An architect for the Exceptional Foundation Monday night made clear to a council Planning & Development Committee and 15 residents that he had already gone beyond the call of duty in explaining the Foundation’s expansion plans, and was weary of appearing before various Homewood boards to talk about final touches on a design that was still in the infant stages. Despite the 90-minute March 31 hearing in which residents and council members asked about a laundry list of modifications to planned traffic flow, buffer height, tree preservation, a gated entrance, etc. — none of those suggestions is legally binding if the property is granted a rezoning at the April 14 council meeting, he said.
To drive his point home, architect Craig Rogers read aloud from the city’s zoning code, pointing out that with less than 3 acres of land and just one building, the project was only required to have a simple site plan–not a development plan. A site plan, he read, contained nothing more than information about shapes and dimensions of existing structures, easements, proposed parking, ingress and egress. Although he had agreed to provide more information at the request of city zoning staff, all that was really at stake for the council, he said, was to decide if it wanted the Exceptional Foundation to remain in Homewood, because it must expand.
Nevertheless, the architect said he had considered Mr. Jones’ suggestion to reverse a planned one-way drive off Oxmoor Road so that traffic would instead enter from Bridge Lane, then come through the shared rec center parking lot to the new entrance. Such a modification would require making the drive two-way for exiting traffic, which would take up building space and reduce the width of a buffer screen.
Mr. Rogers’ remarks opened the committee meeting set by the council March 31 when it heard the Exceptional Foundation’s request to rezone two residences for a building expansion. The nonprofit Foundation provides recreational services to special needs children and adults from across Jefferson County. Its bid to expand is based on rezoning from NPD (Neighborhood Preservation District) to I-2 (Institutional) two houses it has contracted to buy at 1610 and 1612 Oxmoor Road. The Planning Commission voted 7-1 to recommend the rezoning, but the City Council last week failed to get unanimous consent to vote on the first reading, prompting a courtesy referral to committee to look further at the plan. About 15 residents showed up for the promised deliberations , which started 45 minutes late at 7:15 p.m.
Following Mr. Rogers’ remarks, chairman Peter Wright invited residents to make further comments if they wished. Five residents took turns speaking, four opposing the plan, including a member of the city’s historical preservation commission, Wayne Thomason, and one who spoke in favor of giving the growing Foundation more room to expand–teacher and park board member Becky Morton. Those opposed cited the historic nature of the “rock” house that would be removed; the irreversibility of the rezoning; and the changed, institutional feel of the street that had already given way to several Dawson church expansions. Another resident asked why the Foundation threatened to leave the city instead of considering space in better zoning situations, perhaps even with the school board. He also questioned the reliability of the Foundation’s concept plan, since there was no commitment to abide by it.
A final speaker asked if there were any undisclosed funding agreements among the city, park board and Exceptional Foundation, saying that the plan seemed to benefit the rec center’s need for shared parking. [The Foundation has said it would close on the houses once the rezoning was approved, then deed the property to the city of Homewood, which already owns the ground under the current building. The three parcels would be resurveyed into a single lot and leased to the Foundation for a nominal amount per year.] Mr. Kendrick said the resurvey merely satisfied legal requirements to build onto a single parcel under one ownership. He scoffed at the question about hidden agreements, calling it “mumbo jumbo” and saying there was nothing whatsoever clandestine about the arrangement.
Mr. Wright brought the meeting to a close as comments became more heated. In a 3-0-1 vote, (Hallman abstaining) the committee sent the matter with no further recommendation to the council’s April 14 meeting, where it comes up for a final vote without additional public comment.
Committee members present: Peter Wright, Michael Hallman, Fred Hawkins and Heather Reid. Also present were council president Bruce Limbaugh, Walter Jones, Britt Thames, and Jenifer Champ Wallace.
Committee members absent: Patrick McClusky, chairman.
Staff present: City clerk Linda Cook, city attorney Mike Kendrick, Vanessa McGrath and Greg Cobb, Building, Engineering and Zoning Department.
Audience attendance: About 15 for the P&D committee.