The sleeper case of the evening was the staunch, unified opposition to a request to rezone a Linden Avenue building for off-hour and Sunday morning church programs by a downtown Episcopal church.
The Cathedral Church of the Advent, which operates another over-the-mountain meeting space in Mountain Brook, is seeking rezoning to use the space for various programs such as meetings, Bible studies, speakers, and youth outreach. Four nearby business and property owners objected to a lack of dedicated parking, the likelihood that parishioners would be using their own business parking lot instead, and the folly of introducing an institutional use in a fully commercial business district. The commission, with one exception, thought otherwise. The recommendation goes to the city council for a final vote, after a separate public hearing. More details, below.
Members present: Fred Azbik, Mike Brandt, Billy Higginbotham, chairman, Jeffery Foster, Fred Hawkins, James Ponseti and James Riddle.
Members absent: Batallion Chief Nickolas Hill and Mark Woods.
Staff attendance: Donna Bridges, commission secretary; Vanessa McGrath, engineer, Engineering, Planning and Zoning Department.
Audience attendance: 25
All votes are unanimous unless noted otherwise. For rezoning cases, the Planning Commission’s votes are advisory only; the City Council has the final say after conducting its own public hearing on each case.
Approved a Samford University request, with conditions, to alter the development plan on its Southern Progress property and recommend rezoning for college use: Samford’s purchase of the Southern Progress property at 2100 Lakeshore Drive require rezoning three built lots from Planned Commercial District to I-3, Institutional use. The commission voted to recommend that rezoning, which along with contingent BZA-approved variances will go before City Council for a final decision. The rezoning, however, doesn’t include a fourth Southern Progress building that will retain its commercial standing but be cut out of a shared parking arrangement–throwing it technically out of zoning compliance. Commissioners said much of the building isn’t used for offices and could be recalculated to bring it into compliance.
Recommended rezoning a Linden Avenue commercial building for a church: A little gray building at 2814 Linden Avenue was the center of controversy tonight as a Church of the Advent official asked to rezone the building from C-4 Central Business District, I-2 for church purposes. The rezoning, if allowed, would require it to have 27 parking spaces, although the church said it anticipated 60 people attending at any one time, and has a large conference room that seats 108. The building, which is being leased from owner Birchfield Penuel Properties, comes with 10 spots onsite and the church would lease 13 more from a Wells Fargo branch building, also owned by Birchfield, the official said. He said the church had found another 20 spaces somewhere else it could use, since most programs would not conflict with business hours.
Objecting primarily on the basis of parking were Walter Busenlehner, owner of the Homewood Toy and Hobby Shop and Homewood Cycle on 18th Street, and adjacent shop and property owner J. L. Shaia. Both said the church goers would end up using their rear parking lot, for convenience, intensifying an already unmanageable parking situation.
Also speaking against the rezoning were two business owners on Linden, saying the rezoning was not “the right fit.” Citing the 2007 Master Plan, Steven Fasio of Plainclothes, on Linden, said he disagreed with inserting a new use to the Central Business District. “We want to keep the Central Business District just that,” he said.
With one exception, the commission voted in favor of recommending the rezone. Based on audience reaction, the objections will likely continue when the case comes before the council for a vote.
Voting no: Jeffrey Foster.
Divided a parcel into six lots for houses on Broadway: This case, which a year ago would have brought angry crowds to a Planning Commission meeting, sailed through a request to divide the Broadway “triangle” by GianMarco’s into six lots on which to build five houses with no off-street parking. The Board of Zoning Adjustments pre-approved substantial lot-area and setback variances if the commission agreed to the re-surveys.
Four neighbors spoke in favor of the development, persuaded by the look of proposed houses, personal attention and explanations by applicant William Tucker, and the protracted limbo of the property at 902 Broadway, which could have been sold for commercial use. Frank Dichiara, who is selling on behalf of the owner, his mother Rose Dichiara, said two of his four offers were for commercial developments. Residents two years ago united to lobby the city to purchase the land for a pocket park, which after months of encouraging discussions the city council ultimately voted down. Neighbors later lobbied successfully to kill an office and a townhouse development proposed at the site.
The commission’s vote, however, was conditioned on its approval on submission of a proper survey instead of a hand-drawn sketch, and a determination by city staff if the application should be re-submitted as a subdivision.
Divide one parcel into two parcels on Irving: Ward 1 councilman Michael Hallman asked the commission to consider the narrow streets on the crest of a hill and parking hazards before deciding to divide one 100′ X 140′ lot into two lots 50-feet wide. at 909 Irving Road. Ms. McGrath, however, said each of the resulting lots would have to provide room for two off-street parking spaces.
The Board of Zoning Adjustments, with one dissenting vote, recently approved variances in lot width and area pending this division, which the commission approved unanimously. The dissent related to the lot’s proximity to the Sims Ecoscape, which is adjacent to the east on Irving and extends south, behind the property, fronting on Highland Road.
There being no further business, the meeting adjourned at about 7 p.m.