The city council barely had a quorum while it passed a tax incentive package of historic proportions to woo ServisFirst bank headquarters and operations facility to the Woodcrest office park area near Embassy Suites. Supporters point to the investment at an entry point to the city and, rather nonspecifically, to the bank’s impact on adjacent Rosedale neighborhood. But those numbers didn’t impress Ward 5 representative Peter Wright, who announced his intention to vote no before the vote was called, saying it set a bad precedent and sent the wrong message to existing corporate citizens. Under the plan, the city has agreed to not collect property taxes on the building for 20 years, a value estimated at well over $1 million, according to Mr. Wright, but which would be offset by yearly payments from the bank of $30,000.
The fury of residents over installation of an enormous digital billboard, first on Lakeshore Drive and later relocated to Oxmoor Road, prompted a proposal to ban digital billboards altogether. A hearing is set May 11. In another action, the city will terminate a lease on a parking lot it owns near Green Springs Highway in order to remove a Lamar Sign Co. billboard there.
Members present: Britt Thames, Walter Jones, Heather Reid, Peter Wright, and Bruce Limbaugh, council president. Richard Laws came in midway through the meeting. Fred Hawkins left midway through the meeting to hold a conference in the hallway, and wasn’t present for many of the votes. Also present was Mayor Scott McBrayer.
Members absent: Michael Hallman, Vance Moody, Patrick McClusky and Barry Smith. Richard Laws was absent at roll call and several initial votes.
Staff present: City clerk Linda Cook, city attorney Mike Kendrick, mayor’s chief of staff J. J. Bischoff, Greg Cobb and Vanessa McGrath, Building, Engineering and Zoning Department.
Audience attendance: 31
Board vacancies: There are six applicants so far for the Ward 5 Board of Education vacancy. Interview schedules will be set and posted next week. The application period ends Thursday, April 29.
Approved minutes of the March 6 and March 16, 2015 meetings.
Dropped a request to review security procedures at City Hall until a police report is made. A report is being prepared for Mr. Jones, apparently on some city hall incident, by the person assigned to the building’s security.
OLD BUSINESS AGENDA
Approved, with a promise of more changes to come, a design review panel and by-laws for the new West Homewood District: The council approved a five-person Community Development Review Committee to rule on any variances sought by businesses redeveloping in the new West Homewood District, and mandated in the establishing ordinance. The district was set up a year ago based on codes that reflect building appearance and form rather than use, as in traditional zoning.
In recent days the committee has come under fire for lacking independence from city hall (membership includes the mayor, fire marshal, planning commission member, city engineer, and council member), familiarity with variance procedures and community representation after a motel applied for several variances to redevelop in the district. In response, and because so much time had elapsed since the motels’ application, Mr. Hawkins proposed passing the CDRC unchanged to hear the motel case without delay but “inviting two or three” people from the community to sit in on the proceedings. The zoning ordinance meanwhile would be amended to make the committee advisory to the Board of Zoning Adjustments, which already hears zoning variance requests. Mr. Hawkins proposed that those amendments could also allow the “at-large” community members to become voting members. Click here to read details from the last meeting.
In a process that could take up to two months, Mr. Hawkins’ suggestions will be referred to the city’s Planning Commission before returning to the city council for final approval.
Mr. Laws entered the meeting at this point.
Approved, with two dissenting votes, a hefty incentive for a ServisFirst bank headquarters and operations center near Rosedale: The council, with a bare quorum attending, passed a 20-year abatement of property taxes to bring the ServisFirst bank headquarters to Homewood, but not before Mr. Wright announced he could not support such a large waiver of property tax, which he estimated to be well over $1 million.
Mr. Jones asked if the incentive package could be adjusted to win his vote, but he declined. The project brings to Homewood a corporate headquarters of Alabama’s second largest bank to the Woodcrest office park area near Embassy Suites. There will be 150-200 employees at first and eventually as many as 350. The HQ currently is on Lakeshore Drive across from Brookwood Village, but not in Homewood.
The bank’s operations center will eventually be merged at the new office site. A presentation by Brian Giattina for the architects emphasized that the new building would improve an entry point to the city. The bank will be investing $700,000 toward substantial site improvements, he said.
Before the vote, Ms. Reid asked that the incentive package be non-transferable if the bank is sold or merged with another business, without city council approval.
Without elaborating, Mr. Thames and others praised the bank, particularly for its positive effect on Rosedale. “They will impact the properties around there,” Mr. Limbaugh said. Mr. Thames called the development an “impactful positive change for the area.”
Voting no: From Ward 5, Mr. Laws, and Mr. Wright, saying the $1 million-plus incentive was too great, sets a dangerous precedent and “sends the wrong message to existing corporate citizens.”
Mr. Hawkins left the meeting for good at this point to talk to a person from the audience and several others in the hall.
Approved six changes to the city’s Zoning Book: Going back to a February Planning Commission meeting, when they were introduced, these six changes to the zoning book were finally passed by the council tonight. Here they are in a nutshell:
- Clarified the definition of the “front of a corner lot,” to distinguish between the actual front with the address, and the exposed side of the house, which the zone book also referred to as a “front” side.
- Simplified residential setbacks at 10 feet on each side for houses over 66 feet wide. The current percentage method of figuring the setback is too difficult to calculate on irregular lots.
- The changes eliminate the required 20-foot fire lane clearance between second floors on adjacent houses, and also offer homeowners options for building second floors without “stepping in” the second floor 10-feet from the ground floor. The proposed change keeps the 10-foot step-in requirement, but offers homeowners the option of building straight up with non-combustible materials or furnishing interior sprinklers instead.
- Imposed uniform setbacks for accessory buildings, making it 5 feet for one-story structures and 10 feet for two-story structures. The previous method was based on square footage.
- Allowed HVAC equipment to be installed in a setback area as a matter of law. A reinterpretation of the code last year has sent numerous homeowners in front of the BZA for a variance to allow air conditioning equipment. The change eliminates the need for a variance.
- Clarify the wording that requires businesses to enclose waste receptacles.
Approved a more sedate sign for Ollie’s bargain store while still granting variances: The council, leery of further offending West Homewood residents in the aftershock of moving the digital billboard to Oxmoor Road from Lakeshore Drive, had asked the discounter on April 13 to reconsider its hillbilly-inspired sign and slogan, “Good Stuff Cheap” when it asked for sign variances at the last meeting. Ollies representatives dropped the Ollie character and the slogan from its sign, also choosing a more straightforward typeface. The variances passed.
Carried over a consultant’s plan for a Road Pavement Management System: Volkert Engineers has pitched a $40,000 plan to help prolong the life of 125 miles of city streets through a varied schedule of resurfacing, sealing, repaving, and other treatments. The $40,000 covers the company’s work to rate the streets and recommend the schedule. The project may qualify for a federal grant with a 20% local contribution and was held over to identify funding sources.
Voted to support the following five state ABC board license applications: 1) A restaurant retail liquor license for Machetes Mexican Restaurant, 406 West Valley Avenue; 2) An off-premises retail beer and wine liecense for a Texaco station convenience store at 208 Oxmoor Road; 3) An off-premises retail beer license for Alabama Goods, 2933 18th Street South; 4) An off-premises retail beer and wine license for Neighborhood Hops and Vine, 1712 28th Avenue South. This request was previously dropped for non-compliance with the C-4 Central Business District zoning; an adjustment to the business plan brought the business into compliance; and 5) A restaurant retail liquor license for the management company of Aloft Hotel, 1903 29th Avenue South.
Terminated a parking lot lease for the former Garden Shop of Homewood location: The story is complicated. Garden Shop of Homewood owner Pam Clark recently closed her business and sold the building on Oxmoor Road near Green Springs Highway; the transaction involved the adjacent city-owed parking lot, which Ms. Clark was leasing and on which stood a Lamar Sign Company billboard, also leasing the ground. The council tonight voted to terminate the lease, which will allow it to take down the billboard, and to re-negotiate a lease after the property is appraised.
Mr. Limbaugh said the city had purchased the property 10 years ago for $275,000 and a building tenant had recently offered $25,000 for it in a lease/purchase deal. The action tonight postpones any further negotiation until the property is appraised.
Passed franchise agreement: The agreement reassigns the city’s franchise per Access Fiber Group’s acquisition agreement with Crown Castle NG East LLC
Approved a study of a city-wide bike-sharing program: The vote tonight approved a feasibility study, at no cost to the city, to study implementing a bike share program promoted by the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham.
Scrapped a bid for Tasers: The council voted to reject all bids received earlier this evening, allowing the police chief to negotiate a price. No details given.
Approved an agreement for acquiring Right-of-Way for the Greenway Trail extension.
Approved a request to work in the ROW on State Farm Parkway: No details. The work will be done near 225 State Farm Parkway.
Announced two May 11 public hearings: Two previously set public hearings for May 11 were reiterated, one to rezone the Southern Progress properties acquired by Samford University from PCD, Planned Commercial District, to I-3, Institutional, and another hearing before voting on a request to rezone a building at 2814 Linden Avenue from C-4, Central Business District to I-2, for a satellite of Church of the Advent.
COMMITTEE REFERRAL AGENDA
To Finance – To consider the following: 1) Ordinances allowing the county to assess and collect property taxes, and to allow homestead exemptions discounting those assessments; 2) A telecommunications franchise/right-of-way agreement for Windstream KDL LLC to provide service to Samford University; 3) A telecommunications franchise/right-of-way agreement from Southern Light; 4) A presentation to purchase city property by Patriot Park; 5) Dropping a probation services contract with Judicial Correction Services, Inc. and entering a new agreement with Freedom Probation Services, Inc.; 6) Amending the FY2014-15 (current) General and Special Revenue Budgets; and 7) A mid-year review of city spending compared to the budget.
To Planning and Development – To consider a petition to annex property at 1616 Forest Ridge Road.
To Public Safety – To consider prohibiting parking 50 feet from the intersection of East Edgewood Drive and Roseland Drive.
To Public Works: To consider ways of addressing inadequate street cuts and repairs by the Birmingham Water Works Board.
OTHER NEW BUSINESS
Set a May 11 public hearing to consider amending the city’s sign ordinance to ban electronic billboards: Protests over a digital billboard installed on Jefferson County land near Homewood houses on Lakeshore Drive prompted such an outcry the city agreed to help the sign owner relocate the billboard within Homewood but a “more appropriate spot,” behind K-Mart off Oxmoor Road. Residents in that neighborhood have answered with protests of their own and questions about the city’s undercover actions on behalf of the billboard owner. Tonight the city set a hearing before amending the sign ordinance to ban digital billboards.
The billboard matter also prompted an annexation drive, below.
Passed a resolution asking the state representatives from Jefferson County to annex certain lands into Homewood: The resolution asks the Jefferson County delegation to adopt legislation annexing seven “islands” of unincorporated Jefferson County property located on Homewood’s city limits. The move requires four weeks’ published notice before action can be taken. Notice was first published one week ago.
Agreed to explore a project for sidewalks and streetscaping on 18th Street: The resolution passed tonight is to apply for streetscaping and sidewalk improvements with ALDOT and engineering firm Goodwyn, Mills, Cawood. Mr. Thames said the resolution and application set the process in motion but doesn’t commit the city to completing the project if it decides not to.
Paid the bills: Invoices were approved to be paid for the period April 13-24, 2015.