City Council meeting, Dec. 15, 2014

Lawton Higgs appeals for more liberal transit funding while former councilman John Wright, foreground, listens.

Lawton Higgs appeals for more liberal transit funding during a pre-council Finance Committee meeting. Transit advocate and former councilman John Wright, foreground, listens.

After passing a hard-won and temporary reprieve of transit cuts, the council failed to deliver on a controversial brewery rezoning case–also temporary. When Michael Hallman voted no to an expedited passage of Joe Pilleteri’s proposed brew pub, council members showed their displeasure by scheduling a mid-afternoon meeting this Thursday to finish the deal. Also on Monday’s docket–a West Homewood-style rezoning plan is considered to help redevelop busy Reese Street; and funding is studied for a new Public Safety Complex.

Members present: Michael Hallman, Britt Thames, Fred Hawkins, Patrick McClusky, Walter Jones, Barry Smith, Heather Reid, Richard Laws, Peter Wright, and Bruce Mr. Limbaugh. Mayor Scott McBrayer was also present.

Members absent: Vance Moody

Staff present: City clerk Linda Cook, city attorney Mike Kendrick, and mayor’s chief of staff J. J. Bischoff.

Audience attendance: 25

Approved minutes of the Oct. 27, 2014, council meeting.

OLD BUSINESS

REESECROP

The brewery is slated to go in the former A&P building, colored yellow. The blue space indicates where a rare  wooded area was cleared to make way for Little Donkey restaurant parking. Critics of the brewery cite parking congestion in the area and down Reese Street, marked in red. In a separate matter, the council will be considering zoning changes to guide more attractive, pedestrian-friendly development along the Reese Street connection to downtown.

Denied immediate rezoning for a Central Avenue brewery:  Joseph Pilleteri has proposed developing a craft beer brewery and tavern at 2821 Central Avenue on a site shared by several businesses, requesting a rezoning from C-4 (commercial) to M-1 (light manufacturing) for a bottling operation he says will be added later. The rezoning was earlier recommended 5-1 by the Planning Commission and came to the council with a substantial land-area variance pre-approved by the Board of Zoning Adjustments. (Manufacturing zones require a 3-acre lot size minimum. The BZA approval would allow the operation on Central’s. 1.2-acre lot.)

IMG_5496

Random parking along Reese Street near the proposed brewery.

IMG_5502Two Crescent Avenue business owners, Mr. Joseph Fuller and Mr. Mark Ballard, spoke against the plan in the public hearing. Mr. Fuller objected to the lack of available parking, which he said had led owners of the Little Donkey restaurant to clear a wooded area for their customer parking. He objected also to an incomplete business plan from Mr. Pilleteri, and the proximity of another bar next to the Steel City Pops popsicle shop, which caters to minors. Mr. Ballard said he objected only to the location, where he said overflow parking up and down Reese Street creates a dangerous situation for pedestrians.

Speaking in favor of the plan were Mr. Pilleteri himself and a business partner, lawyer Brett Bloomston, who said Mr. Pilleteri was being deliberate and careful in his planning. The business has gotten the written support of two of three shared-parking businesses, Little Donkey and Steel City Pops. It was unclear, however, if the cafe/cocktail bar Octane supported the rezoning. Also speaking in favor was Kenneth Williams, who owns the converted grocery building—now used as a print shop—that would be redeveloped for the brewery.

IMG_5491

The former grocery building on Central Avenue is the proposed site of new craft beer brewer and bottling plant.

Mr. Pilleteri acknowledged that parking was a serious issue. However, he said he lacked only 7 parking spaces under the city’s zoning requirements, and would find a way to lease them. He said the tap-room, or tavern, was a key financial piece to making a brewery successful. The bottling operation would come later, he said.

There being no further discussion, the new zoning ordinance was given a first reading and a motion made to approve it without a second reading at a later meeting. That measure, however, failed to get the required “unanimous consent” of all council members on the first roll call vote. The council later (see below) scheduled a second meeting for Thursday, Dec. 18, at noon in order to vote pass  the measure.

Voting no: Mr. Hallman, citing the objections of neighboring business owners, voted against immediate consideration.

Approved transferring “up to $500,000” from the General Fund to Capital Fund Projects. No details given.

Declared computer equipment surplus: The council declared a 4-page list of computer equipment surplus and due to be auctioned.

Agreed to purchase a business ad: The vote approved placing an ad costing $2,000 in the trade journal Business Alabama magazine.

Passed unspecified budget changes to FY2014 budget General Fund and Special Revenue Fund.

Approved an extra street light on Highland Road.

Mayor Scott McBrayer says the transit funding is "not about money." Finance Committe members staunchly disagree.

Mayor Scott McBrayer says Homewood’s transit funding impasse is not about the money. Finance Comittee members staunchly disagree

Approved a provisional transit gap-funding measure: The council agreed to extend full funding to the Birmingham Jefferson Country Transit Authority through Jan. 31 while it continues deliberations on whether to restore full funding or affirm the 50% cuts made in September. Despite the cuts, the transit authority has maintained full service since the Oct. 1 start of the budget year, noting that midday service (10 a.m.-3 p.m.) would be eliminated beginning Dec. 22. The measure releases an additional $8,000 from three city budget funds to cover the cost of restoring mid-day service through Jan. 31.

COMMITTEE REFERRAL

In one vote the following new issues are referred to various committees for study:

To Finance: To consider 1) A bid opening date for new police vehicle equipment, and 2) Amend the current budget for certain encumbrances.

To Planning and Development: To consider changing zoning on Reese Street from traditional use zoning to a “form-based” code to guide redevelopment.

To Public Safety: To discuss a financial feasibility study for a new public safety complex.

OTHER NEW BUSINESS

ClasTran is awaiting new vehicles in January. If the council and transit authority board agree, the agency could be providing stop-gap paratransit service after mid-day service cuts go into effect Feb. 1

ClasTran could provide stop-gap paratransit service in Homewood if the council lets full MAX bus funding lapse after the Jan. 31 extension.

Approved 8-2 a provisional ClasTran contract for stop-gap paratransit services: The council already voted to extend MAX bus and corresponding paratransit services through Jan. 31. The ClasTran contract, however, would replace those midday paratransit services scheduled to be eliminated when full bus funding lapses Feb. 1. BJCTA authorities hope to head off such a decision in continuing talks in January, and the contract itself is also  subject to approval by the BJCTA board, which administers the agency’s federal transportation funding. Under the current funding circumstances, approval has been called into doubt. If passed by the transit board and signed by the mayor, the contract offers paratransit services at $154 per service day and $2 per ride for Homewood residents.

Voting no: Fred Hawkins and Barry Smith. Mr. Hawkins voted against the September transit cuts and has been a vocal supporter of restoring transit. Ms. Smith after the meeting that she had too many unanswered questions about the contract to vote yes.

The Planning Commission approved a preliminary development plan for a 10-story office building, a hotel and 5-level parking deck on the site of the old Mountain Brook Inn. Now it is asking for zoning changes to allow a fast-food business in the office building. Construction could begin this summer.

The Planning Commission approved a preliminary development plan for a 10-story office building, a hotel and 5-level parking deck on the site of the old Mountain Brook Inn. Now it is asking for zoning changes to allow a fast-food business in the office building. Construction could begin this summer.

Asked the Planning Commission to change certain zoning regulations to accommodate a new hotel: The council’s vote formerly requests the Planning Commission to consider changing the zoning ordinance to allow a fast-food business in the High Rise Office/Commercial (C4-b) zone. The wording would affect Article IV, “District Uses” in Section P. The office building is being developed with a hotel and parking deck on the former Mountain Brook Inn site off U.S. 280.

Paid the bills: The council authorized paying bills for Dec. 1-12, 2014.

Changed January 2014 meeting dates: The council will meet on Jan. 5 and Jan. 26, 2015, rather than on the second and fourth Mondays as usual.

Set a special called meeting to pass the brewery rezoning: A council majority showed its approval of the brewery development by scheduling a meeting on Thursday, Dec. 18, at noon for a second reading and vote. State law provides that ordinances have two separate readings before going to a vote unless every council member present agrees to expedite the process. Mr. Hallman’s no vote to such “unanimous consent” postponed a final decision to the next meeting. Council members reacted by calling the lunch-hour special meeting to vote their approval of the development.

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