The BZA unanimously voted to replace member Valerie Askew, who is present less than half the time, and to deny variances allowing an absentee property owner to divide and build two houses on a lot in Lake Ridge Estates.
But the most notable case in this long meeting involved granting variances for a 5-house development planned on the triangle of land between Short Saulter Road and across the street from a dry cleaners and corner bar on Broadway. Neighbors had lobbied the city en masse — and unsuccessfully –to purchase the property for a park, then campaigned successfully against two other developments–an office and proposed townhouses. Two neighbors spoke in favor of the latest idea, with one expressing reservations that the wooded, irregularly shaped lot had provided a welcome buffer between them and traffic, GianMarco’s, the dry cleaners, and JoJo’s bar and restaurant.
Members present: Brian Jarmon, Jeffrey Foster, Beverly LeBoeuf, Hope Cannon, Lauren Gwaltney, and new, but returning member, Ty Cole, representing Ward 3. Mr. Cole replaces Ross McCain, whose term had expired.
Members absent: Valerie Askew (S).
Staff present: Greg Cobb and Vanessa McGrath, Building, Engineering, and Zoning Department, Donna Bridges, board secretary.
Audience attendance: 22
*Note on procedure: By state law, zoning variances granted by the 5-member board require a super majority of 4 members voting in the affirmative. To keep business moving in case of absences, the law also allows two substitutes (S) to sit in and vote if needed. All decisions are made following a public hearing. Variances expire in 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained.
The board welcomed new Ward 3 member Ty Cole, a former BZA member who replaces the outgoing chairman Ross McCain. Mr. Cole quickly established himself as the board’s leader on BZA principle and procedure, firing off questions about what hardships justified each variance request and sometimes finding there were none but convenience or profit. The board selected Ms. Gwaltney as the new chair, then voted to have Ms. Askew removed due to excessive absence. Ms. Askew held one of two substitute positions.
Approved minutes of the March 5, 2015, meeting.
Allowed, on a split vote, lot width variances for property being divided into two lots: The applicant will be asking the Planning Commission to divide the property at 909 Irving Road into two separate lots. Pending commission approval, the BZA granted a 5-foot width variance on each newly created lot, i.e., allowing the lots to be narrower than code requires. The board was concerned that the large houses (2,800 square feet) planned on each lot would leave no room for a required driveway and off-street parking. The approval is contingent on the Planning Commission granting the division next week, and came with a warning that the owner not return for further variances.
Voting no: Brian Jarmon, saying he just didn’t like all the unknowns.Approved a variance for a new two-story house on Morris: A homeowner received a 5-foot right building setback variance on a planned second floor, but will have to return to seek a left-side variance for a carport, overlooked by zoning staff. A next door neighbor spoke in favor of the variance.
Allowed a variance for re-configuring boundaries on the Southern Progress property acquired by Samford: Samford University will be asking to rezone to Institutional three of four lots and buildings it acquired from Time, Inc.’s Southern Progress campus at 2100 Lakeshore Drive. One of the lots will continue under its existing commercial zoning to be leased to Time, Inc., which plans a building renovation. Tonight Samford requested a 20-foot variance that would allow the boundary of one of its other lots to remain the same despite the requirements of the expected rezoning. The variance allows a pond and related pipes and sewer lines from lying across two lots. Two other variances allow the extra height of the Southern Progress buildings under the new institutional zoning, of 25.92 feet and 22.40 feet respectively. Rezoning will be addressed at next week’s Planning Commission meeting.
However, the board also discovered that parking will be 96 spaces short for the Time building, which will retain its Planned Commercial District zoning under a long-term lease to Samford and isn’t part of the shared parking arrangement with the other buildings or the university. About 250 employees work in the building currently.
Abstaining: Ms. Cannon abstained, saying later that as an employee of another university (UAB), which also owns and develops property, she would prefer to stay uninvolved.
Allowed a house addition on Stuart Street: A house at 901 Stuart Street was granted a 9.17-foot left setback variance to expand.
Denied a request to divide a lot in Lake Ridge Estates for two houses: Opponents offered many sentimental and aesthetic reasons for denying the property owner variances to divide a lot at 1802 Lake Ridge Road and build a house on each of them. But in the end it was the lack of any justifying hardship that convinced the board to vote no.
The property was purchased by a man living in Washington state who intended to renovate a dilapidated house but instead tore it down, sometime in the early 2000s, according to his real estate agent. The property stayed in this condition and was put on the market but has failed to sell for well over a year. The agent, Tom Douglass of Vestavia, argued that each resulting lot on the divided property would still exceed the minimum lot area required under the city’s Neighborhood Preservation District zoning, which is 27,173 square feet. However, the owner is requesting width variances of 24-feet and 36.5 feet on each of the proposed new lots. Mr. Douglass suggested that a horizontal property division wouldn’t require any variance, but would create drainage problems on the inclined property and interfere with a shared private drive for four households
Neighbors argued that the subdivision is one of the few remaining residential areas in Homewood with estate-sized lots, trees and natural areas. Granting such large variances would harm the feel of the neighborhood, they said.
Mr. Douglass said his client didn’t think the area could support a $1 million house on the single lot, but Mr. Cole said financial concerns weren’t a qualifying hardship to justify the variances. Three neighbors objected, one by letter, and one being former Park Board member Tim Baggett, who said the property division would interfere with his plans to sell his own house.
The request was unanimously denied.
Granted, on a split vote, large substantial variances to allow a row of houses on the Broadway “triangle.”
Compared to the recent past, tonight’s approval signaled a comparatively quiet neighborhood acceptance that this strip of wooded land will be developed into a row of small houses, not a park, garden or wooded buffer between houses on Saulter and businesses on Broadway. The row of houses will be complementary in style but not identical and will range in size from 1,100 square feet to 1,600-1,700 square feet.
The board granted investor William Tucker 1) A 15-foot setback variance on the rear of each of the five planned houses along Saulter Road; 2) A 10-foot setback variance for the exposed side of the end house by Carr Avenue; and 3) Lot size variances ranging from 4,123 square feet to 6,370 square feet less than required by the code. Two residents on Saulter spoke in favor, with one saying he preferred the buffer the property had provided and hoping the end lot, which will not be developed, wouldn’t be clear-cut.
A plan for fences connecting the fronts of the houses and for fences across the rear must be approved by the City Council. Of the 20+ people in attendance, the majority were present to hear the results of this case.
Voting no: Ms. LeBoeuf, saying after the meeting that she was worried about parking, traffic and what would happen to the undeveloped end lot.
Approved an addition to a garage on Roxbury: The homeowners plan to add a second story over the existing garage and a front porch. The porch requires an 8-foot variance beyond the required setback area. The variance for the second floor addition was granted contingent on the owner furnishing automatic sprinklers, due to its proximity to the neighboring house.
The meeting adjourned after 7:30 p.m.