After the recession slashed Brookwood’s woman’s center plans in half, the medical center returns with plans for a new Neuro/Orthopedic pavilion. Meanwhile, after prolonged controversy over West Homewood issues, four residents come out to hear the fate of the redevelopment district.
Members present: Billy Higginbotham, chairman, Jeffery Foster, Fred Hawkins, Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill, James Riddle, and Mark Woods.
Members absent: Fred Azbik, Mike Brandt, vice-chairman, and James Ponseti.
Staff attendance: Donna Bridges, commission secretary; Greg Cobb, manager, Engineering, Planning & Zoning Department, and Vanessa McGrath,
Audience attendance: 11
All votes were unanimous. Rezoning recommendations are advisory only and are subject to City Council approval.
Approved minutes of the May 5, 2015, meeting.
Approved Brookwood hospital’s development plan and recommended a rezoning to build a Neuro-Orthopedic center: Eight years after Brookwood swapped sites for its woman’s health center and four years after it opened its substantially scaled back facility in 2011, the hospital was back asking to rezone the property at 525 Brookwood Boulevard, this time for private physician professional building and parking deck.
Also back again was Charles Baldone, a dentist whose practice at 511 Brookwood Boulevard was flooded with sewage during a construction failure for the woman’s center and was out of operation during a 7-month cleanup. Baldone offered his opposition again, in the absence of any more detailed look at the plan, citing construction hazards and building height that would blot out light from his building. Also opposing, through their attorney, but claiming their opposition was “soft,” were the Hazelrig family, owners of the Metroplex 1 & 2 office buildings. The attorney said his clients were “discouraged” from building a third office building near the area several years ago because of the traffic. He said the extra traffic would affect his clients’ property values and wanted to know what traffic measures made the Brookwood development different.
The hospital is asking to rezone the property from C-1 (commercial) Brookwood District to I-3 (institutional) Brookwood District for campus uses. The property was rezoned seven years ago but reverted when the woman’s center was moved to another side of the property.
Responses from Brookwood
In response to questions, an engineer on the Brookwood project said a traffic study warranted widening Brookwood Boulevard southbound and provide a left turn into the mall. There would be unspecified improvements at the intersection of Medical Center Drive and Brookwood Boulevard, but no major modifications or signaling.
He said the Orthopedic pavilion had a smaller footprint and parking capacity than the proposed woman’s center at the site years ago. The original deck was for 750 cars and this was for 500. He assured Mr. Baldone that the sewer work involved only a lateral tap to the main, not new construction of a sewer main as in the woman’s center.
Brookwood’s woman’s center opened at half the size as originally planned because of the recession.
Construction on the Orthopedic Pavilion would start by end of this year and be completed in 12 months.
Carried over a plan to rewrite parts of the West Homewood District code and dissolve a Community Development Review Committee:
The rules for the West Homewood redevelopment district were dissected and its governing body all but dissolved in tonight’s public hearing and hour-long discussion, which was nevertheless carried over without a vote. On the table for next month are suggestions to disband the five-member CDRC and hand over jurisdiction of the 22-parcel district to the Planning Commission instead. As laid out in the district ordinance passed last year, the CDRC had sole authority over interpreting the district’s complex building regulations, and was composed entirely of city officials or employees.
A suggestion to add two voting seats for community residents wasn’t a satisfactory solution given other weaknesses in the law–such as a brief 21-day automatic approval clause if the committee couldn’t meet, or no public hearings required unless applicants asked for variances. Also of concern was possible conflict of interest–Ms. McGrath, as a zoning employee and member of the CDRC, would be voting on applications she helped to put together. Commissioners also agreed that the Planning Commission membership, although appointed by the mayor, had broader representation and more design and construction expertise than the CDRC. Still in question was whether applicants should be able to request variances under the BZA, a panel some see as being too lax in granting exemptions.
Ms. Bridges suggested that the district be treated as a planned district like Brookwood or Wildwood, where development is subject to preliminary and final development plan criteria and approved by the Planning Commission, cutting out both the BZA and City Council. Details will be worked out at the next meeting.
Having decided the fate of the CDRC, commissioners then began looking at the code itself, listing items to change, such as extending operating hours for restaurants, amending required lot sizes, and reducing allowable building height. A suggested change was to set a 3-story, 40-foot maximum height for buildings, and interior floor-to-ceiling minimums of 12 feet on the first floor and 8 feet for additional floors. The current code allows building height to 48 feet.
The Planning Commission may incorporate parts of the existing zoning regulations into the district, and consider changing or restricting the uses currently allowed, such as lodging.
The hotel challenge
Guiding the discussion was the recently revealed plan to expand a portion of the EconoLodge into a four-story extended-stay hotel with a road into the neighborhood, mixed-use building, and other changes. Revelations about that plan spurred a revolt by some residents who want the motel closed, charging it was a refuge for prostitutes and criminals.
Mr. Higginbotham and Mr. Hawkins suggested code changes that could restrict future motel development, such as limiting the number of beds, requiring mixed-use, or prohibiting new or additional motels in the district. However, discussion stopped short of suggesting any change that would target the EconoLodge specifically.
If the EconoLodge plans are submitted as a formal application before the district code and procedures are changed, it will be reviewed by the CDRC, under the guidance of legal counsel, commissioners said.