It would be lights out for the 70s-era Waffle House sign if the diner chooses to rebuild in West Homewood. The board tonight hewed close to the new West Homewood District codes, denying seven out of eight exemption requested by the Georgia-based company. To fit the new “village” look, the restaurant would be rebuilt close to the sidewalk, have a brick “street wall” blocking the open parking lot, and have high ground floor ceilings and entrance and a glassed front. Waffle House would be the first building remodeled in the new district, if it decides to go forward. But denials on exemptions requested for a lower interior ceiling height and keeping the 1972 highway sign may kill the plan to rebuild. Time will tell.
Members present: Jeffrey Foster (S), Stuart Roberts (S), Brian Jarmon, and Beverly LeBoeuf.
Members absent: Lauren Gwaltney, chair, and Ty Cole.
Staff present: Greg Cobb and Vanessa McGrath of the Building, Engineering and Zoning Department; Planning and zoning clerk Donna Bridges.
Audience attendance: 17
*Note on procedure: By law, zoning variances granted by the 5-member board require a super majority of 4 members voting in the affirmative. To keep business moving in case of absences, the law also allows two supernumerary members (S) to sit in and vote if needed. In the following cases, one regular member being absent, supernumerary members took turns voting. Variances expire n 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained.
Approved only one of eight code variances requested by Waffle House to build anew on Oxmoor; Denied any special exemptions to allow the 1972 sign to remain if the building is remodeled: The BZA tonight remained 99% pure to the new “village” building codes in the West Homewood District, denying three exemptions Waffle House corporate requested, such as A) Maintaining a lower (8.5 foot) ceiling in the proposed new building than the 12-feet required by code; and B&C) two exemptions related to the first request– a lower front door opening by 1.5 feet, and a 64.8-foot reduction in required glass on the shopfront. Tonight’s decision also included four separate votes that denied the Waffle House outdoor sign to remain standing if the 44-year old building is to be torn down and rebuilt as planned–which may now be in question.
The board passed just one of the variances, to allow an .8-foot greater front setback than the code requires because of an irregularity in the property line. Beside denying the sign, the board voted against variances to allow the lower ceiling (to make the building cheaper to cool and ceiling easier and safer to keep clean) and related reduction in door height and shopfront glazing.
The final decision came also after three residents spoke against the sign specifically, saying it introduced obnoxious light into houses on Gillon Street, which lies behind the current building. One Gillon resident brought a petition against the sign with signatures from his and seven other households on that street. Waffle House has maintained the sign attracts customers from the highway to the “low-volume” diner on Oxmoor. However, the resident said the sign wasn’t visible from the highway and customers used cell phone technology –not interstate signs–to find restaurants now. Two other residents from West Homewood echoed those objections.
In its defense, a Waffle House representative said lots of communities like the kitschy sign. Asked what data backed up the claim that the diner drew highway travelers for customers, the answer was “credit card receipts.” A company vice president at one point stood up to say the Oxmoor business was a low-volume one that would lose customers if the sign came down, whether it was visible from the road or just off the exit. He implied the loss of the sign could be a factor in deciding whether to continue the project.
The unfavorable sign decision came in four separate votes against 1) a 36-foot height variance; 2 a 26-foot width variance; 3) a 1,184 square-foot-area variance and 4) a variance allowing the extra sign.
The Waffle House hearing has been held over since February, when executives from the Norcross, Ga., home office first learned the sign didn’t comply with the new code. (An engineer present tonight said talks had been going with the city zoning office for 18 months with no mention of taking down the non-compliant sign.)
Approved variances allowing an addition to a house on Gran Avenue: Builder Kore Nations was granted a 6-foot left side variance to add a new cover over a patio at 318 Gran Avenue.
Aapproved a rear variance for an addition to a Planning Commissioner’s commercial building: James Riddle, who sits on the Planning Commission and at one time was a member of the BZA, was on the other side tonight, asking for a 15-foot rear setback variance on the commercial building at 1909 Oxmoor Road across the alley from Piggly Wiggly. The variance will allow him to build a roof to cover an overhead door that lets rainwater blow into the tenant’s business. The building already extends five feet into the setback. Additionally, he plans to build a storage area along the alley on the Piggly Wiggly side to help protect the back entrance from wind and rain being blown in.
Approved a front setback variance for a house addition on Ventura: William Siegel of Twin Properties was granted a 6-foot front variance for a porch at 104 Ventura Avenue; An existing 1.3-foot left setback variance already in use was re-approved to do repairs on the side.
Approved a 1.5-foot left setback variance for an addition on Shades: Although the agenda referred to a planned second-story addition on this house at 910 Shades Avenue, the builder said the current plan calls only for an addition on the ground floor. The board without much discussion allowed a 1.5-foot variance to the left setback due to the irregular lot line.