Parking was the problem in two cases tonight that pit business and institutional interests against those of neighborhoods, one located on Broadway and one on Oxmoor Road. On Broadway, the stampeding popularity of GianMarco’s restaurant has created years of parking problems that only worsened with the opening last year of JoJo’s neighborhood bar, and will worsen still further with GianMarco’s planned expansion. Commissioners nevertheless voted against a request to rezone a vacant residential lot across the road for more parking. The proposed parking lot was the very same property that 250+ residents last year tried to convert into a different kind of park–the kind with grass and flowers and trees. Vocal opposition to the gravel lot plan no doubt played a part in tonight’s decision. The council, however, has the final say when it is heard Monday, Feb. 10. [Update Feb. 26, 2014–Applicant LAH Realty for vacant-lot owner David Heeter withdrew the request, which normally would go before the City Council.]
The Exceptional Foundation, meanwhile, got a favorable (but not unanimous) recommendation to rezone two neighboring houses to demolish for parking and expansion. The EF leases ground owned by the city for its current building, but the city’s new and expanded rec center is pushing the limits of the shared parking space and access problems on an already busy section of Oxmoor Road. For more detail, read the decisions, below.
Members present: All – Bill Higginbotham, Mike Brandt, Fred Azbik, Joe Falconer, Fred Hawkins, James Ponseti, James Riddle and Mark Woods.
Staff present: Greg Cobb and Vanessa McGrath, Building, Planning & Zoning and Staff, Donna Bridges, board secretary. Also present was city attorney Mike Kendrick.
Audience attendance: 50 to start.
The city council may vote to accept a planning commission recommendation or to override it.
Official PC minutes approved later http://www.homewoodal.net/pcminutes.php?id=February%204,%202014
Approved on an 7-1 split vote: The commission voted in favor of rezoning from NPD (neighborhood preservation district) to I-2 (Institutional) two residential lots at 1610 and 1612 Oxmoor Road and to resurvey those two lots along with 1616 Oxmoor Road (the EF current address) into a single for the foundation’s expansion. The Exceptional Foundation is currently located on city-owned land adjacent to the Homewood rec center at Homewood’s Central Park. Wanting to expand its building and add parking, the foundation’s plan involves buying the two adjoining lots and donating them to the city, which will in turn lease the additional land to the Foundation.
The case had been carried over after residents requested a traffic survey to see how this expansion would impact traffic or if it would require turn lanes. The survey, however, indicated that there would be no additional traffic created by the expansion, as the Foundation does not plan to add clients. The extra parking would be assigned to the Foundation only during its usual hours of operation (9 a.m. – 4 p.m. approximately.) The Foundation plans to pay for a sidewalk along Oxmoor on the expanded footprint, in case the city decides to put in sidewalks on that side of the street. Foundation officials agreed to raze the adjacent vacant house within 30 days of closing and the occupied house as soon as possible after the tenant vacates, according to the terms of that lease.
The Foundation’s plans depend on conducting a capital campaign to raise the money for the new building. If the money can’t be raised, the Foundation made a proffer to convert the demolished residential properties to green space. Four residents spoke against the rezoning, saying 1) It was not in keeping with the city’s Master Plan; 2) It will cause a decline in residential property values; 3) The expansion, along with the rec center expansion, will dramatically increase and change traffic patterns; and 4) The request is premature because EF has neither closed on the properties nor raised the money for the new building.
Voting no: Mr. Woods voted no, and gave no explanation.
Unanimously rejected: Rezoning of a lot at 800 Saulter Road (aka Short Saulter) from NPD (neighborhood preservation district) to C-2. (commercial). The issues surrounding this area are longstanding. In this case, Giani Respinto, the owner of GianMarco’s restaurant on Broadway, planned to alleviate his restaurant’s parking problems by purchasing a vacant lot a block away to use for parking, with valet service, and allowing the other retailers next door to use it as well. The lot would accommodate 57 parking spaces.
The restaurant wants to expand into the adjacent antique store, which will increase parking problems even further. The restaurant has 27 employees. Fifteen people spoke on this issue. Four were in favor and 11 were opposed.
In defense of the rezoning. Those in favor felt GianMarco’s brings value to the area and that denying the parking might cause the business to move and be replaced with a less desirable business. Several offered possible alternatives, such as using a vacant lot on Green Springs Highway with valet service (using the old Lovoy’s lot was one suggestion). The son of the woman who owns the triangle property between GianMarco’s and the lot in question offered to sell her property to the city to use it for a park and a parking lot. He has reduced the asking price from $299,000 to $269,000.
In opposition to the plan. Those opposed voiced many concerns: Spot zoning; doesn’t meet the needs of the city’s Master Plan; parking lot lighting and traffic noise from the gravel lot would disrupt residential life; valets driving recklessly; the lot would decrease property values of surrounding houses, and the expanded restaurant still would not have enough parking.
The audience applauded and shouted as opponents stood up to speak. After the public hearing was closed, several commissioners made statements.
Commissioners weigh in. Mr. Woods said a parking lot had been built behind his house and he had to use black-out curtains in a bedroom because of the lights. Mr. Falconer, a real estate agent, said there were many properties in Homewood which would be suitable for GianMarco’s and he challenged the agent for the restaurant to find another location (this received loud applause). He also said the lot’s owner, David Heeter, had asked him last year to market the property–(a discussion that apparently didn’t blossom into an actual listing). Mr. Falconer said his advice at the time was to divide the lot and build two houses on them.
Before the negative vote, Mr. Hawkins (a council member and voting member of the Planning Commission) offered to work with the parties toward a solution he had in mind but didn’t disclose. This item was referred to the city council with a recommendation not to approve the rezoning. [Update Feb. 26, 2014 – Applicant LAH Realty for vacant-lot owner David Heeter withdrew the request, which normally would go before the City Council.]
The meeting was adjourned at 7:40 p.m.