The mayor, his chief of staff, city attorney, and former Ward 2 councilman showed up tonight to support a slate of exemptions requested by owners of GianMarco’s restaurant, who have accepted a hefty incentive to build a second restaurant on city property next to Patriot Park. Link to the October vote and history of the village zoning and parkside property. The variances are important, not only because city leaders have been working for years to interest a developer in the lot, but because the lot itself was billed as the location for a “catalyst” project that would showcase the new village
zoning regulations of the West Homewood District. The so-called form-based codes called for buildings positioned close to sidewalks, with high quality finishes, lots of windows, vaulted doors and ceilings and other touches to encourage pedestrian activity. The variances that were passed negated a couple of those building elements, but preserved others, according to project supporters. The board also approved a second West Homewood District venture, which maintained more of the village elements, but also was granted important variances.
Members present: Brian Jarmon, Lauren Gwaltney, chair, Jeffrey Foster, vice chair, Ty Cole, Beverly LeBoeuf, Matt Foley, and Stuart Roberts.
Members absent: Batalion Chief Nickolas Hill.
Staff present: Greg Cobb and Vanessa McGrath of the Building, Engineering and Zoning Department; Planning and zoning clerk Donna Bridges.
Audience attendance: 14
*Note on procedure: By state 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. Tonight there were only four present for the first three cases, meaning each vote had to be unanimous to pass, which they were. Variances expire in 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained.
Granted some variances and denied one for a new fitness venture and adjoining retail on Oxmoor Road in West Homewood: Chris Wade proposes a fitness center at 187 Oxmoor Road and appeared with his “owner’s representative” and project manager to ask for exemptions to the West Homewood Village District’s requirements that ground floors feature 70% glass and structures are built to the sidewalk to create an open, accessible feel for pedestrians. The applicants argued the glazing requirement was not energy efficient and not typical in other Homewood commercial areas the district was trying to mimic. The board rejected the first argument but seemed prepared to accept the glass request, even though two previous applicants were denied the same variance on the EconoLodge and Waffle House proposals, on either side of the fitness center. The proposed building features only 46% glazing. Also granted was a variance of 33.5-feet to provide parking on either side of the new building, although it will be hidden behind a “street wall.”
To support the request, former councilman Vance Moody came to the podium to explain the original intent of the village zoning forms, which were produced by the Regional Planning Commission. Mr. Moody said he thought the intent of the new zoning codes were met by the applicant’s request.
A third request to reduce the front door from the required 10-foot height to 8-feet was unanimously denied, to the surprise of the applicant.
The building is owned by Anna Mae Cooley and has been vacant and for sale for years.
Granted a variance to allow an addition to a house on Shades Park Drive: William Siegel of Twin Construction received a 3.5-foot setback variance on the left side for a bathroom addition at 1711 Shades Park Drive.
Granted multiple, substantial variances to allow a new restaurant on city-owned property next to Patriot Park: The star of tonight’s variance cases was clearly the proposed new pizza restaurant at 600 Oak Grove Road, which drew no less than Homewood Mayor Scott McBrayer, his chief of staff J. J. Bischoff, city attorney Mike Kendrick and former Ward 2 councilman Vance Moody to voice support for five significant variances from the village
zoning requirements, namely gaining wide setback from the streets due to power lines, and a reduction from the 70% glass requirement.
(The corner property has been re-addressed from Oxmoor Road to face Oak Grove Road, the “front.”)
- 5.13-foot to 5.17-foot front yard (Oak Grove) build-to-line setback variance — the building would be set back 11 feet from the property line instead of 6 feet;
- 6.15-foot- 27.46-foot side yard (Oxmoor) build-to-line setback variance — building will be set 20 feet from property line;
- 60% front facade build-to-line percentage variance
- 30% side facade build-to-line percentage variance
- 38% ground floor glazing variance
Applicants Chris Eckroate, an engineer, and architect Richard Carnaggio spoke on behalf of owner and applicant Giani Respinto, saying that overhead power lines on both street sides of the proposed restaurant forced noncompliance with the requirement that structures be built to the property line. Mr. Moody, who said he had been involved in passing the village form-based codes as a councilman, spoke in their favor, saying the council has known from the beginning that the power lines would make it impossible for any building to comply with the district’s key requirement–that buildings be positioned right at the property line in a row of glass storefronts. “It would take a lot of city money to bury those lines,” he said.
The argument in favor of using far less glass than required–to provide privacy for restrooms–had already been won in the previous fitness center case. The mayor later addressed the board to ask for all variances to be passed and promising to support changing the glass requirement to end future variance requests.
However, the proposal was not without objections. Four members of the Shades Valley Community Church were present, with two voicing concerns that restaurant customers would end up parking in the church’s convenient and mostly unused parking lot across the street. Church officials said the congregation is strained financially already to maintain the building and didn’t want the burden of heavy daily use by restaurant supply trucks on church property. That said, they did not object directly to the case, and accepted a promise from applicants to monitor the situation.
Asked by a resident (reporting) what elements would remain of the village form in the project, Ms. McGrath said a sidewalk would be brought closer to the building to compensate for the setbacks. The open setbacks would be filled with benches and outside activities to give it an accessible feel, the architect said.
The vote was unanimous to grant the variances:
Abstaining: Mr. Jarmon
Denied a variance to allow an attached garage on a corner lot on Edgewood Blvd.: An owner/builder’s proposal to add a two-car garage at 101 Edgewood Boulevard that would exit onto Oxmoor Road failed to persuade board members tonight. The 23-foot wide structure would be part of a second-story expansion on a lot already constrained by a steep sloping back and side yard. The board was increasingly dissatisfied with the plan, with one member saying the survey inaccurately reflected the size of the side yard and another asking why such a wide garage was necessary since a parking pad is already available in the front. The case for a 5-foot left building setback variance eventually failed unanimously.
Denied a variance for a new house on Broadway: A neighbor’s grasp of zoning requirements and articulate objections to even a relatively small exemption helped sink a request for a 2.5-foot variance to allow a new two-story house be rebuilt at 711 Broadway. The applicant initially asked to reduce the variance from 2 1/2 feet to only 1 1/2 feet needed to add a master bathroom to the rear. In discussion, however, he also mentioned adding roofed side stoop, which would have required a greater variance than originally advertised, and therefore not allowed in tonight’s vote. The applicant said the new house would be slightly narrower than the current one. At this point, the neighbor spoke, saying he opposed any variance and citing the narrowness of the lots, the idea of second story encroaching on the privacy of his smaller house, the lack of any legitimate hardship connected to the shape of the lot, and the fact that a new house built from scratch should be accommodated to the lot dimensions and current regulations. The size of the previous house and past regulations were irrelevant, he said. Those arguments struck a chord with member Ty Cole, an architect,who suggested he apply for a board seat when one came open.
The requests were then split into two, one for 1 1/2 feet for the bathroom, which failed, and a second for 2 1/2 feet for the covered stoop, which also failed.