valley, and 3) Construction of a  central office building.

Several on the commission asked if the board intended to “clean-up” the slabs left after over from the apartment demolition, which are now exposed and covered with graffiti, saying the current state of the property needed improvement.  The original plan included moving a running track to the apartment site, however, schools superintendent Bill Cleveland  said the project scope had been reduced by unforeseen obstacles and costs–such as a $300,000 expense to remove a culvert, and inability to reach the slab with a vehicle–and was limited now to the three priorities listed.  He said the board will bid out a clean-up project for the slab area on August 6th in order to know alternate costs and options.

Dr. Cleveland cited a time frame of 2-3 years to complete the entire project, to be accomplished within three phases at a cost of $8 million. The new central office building will be 14,000 square feet, or twice the size of the current building on Hollywood Boulevard.  (The board could not meet the recent deadline for a federal grant that may have funded the Valley Avenue sidewalk; that project was dropped but later put back into the plan.)

Another of the project phases includes a cross-country trail for Homewood students to use.  (There are currently 180 runners and two Homewood school track teams won first and second place this year).  Dr. Cleveland said this phase and any plans for parking, restrooms, and other buildings would first need to come before the planning commission.

After discussion, and with no public comment made during the hearing, Mr. Brandt moved to approve the plan.

Approved: An amendment to the City of Homewood Master Plan to include the West Homewood Neighborhood Plan (West Homewood Village).

The Regional Planning Commission presented a video explaining the need for the development plan for West Homewood, which had taken into account merchant and resident input.  The video referred to a website for more information:  www.westhomewoodplan.com.

A resident of West Homewood, Kyle D’Agostino, asked if the city could decide in advance on a design for any building to be constructed as the “catalyst project” on the city-owned property on Oak Grove Road/Oxmoor Road. The renderings currently show a three-sided building as a model, but the form-based code would allow a developer to choose from several templates, and Mr. D’Agostino was concerned about the quality of this initial project.  However, commission members thought it was unlikely that the city will develop the property, and issues like this could be addressed as needed at a public hearing in the future.

A second concern of D’Agostino’s was the viability of the roundabout in the separate, but related, Oxmoor Road re-design by the Alabama Department of Transportation. Mr. D’Agostino felt the roundabout was unnecessary, and he was told the plan wasn’t final and may be “tweaked” with further suggestions by residents and the planning commission.

A motion to approve was made by Mike Brandt, seconded by James Riddle. The planning commission has the final approval for any master plan or development plan, although plans like this one may go before the council for final approval along with any  related budget items and zoning changes.

Approved.  Request to add zoning regulations from the new West Homewood Redevelopment Plan form-based code into the section on District Uses in the General Code. 

There was no public comment made about the form-based code or zoning changes.  Discussion focused on  Article 1.1.4 Process detailing the Community Development Review Committee to oversee and interpret the code standards.  The “City Engineer,” position listed with that responsibility was replaced with “City Planner” a comparable position existing in the city of Homewood. The city planner’s” authority must include approval by a member of the Engineering, Building and Zoning Department.

Homewood Battalion Chief McCombs asked to address a change to Article 1.1.6 “Non-Conforming Structures and Use,” saying business owners of nonconforming (grandfathered) structures should be required to come into compliance over a reasonable time period so the area could be uniformly developed and improved.  After a 30 minute discussion, several issues were clarified:  1)  Wording was changed to specify “renovations” as “50% or greater of square footage of either the use or the structure within an accumulation of seven  years;” 2) The time frame before taking action on abandoned property was lengthened from six months to one year, and 3) The definition of “abandoned”  was further specified as “forsaken by owner–commencing when power or water is turned off.”  With these changes added, Mr. Riddle made the motion to approve.

The request must go before the city council in the form of an ordinance for final approval.

The meeting adjourned at 8:00 PM.

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