Planning Commission, Oct. 6, 2015

Is this in the future for Wildwood North?

Is there a high-end auto dealer in Wildwood’s future? So hints the Planning Commission tonight.

A lot of institutions have been allowed to expand into residential neighborhoods lately, taking down “rental” or other houses deemed not worth keeping. Tonight, the Commission seemed to draw the line over a relatively minor but heated parking issue surrounding All Saints Church. Meanwhile, small townhouse development proposed on Columbiana got a unanimous rezoning recommendation. What’s this about a high-end car dealer wanting to open in Wildwood? See last item.

Members present: Fred Azbik, James Ponseti, Billy Higginbotham, chairman, Jeffery Foster, Fred Hawkins, Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill, James Riddle and Mark Woods, arriving late.

Members absent: Mike Brandt, vice chairman, and James Ponseti.

Staff attendance: Donna Bridges, commission secretary; Fred Goodman, Greg Cobb, and Vanessa McGrath, city Building, Engineering and Zoning Department staff.

Audience attendance: 15

All Saints proposed widening a 15-foot alley, seen to the right, to allow a row of parking spaces down the center of the residential lot. The Commission voted against recommending the rezoning to the city council.

All Saints proposed widening a 15-foot alley, seen to the right, to allow a row of parking spaces down the center of the residential lot. The Commission voted against recommending the rezoning to the city council.

Voted 6-1 to not recommend rezoning church-owned property for a parking lot: Despite a persuasive argument from All Saints church in favor of relocating and widening an alleyway for more preschool parking, commissioners tonight sided with objectors and voted not to recommend. The plan would require rezoning an adjoining vacant residential lot from Neighborhood Preservation District to I-2 (institutional), moving the path of a city-owned alley closer to the church, and pouring asphalt on the south side for an affordable gain of 13 parking spots. Another 13 could be added alongside those when the church raises the money.

The vote was based in part on residents’ long-running irritation at the church’s recently finished expansion, the growing preschool and its drop-off traffic, and the church’s decision to turn an unofficial parking area fronting Oxmoor into a grassy play yard instead of a parking lot.

Four people spoke in opposition, citing concerns over the possibility of the church building another structure there one day, of losing the residential look of the street, and about practical concerns from one resident (wife of staff employee Greg Cobb) who uses the existing alley to access a garage. Several asked the church to turn the larger Oxmoor-facing lot into a parking area instead.

The church responded that widening the alley and making it two-way would actually improve access to garages. The architect, and church member, said the Oxmoor lot wasn’t near the preschool entrance and would be costly to convert to parking because of the elevation. Such a move would only gain 7 more spaces than the current proposal, eliminate a play area and detract from looks of the church.

Questions from the commission, however, revealed that the preschool employed 40 staff members and the church maintains about 60 parking spaces. Mr. Woods asked if the church could work out a staff parking arrangement with Trinity Church, whose lot is virtually empty during the week.

The commissioners also referenced a number of critical letters that had been sent to the commission, but which the church hadn’t received until late this afternoon. Some of the claims, such as the play yard not ever being used, were simply untrue, they said. Before voting, commissioners were advised to make the motion conditional on getting council approval to relocate its current right-of-way. That said, the vote was 6-1 against recommending the rezoning. The church can appeal to the council anyway, or accept the decision as final.

Voting yes: Fred Azbik.

The townhouses would look something like this, according to the architect.

The townhouses would look something like this, according to the architect.

Voted to recommend rezoning a Columbiana commercial parcel for townhouses: The address at 818 Columbiana Road is a property with a history, at least a rumored history that it was a styling salon and spa doubling as a brothel. The business was shut down, arrests were made, a woman mysteriously disappeared, and the  building was later torn, the grounds allowed to grow up behind a metal security fence. That history came to an end a few years ago when the parcel was bought by Homewood residential developers Twin Holdings LLC, represented tonight by Homewood resident Eric Rogers of Progressive Properties, a real estate company.

The 818 Columbiana Road property, taken from a real estate website.

A bird’s eye view of the 818 Columbiana Road property, taken from a real estate website. Green Springs Highway is to the right.

The quickly-approved rezoning case involves rezoning the .60 acre lot from C-1 commercial to R-7, Attached Dwelling, to build six 2-story townhouses along a priviate drive that would run perpendicular to and connecting with Columbiana Road. The front and rear units will face out, the front to Columbiana and the rear to a larger yard. The drive will not connect through to Green Springs Highway.

Commissioners expressed few reservations except for future maintenance, which would be assured by a homeowners association, the developers said. It was learned that the property was once considered for inclusion in the Green Springs Urban renewal District, but was kept basic commercial on the advice of Greg Cobb.

The vote to recommend the rezoning is subject to a final decision by city council, which will set its own public hearing on the plan before a vote.

Voted to elect Billy Higginbotham as chairman for another year, but postponed re-appointing Mike Brandt as vice chair due to his absence.

Is this in the future for Wildwood North?

The “Lamborghini” name was dropped in tonight’s discussion as an example of a high end auto dealer that might be considering locating at Wildwood North, if zoning allowed.

Carried over until next meeting a discussion on amending the Wildwood zoning codes to allow inside sales (showroom and dealership) of an unspecified high-end car maker. The proposal is to add the word “outdoor” to the prohibition against “vehicle sales,” thereby allowing inside car sales in Wildwood’s Planned Mixed Use District zone. Mr. Hawkins said an Alabama Power Co. development consultant told him Homewood’s only revenue gap was in auto sales. A discussion followed in which Mr. Woods said the city should stick to its traditional stance against car lots because of the associated crime. It was pointed out that no dealership operates strictly inside four walls. The discussion was carried over, with Mr. Hawkins dissenting.

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