Planning Commission, Nov. 1, 2016

planning & zoning(1)Two major and ongoing developments in town–Samford and ServisFirst–requested changes in their development plans, with ServisFirst adding tiers to its parking lot earlier than expected, and Samford installing new (and quieter) cooling towers, but in a location slightly closer and more visible to Saulter Road houses than before. The drama award, however, goes to the McElheny case on Cobb Street, where an unfavorable vote was taken and then rescinded to appease the homeowner and the case carried over for a second time.

Members present: Mike Brandt, Billy Higginbotham, chair, Jeffrey Foster, James Riddle, Mark Woods, and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Members absent: None

Vacancy: The year-long vacancy created by the resignation of James Ponseti was filled by new member Brady Wilson, a mayoral appointee. Meanwhile, a new vacancy is created temporarily by the expiring council term of Fred Hawkins, who served as a voting member and council liaison to the commission. He will be replaced by a mayor’s designee from the upcoming council.

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

Audience attendance:  Not reported

Announcements: Ms. McGrath is going to be scheduling subcommittee meeting to discuss the master plan for the central business district.



Homeowner John McElheny requested–and received–a do-over on a failed vote to allow his shed to remain beyond the setback limits. The case has been carried over twice in what has become a mini contest of wills between the commission and applicant.

Carried over for a second time a contentious case on Cobb Street involving a tool shed: The case at 820 Cobb Street involves a request for an amended development plan by an applicant who had been cited for building a shed inside the setback and less than a foot from two corner property lines, including a public sidewalk. (Most residential cases are governed by NPD zoning and must appeal to the BZA for variances. Here, however, the McElheny property and two adjoining lots are part of Planned Residential District subdivision, which is governed by a Development Plan and the Planning Commission). Mr. McElheny last month had refused to move the shed voluntarily and the matter was carried over pending a site visit by all concerned. This week the case was carried over again after the issues were re-presented for Mr. Brant, who had been absent, and new member Mr. Wilson. Click here for last month’s case. Mr. McElheny this time offered to move the shed three feet off the side lot and 2 feet from the rear, a request which failed on a 3-3 tie, with Mr. Wilson abstaining since he hadn’t seen the property.

Mr. McElheny seized on the abstention issue, asking for a new vote after Mr.  Wilson completed a site visit. Mr. Higginbotham agreed to carry it over and the motion on the failing vote was amended to a postponement.

Voting No: Mr. Foster, Chief Hill, and Mr. Higginbotham.

Abstaining: Mr. Wilson


Recommended rezoning property on Central to a different commercial classification: The owner of the properties at 2826 and 2824 Central Avenue plans to renovate and expand one side to add a restaurant and other retail uses, requiring a rezoning from the current C-2, Neighborhood Shopping District to match the zoning of the adjoining property to C-4, Central Business District. 

If the council approves the request, the owner will return to the commission to ask for an amended survey.

Abstaining: Mr. Wilson

27thcourtstreetviewRecommended rezoning a former residential building for commercial use: The property at 1718 27th Court South (next door to Jim and Jim’s auto service), is owned by MACCO, LLC, whose owner is asking to rezone it from C-4 (c)-Central Business District with conditions, to C-4, Central Business District for mixed office and retail use. The property has an interesting history.

27thcourtsouthIt was rezoned in 2006 to C-4 with conditions imposed by the city council, namely that any new building constructed would resemble a Tudor-style house and be less than 3,500 square feet in size. The owner didn’t move ahead with that development and the current request, presented by his attorney, is to remove the conditions to renovate the existing building first and develop property around that structure. The building will have to be upgraded to meet commercial building codes.

Abstaining: Mr. Wilson

Tiers added to the parking deck, center; and a parking lot is added on the east side, as planned.

Tiers will be added to the parking deck, center; and a parking lot to the right is added, as planned.

Approved a ServisFirst development plan change to allow more parking and change an entrance: The ongoing construction of the bank headquarters at 2500 Woodcrest Place is governed by a Final Development Plan, whose last change was approved in January. 

In the current request, the bank, represented by applicant Walter Schoel Engineering, asked for and received changes that allow an additional two parking tiers that the bank had initially said would be built later on.

Three people from the adjacent residential community were present, asking to see drawings of the requested changes. There were no objections made.

ServisFrst has decided to go forward with an additional two parking tiers they had previously indicated would be built later on. No other changes to their master plan at this time. 3 folks from community were present, and wanted to see what the changes were. No objections from the public.


The current cooling towers are in the building left of the building with the green roof in this aerial. The new towers will be moved 24 feet north of the building and planted with a screen of evergreen trees.

Amended a development plan to allow Samford to relocate three chilling towers closer to Saulter Road:  Samford’s cooling towers atop the current chiller plant have failed and the university has been running temporary chillers (which are noisier) since August. The request for an amended plan allows Samford to place three new cooling towers in a different location, i.e., 24 feet north of the plant on the other side of a parking lot and closer to Saulter Road. For a zoomable detailed PDF of the Samford development plan, click here.

There were several questions from the public and commission members on noise, runoff, height, alternative locations east or west of the parking lot, and shrubbery, as follows:

  • Condensation runoff: Neighbors were concerned about condensation runoff in this location, as there has been in the past. Condensate from HVAC by regulation must be collected/filtered/cleaned before it can re-enter the water cycle, so either way Samford said they are aware and have been exploring ways to better deal with it, including recapturing for irrigation. Samford representatives said the university will not allow condensation runoff to affect residents.
  • Location: Several questions arose from the public and commission as to why Samford couldn’t place the new towers to the east or west of the plant instead of closer to the Saulter residential area. Samford said there were complications with moving related pipes; that the towers will be 700-800 feet from the nearest house and have a lower profile on t he north side because of topography.
  • Noise and buffering: These are not new chillers, but new cooling towers and per the manufacturer, installer, and noise consultant they should be 2-3 decibels quieter than the previous cooling towers (48-50 decibels v 52-54 decibels for the ones being replaced). Additionally, 20 foot  evergreen trees (magnolias or cypress) will be planted around the  towers to further buffer the sound. Samford representatives agreed to proffer that if noise levels from these towers is greater than from the previous towers (not the temporary units) they will add further sound dampening measures to meet the decibel limit. Homewood’s noise limit is 80 decibels.
  • Height: The new towers will be 28-30 feet tall. Based on topography they will be shorter/same height as existing chiller plant. They will not be taller.
  • Landscaping and appearance: The new towers will be surrounded by plantings of evergreen trees that will be planted at a minimum height of 20 feet and could potentially reach 50 feet tall. In addition the new towers can be painted and camouflaged, if necessary, to better blend with new plantings and existing deciduous trees on the hillside.

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