Zero of 4 cases were approved tonight, with two applicants taking the board’s hints to carry their cases over and fix obvious flaws before standing for a vote. One of those was the developer for Big Bad Breakfast, who got the building construction underway downtown before securing adequate parking — or obtaining a variance from the regulation. His request to allow work to continue in the interim was denied.
Members present: Brian Jarmon, vice chair, Beverly LeBoeuf, Ty Cole, Matt Foley, Andrew Marlin (S), and Stuart Roberts (S).
Members absent: Lauren Gwaltney, chair, and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.
Staff present: Greg Cobb and Vanessa McGrath of the Building, Engineering and Zoning Department, and planner (part-time) Fred Goodwin, also of BEZ.
Audience attendance: 12
*Note on procedure: The BZA is authorized to grant adjustments or exceptions to zoning regulations if warranted by an eligible hardship connected to the property. By state law, variances can only be granted by a super majority of 4 yes votes of the 5-member board. To keep business moving in case of absences, the law also allows two supernumerary members (S) to sit in and vote if needed. The two substitutes vote alternately. Variances expire in 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained.
Carried over a request for a pole sign for an auto mechanic business in west Homewood: Trent Hatfield, proprietor of Hatfield Auto Parts and Service, carried over for the third time his seeming lost cause to keep an abandoned pole sign at his new location at 190 Oxmoor Road. Pole signs were outlawed by ordinance city-wide two years ago and this sign can’t be grandfathered because the former owner had abandoned it. On top of that, the city has since passed a more restrictive “village” zoning and signge in the area to improve appearances. To read the case as presented in April, click here. Still being requested are a 25-foot sign height variance; a 177-foot square foot sign area variance; and 1-foot sign thickness variance.
Carried over for a second time a Devon lot size case while the owner obtains a survey: This was a return engagement for the owner of 306 Devon Drive, who was the heir to the double lot (on a single parcel) from her mother and whose daughter lives in house. The owner has said she wanted to redivide the parcel and keep the house, for now, but sell the second lot for financial reasons. The resulting lots would fall well below minimum width and square footage allowed in the area without variances from the board. However, financial hardship isn’t an eligible reason for waiving zoning regulations, and an error discovered in lot dimensions forced the case to be carried over and re-advertised. The variance for lot area was increased from 884 square feet to 1,277 square feet; the width variance was increased from 4.5 feet to 7 feet (narrower).
Two neighbors tonight raised new questions about the case, prompting a second postponement to give the owner time to produce a survey. The neighbor at 311 Devon Drive questioned the numbers given in the case file and said his own calculations showed the new lots would be 25% narrower than the average in the surrounding “impact area” and 30% less square footage. He requested a survey for accuracy, arguing that the Neighborhood Preservation District zoning was intended to preserve the neighborhood as it had evolved, not to return it to its original dimensions. He didn’t want Hollywood to go the way of Edgewood, with big houses on small lots and loss of neighborhood character, he said.
The owner responded that two lots across the street and on either side were only 60 feet wide–the same widths as the new lots would be.
A second neighbor, from 310 Devon Drive, spoke next, saying it was difficult to make a decision without knowing the building plan. He also asked for a survey.
The public hearing being closed, Mr. Cole spoke to the issues. He said the lot division would be more likely to limit house size and he had no problem with the 60-foot lot width. However, he agreed that a survey was needed to show where the house would be positioned on the property if divided. Other board members agreed and the owner carried the case over to obtain the survey.
Carried over a request to waive a requirement for 31 more parking places for a breakfast chain restaurant: Stewart Miller for Birmingham Real Estate Partners was building an addition and preparing property at 1928 29th Avenue South for tenant Big Bad Breakfast when the building permit was pulled, pending securing 50 required parking spaces. The spaces could be guaranteed through a shared parking agreement with a local business, or having the requirement waived through a BZA variance. The business owner chose the latter, claiming they identified 19 spaces available in the rear, and would ask the remaining 31 spaces be waived. Mr. Cole, however, who had visited the site, expressed doubt that there were even 19 usable spaces if the current code were applied. The developer didn’t argue the point.
The commercial property is also home to tenants Real and Rosemary, an attorney’s office, and on the east side, the Red Lion bar. The restaurant will be on two levels, with 133 seats. The developer said there were 28 additional public spaces within 150 feet of the restaurant — nearly enough public parking nearby to accommodate the restaurant.
Speaking in opposition was the attorney, who said the board should consider the critical parking situation downtown before making a decision. He hoped the city would move forward to add angled parking on both sides of 29th Ave.
In discussion, Mr. Cobb said the city is considering removing the center turn lane to add angled parking on both sides of the street. He said a parking committee formed two years ago has been identifying unused parking space. The merchants of 18th Street have agreed to encourage, or even mandate, that employees park under the courthouse, he said. A parking study recently completed showed there were abundant spaces downtown, just not in convenient locations.
Mr. Cole then pressed the developer to produce an accurate count of code-compliant parking spaces before asking for a variance. He said he didn’t find a single empty parking space during his visit to the site at 1 p.m. “It was jam packed,” he said. Ms. McGrath then denied a request to allow construction to continue pending an accurate drawing of the available parking onsite. Before postponing the case, she reminded him that getting a shared-parking agreement in the area would satisfy the requirement for 50 spaces, and speed the process.
Denied setback variances for tool sheds on two neighboring houses on Forest: Builder Colt Byrom asked for variances to allow tool sheds to be built only a foot off rear property lines on two new houses planned at 630 and 700 Forest Drive. One house is almost finished and the other is planned next door. The new homeowners, who are friends, wanted to maximize the back yard space by putting the sheds at opposite sides of the combined yards and as close to the property line as possible. He asked for a 4-foot variance from the requirement to place accessory structures at least 5 feet from the property lines. For the 700 house, Mr. Byrom said the placement would preserve a tree 12 feet from the rear property line. Two neighbors also gave consent to the variance. However, the board, which heard the two cases together, didn’t find the reasons compelling. In two separate votes they denied the exemptions, with only one vote in favor, and only for the house at 700.
Voting yes on the failed variance at 700 Forest: Stuart Roberts