Three properties with a controversial history recently were back in the public eye Tuesday, with a rezoning request on the Green Springs Highway Meat & Three property getting a unanimously unfavorable vote. Owner Fred Shunnarah and company wanted to divide the property, which extends to Columbiana Road in the rear, build a single retail strip on the Green Springs side and rezone the back half for townhouses facing Columbiana. He only got half his wish Tuesday. Three years ago Columbiana residents were unhappy when the city allowed Shunnarah to clear the entire property of trees with no penalty, then hastily planted a row of small trees, which didn’t survive. Those issues came back to haunt the current case in a torrent of criticism, see the case below.
In the second controversy, builder Tim Coker won a surprising and quick approval to renovate and add a second story to a dilapidated duplex on B. M. Montgomery Street. Just a few years earlier, Coker had fought resounding opposition
to rezone adjacent property (pictured on the left, above) from residential to mixed use for intern housing to serve a new design studio. The council at the time passed the zoning 7-2 over the unfavorable recommendation of the Planning Commission (which had tied 3-3) and against the strenuous objections of Rosedale residents attending a townhall forum before the vote.
Finally tonight, the Circle K (BP on Lakeshore) was center stage of picket lines two years ago when corporate headquarters leased ground for a giant digital billboard and without the knowledge of Homewood officials. The city later struck a private deal with the owner to move the structure to K-Mart. To prevent future surprises, the city went on to annex the Circle K property, which was in unincorporated Jefferson County, and several others along its border. Tonight, the convenience store company asked for a resurvey to enlarge its lot for a new store building nearly four times the size of the current one.
Also tonight was the retirement and final meeting of veteran Planning Commission member Mike Brandt, who is off the commission now after 20 years service. He is being replaced by a former member, John Krontiras, who was present to observe.
Members present: Billy Higginbotham, chair, Mike Brandt, vice chair, Jeffrey Foster, James Riddle, Brady Wilson, Fred Azbik, John Krontiras and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.
Absent: Fred Azbik and Mark Woods.
Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk, Fred Goodwin, planner, and Vanessa McGrath and Greg Cobb, building, engineering and zoning department.
Audience attendance: 42
*Rezoning cases must be approved by a vote of the city council, following a separate public hearing.
In two separate votes approved a parcel division but unanimously denied a request for rezoning commercial property for townhouses: One of the longest cases tonight was a request by Fred Shunnarah and others dba F.R.Z. LLC, to divide property at 819 Green Springs Highway in order to rezone the back half from the commercial Green Springs Urban Renewal District (GURD) to R-7, which would allow townhouses exclusively. The case had been carried over several times from the beginning of the year while owners and city staff research restrictive covenants, which came into play in tonight’s decision.
Residents who spoke were unanimously against the rezoning. All cited their distrust of the plans after the Shunnarahs cleared the property of trees nearly to the edge of Columbiana Road (see link to case above). Under a private covenant and regulations of the GURD, the property along Columbiana must have a 30-foot vegetative, evergreen buffer and no access from Columbiana or Carr Avenue. If rezoned to residential, however, the buffer requirements would be changed, and access could be allowed.
One Columbiana resident recalled waking up to the sound of thetrees being bulldozed, and placing “many, many calls for assistance” to city officials, to no avail. The resident asked what assurances the commission could grant that the townhouses would be visually acceptable if the city couldn’t solve the problem of the cut trees or buffer. “I also approached Mr. Shunnarah as a neighbor,” she said. “And I was told it was basically not his problem. The buffer was a sound barrier for the noise on Green Springs. We looked to the city for help. …No one helped me negotiate with the property owners.”
Ms. McGrath said there are no design review regulations in Homewood; zoning regulations can only show where streets and buildings will be located, the required setbacks, density, etc. As it turned out Mr. Shunnarah had not sketched out any plans for the townhouses anyway.
Five other residents spoke in opposition, citing additional traffic, uncertainty about the development’s quality, and the visual impact of eliminating the tree buffer. One Columbiana Rd. resident, who is trying to sell his house, said the remaining trees “were completely inadequate” as a screen to the property and should be replaced regardless of the commission’s vote. Another resident, living on Acton Ave., cited the same concerns, adding that the Shunnarahs had already demonstrated their lack of interest in the neighborhood by clearing the trees.
Mr. Shunnarah and friend speak
Mr. Shunnarah didn’t help his case by mentioning a threat of putting storage buildings in the back of the property if he wasn’t permitted to build the townhouses. (Storage buildings aren’t allowed in the GURD, it was later pointed out). A friend and builder speaking for Mr. Shunnarah told the audience the family’s property, which includes the post office and several retail buildings and former satellite courthouse building, had recently received a facelift and was well maintained. A gas station had been removed and a restaurant built in its place, which is now the popular Shrimp Basket. He said residential zoning (facing Columbiana) would be an improvement to neighbors over a “45-foot” commercial building, although he didn’t specify the height of the townhouses. (Ms. McGrath later said the GURD height restrictions didn’t allow 45 feet. She reminded him that without rezoning, a buffer must also be in place.)
The vote and a parting shot:
Before the vote, the first resident returned to the podium to add that she too distrusted the property owners’ intentions after the land clearing.
“This is a big deal and I plan to make this a bigger deal,” she said.
That said, Mr. Brandt quizzed Mr. Shunnarah briefly on his intentions for the property if it could not be rezoned. Mr. Shunnarah said without the rezoning, he wouldn’t need the lot division.
- For the request to subdivide, subject to rezoning, the vote was unanimously in favor, with one abstention.
- To recommend rezoning, the vote was unanimously opposed, with one abstention. The council can still hear the case if, if the applicant wishes.
Abstaining: John Krontiras abstained on his first night on the commission.
Approved redrawing the Circle K (BP gas station) boundaries to accommodate a large facility expansion on Lakeshore: Applicant MDM Services requested permission to purchase a strip of land from adjacent property to expand the lot and reconfigure the BP Station at 1250 Columbiana Road and 1 West Lakeshore Drive. That request was granted with few questions except jokes about the height of the signs–The Circle K was the site of one of the city’s greatest political upheavals when, unknown to city officials, an outdoor advertiser leased Circle K land to erect a whopping digital billboard. Circle K, then in unincorporated Jefferson County, was under the county’s lax zoning regulations, which allowed such a sign as close as 300 feet to neighboring residences. The advertiser, who with city help relocated his sign behind K-Mart, had purchased and taken down several conventional highway billboards under the county’s permitting rules in order to put up the new structure. Homewood changed its own sign and GURD ordinances to allow the relocation. The following year the city had the state legislature annex Circle K and several other Jeffco properties into city limits to prevent other sign or development disasters.
Allowed a new development plan for a bigger building on B. M. Montgomery Street: Tim Coker of Coker Holdings had one supporter and no opposition to his request to build a second story of apartments atop a duplex at 2756 B.M. Montgomery Street. The requested amended development plan allows the expansion, which includes an outdoor stair to the top floor.
Carried over a hotly disputed bid to rezone a small business building next to Mayfair Circle: Property owner John Page didn’t divulge who his new tenant might be, but requested a zone “up” from C-1, restricted to office uses, to the broader C-2, Neighborhood Shopping, a classification that allows everything from gas stations to carwashes to restaurants. Mr. Page gave his word he had no such plans for the 1,385 square foot building and was restricted by his tiny lot, where he shared 5-6 parking places with neighboring State Farm. But as several residents pointed out, they didn’t want any retail within 4 feet of their backyards and didn’t trust the property not to be combined later with the State Farm building for a larger commercial development.
Objections from five Mayfair residents covered traffic, noise, lack of privacy, sinking property values, and setting a bad precedent for more commercial in an already congested area. One resident said offices operated M-F, 9-5 while retailers tended to stay open later and on weekends. Another resident said the property owner (not the present owner) had allowed a tree to fall and damage a privacy fence, which she had paid to clean up. She had also paid to plant her own buffer to shield her back yard from the business and install drains to handle runoff from Oxmoor Road and the subject property. She objected to any heavier use of the business property, which is currently vacant.
The property is not contiguous to any other C-2, comprising an undesirable “spot zoning” if passed, according to Ms. McGrath. Yet, despite the problems and opposition of the Mayfair subdivision and two other residents, the commission chair offered the owner a compromise: The commission would re-hear the case next month at no extra fee if the owner and residents could agree on conditions to place on the C-2 rezoning. Conditions could exclude certain types of uses, hours of operation, lighting, etc. A conditional rezone doesn’t revert back to the original classification, but does retain the conditions indefinitely, Ms. McGrath said.
At that, the Mayfair homeowners president stood up and asked if the commission had read the letters of opposition and listened to the unanimous opposition to any rezoning, remarks which Mr. Higginbotham cut off and called out of order. The public portion of the meeting was over, he said, and the commission voted to carry over the hearing to June.