The commission heard the first official presentation of a long-awaited downtown master plan, agreeing to seek $60,000 toward its $280,000+ total cost.
Meanwhile, another property owner has reacted to the city’s annexation last summer of nine properties from unincorporated Jefferson County land along the city limits. The annexations, by act of the state legislature, were a response to a digital billboard installed on Circle K property on Lakeshore Drive and intended to stop other undesirable developments going up near Homewood but under lax county regulations. While the Circle K and a first group of properties were rezoned last month with no problem, owners of the annexed San Miguel restaurant and its fireworks business next door objected strenuously, calling for a meeting and demanding that the fireworks business be allowed to continue, despite the city’s ban on such businesses.Following that meeting, but giving no further explanation, city attorney Mike Kendrick on Monday asked a council committee to drop the San Miguel rezoning from its agenda. Tonight, the owner of four annexed parcels on Citation Court also objected, saying he was unaware of the annexation when it happened and demanding more time to study the zoning effect on his businesses. And the hearing gave yet another Citation Court owner a chance to publicly complain about the condition of city property at 175 Oxmoor Drive.
Members present: Jeffrey Foster, Chairman Billy Higginbotham, James Riddle, Fred Hawkins, Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.
Members absent: Fred Azbik, Mike Brandt, and Mark Woods.
Vacancy: Jamie Ponseti resigned following the November meeting. Mr. Ponseti filled the “mayor’s designee” spot on the commission. The mayor or a new designee can be named to fill the vacancy.
Staff attendance: Donna Bridges, commission secretary, Fred Goodwin, Greg Cobb, city Building, Engineering and Zoning Department, and Vanessa McGrath, city engineer/zoning.
Audience attendance: 6
Carried over the question of recommending rezoning on five recently annexed Citation Court properties: Five properties annexed by act of the state legislature last year, and due to be rezoned under Homewood regulations, will be considered as a group next month after an owner of four of parcels contested the move through his attorney. Bobby Ward owns parcels at 129, 159 and 167 Citation Court, and owns 137 Citation Court through his company Universal Development Corporation. The Planning Commission was to vote on recommending that these properties and a fifth parcel at 209 Citation Court, owned by Henry Tyler, be rezoned from Jefferson County I-1, Light Industrial, to Homewood’s M-1, Light Manufacturing. The two zones are similar in permitted uses and the city staff said there would be no negative impact on any business so annexed. However, they carried over all five to give Mr. Ward time to study the new designation.s
Also speaking out at the public hearing was Dennis O’Brien, owner of a Citation Court property who said he sold the city the neighboring parcel at 175 Citation Court for several million dollars and it was being poorly maintained inside and out, calling it a dump. Mr. O’Brien’s said he brought his complaint tonight because he was unable to get on the city council agenda or to talk to the mayor or council president about the problem. He was advised to take his complaint to the Building Inspections director. Mr. Hawkins gave him his number to call since the property is in his area, Ward 2.
Recommended changes to the zoning ordinance affecting residential building: The commission unanimously approved recommendedchanges to the Neighborhood Preservation District zoning that changes how maximum height is determined, with the effect of lowering allowed height of single-family houses, while also allowing second stories to be built straight up from the foundation without being “stepped in” from the first floor. Specifically, changes to Article II defines height as the distance measured from the first floor at the front door to the highest point in the roof or parapet. A related change to Article IV reduces the number of different heights allowed per lot width from four to two, with a 25-foot maximum for lots up to 55 feet wide (a typical case) and 35 feet maximum for wider lots. (The maximum is currently determined by calculating an average of all elevations of a building.)
Side setbacks are simplified as well, to 5 feet and 9 feet respectively for lots up to 55 feet wide, and 10 feet on each side for larger lots.
Ms. McGrath said the new restrictions will make it difficult to build more than a story-and-a-half on most Homewood lots, unless builders opt for flat roofs to maximize the inside square footage (at the cost of aesthetics).
Another section of the same Article defining a minimum living area was deleted. “Building smaller houses is not the problem,” Ms. McGrath said.
Voted to request a $60,000 for FY2017 toward a budget toward a downtown master plan: Mikhail Alert of the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham, of which Homewood is a member, made a brief presentation of a $280,000+ plan to re-envision the downtown as it relates to signage, zoning, pedestrian and bike use, landscaping, and to accommodate live/work situations that mix commercial and residential in the same buildings.
The plan outlined, which updated a section of the 2007 general Master Plan, covers only the area from Rosedale to Oxmoor Road and from U.S. 31 to Central Avenue. Ms. McGrath said the area has accumulated 12 different zoning categories and three different sign districts. Ruling on sign variances has become a regular feature of each council meeting, she said. The city has very limited zoning to handle mixed use.
The Planning Commission governs the city’s master plan, which theoretically guides future zoning and development decisions, but has no binding effect.
Mr. Alert said the RPC’s study would address big issues such as parking, finding better ways to transition from urban to residential sections, incorporate bike and pedestrian traffic, improve the streetscape, resolve landscaping problems (trees), and consolidate zoning and signage regulations. This update of the general Master Plan could be followed by other sectional plans targeting problem areas such as Wildwood and the Green Springs Urban Renewal District (GURD).
In discussion, Mr. Foster, a grant-writer, asked a flurry of technical questions about how the RPC arrived at its price tag. (The 2007 general Master Plan, produced by a private consultant, cost $116,000.) Those questions deferred for the time being, a motion was made and passed unanimously to request $60,000 in FY2017 to pay the city’s share of the plan’s total cost.