Several large projects, notably the rejected (for now) development plan for a 7-story, 127-room hotel on 18th Street, kept the commission and residents at work until past 8 p.m.
Members present: Billy Higginbotham, chair, Jeffrey Foster, James Riddle, Brady Wilson, John Krontiras, Mark Woods, and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.
Absent: Britt Thames
Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk, and Fred Goodwin, planner, Vanessa McGrath and Greg Cobb, Building, Engineering and Zoning Department.
Audience attendance: 42
*Rezoning and final development plan cases are advisory only and must be approved by a vote of the city council.
Carried over for the fourth time a preliminary plat case for the Devonshire subdivision atop Shades Mountain: This case at 1 & 4 Abby Lane were first heard in February and involve a residential development on a crest above Berry Road that was abandoned by the original developer after two lots were sold. Developer Charles Kessler is reviving the plan, but asking to divide four original lots into six. His additional plans attracted new opposition from neighbors and questions from the commission: The engineering team has so far not been able to resolve questions about hydrant size, stormwater control, existence of covenants on the land, and establishing easements for staging the construction.
Denied approval for a final development plan for a 7-story Hilton brand hotel downtown and carried over the related rezoning case: As presented, the hotel would be managed by Wilson Management Co. of Memphis and fly under Hilton’s “Curio” banner, a full-service hotel encompassing the city block bounded by 18th Street and 29th Avenue, with seven stories (802 feet) and 127 guest rooms fronted by a two-story retail/restaurant area. Anticipating that height would be the number one public concern–which it was–spokesman and majority owner Mike Mouron pointed out that the Regions building was 838 feet, Aloft 789 feet and Soho 800 feet high. Owners are also asking to rezone the area from two existing zones, C-4 (central business district) and C-4b (high rise office/commercial district) to a single MXD (mixed use district).
However, commissioners sided with residents who thought the plan was too big and happened too fast for comfort. The unfavorable vote followed a public hearing and questions from commissioners about the plan’s readiness, uncertainly about financing and especially the parking.
Questions from the public:
- The owner of the one-story brick commercial building known by the upside-down shoe repair sign objected to the hotel’s sanitary sewer construction which will block the alley and exit from his building.
- A Hollywood resident asked why the MXD (mixed use) rezoning was required. MXD zoning is appropriate for the property, but it was chosen for requiring fewer parking spaces than C-4b. The resident was concerned about the building height, about how quickly the case has materialized without much public information. She asked the commission to be proactive in their questioning.
- A resident of Soho’s north tower asked if the hotel had considered underground parking (the developers are only considering surface parking), and if the building would obstruct her view of Vulcan (it would, but scenic views aren’t guaranteed in housing cases).
- Ken Shaia, of Shaia’s clothiers on 18th Street, asked if the number of designated parking spaces meets code (not really; ownership is short by 80 spaces, which could be offset by nearby public parking). He asked why the hotel was allowed to surpass the height limit informally set at 5 stories when Hallman Hill was built. There is no such height limit in the city codes.
- Another merchant objected to the lack of hotel parking, saying surrounding businesses would be burdened by the overflow parking, especially since the 2-hour parking limits aren’t enforced downtown.
- A resident asked the commission to consider the precedent set by approving the 7-story building.
Mr. Mouron responds:
The owner said he was required to provide 1 parking space per room. That, added to the retail requirement and 60 spaces estimated for the restaurant, equaled 213 spots altogether. Mr. Mouron said most of those spaces would be needed at night; he offered to work out a valet service to meet the requirements. He said he could count adjoining public underground spaces in Soho, a claim Ms. McGrath agreed was allowed in MXD rules. However, commissioners Krontiras and Woods weren’t satisfied that the plan was adequately thought out.
Mr. Krontiras cited the lack of a required fire protection plan, landscaping plan, and traffic analysis, disputed in part by Ms. McGrath. Mr. Woods, however, called the plan “half-baked.” He wanted to know if the agreement with Hilton had been signed, and for how long the hotel would have the Curio “flag.”
“We need to see the final agreements,” he said. “We have to think of the future. If you don’t keep the flagship, we could end up with who knows what. We could end up with a vacant building. I don’t want to see another bad hotel, which we have a lot of already in this city. We’re 80 (parking spaces) short and businesses are struggling now on 18th Street,” he said.
Mr. Mouron, who is himself a planning commissioner in Mountain Brook, took some offense, saying Hilton wouldn’t sign anything final until the building was well along in its construction. He didn’t see the relevance of his Hilton agreements to the zoning and plan approval, he said, and pointed out the hotel’s “huge economic boon to the city, with up to $1 million per year in extra revenues.”
With that, the commission moved for approval and voted a unanimous denial. With no plan approved, the rezoning was carried over to the next meeting.
Approved a lot division on Ridge with variances previously approved by BZA: The case at 1609 Ridge Road, was heard in June by the BZA, which allowed certain variances pending approval by the Planning Commission. The request to divide the parcel encompassing 5 lots into two lots was approved with little discussion.
Abstaining due to work relationship and friendships with the owner: Woods and Higginbotham.
Approved the Wells Fargo parcel in Wildwood to be divided into three separate lots: The property being divided is at 210 Wildwood Parkway which, except for a required natural tree buffer, would be in the back yards of residents in Southwood, Glen Cove, Oak Grove Road and Cobb Street in West Homewood. Owned by Patriot Acquisitions LLC, it is being divided to gain multiple commercial leases for the owner, including the one to be maintained by Wells Fargo. Two residents spoke to ask about fate of the buffer and if it would remain. Ms. McGrath said the “natural buffer” owned by the commercial entity must be left undisturbed, i.e., not pruned or cleared or in any way maintained. Another resident asked if there would be any plans to connect the property to Oak Grove Road. Ms. McGrath said such a connection was prohibited a covenant placed on the property during the development of North Wildwood. There being no other objections, the lot divisions were approved.
Approved a 5-acre parcel to be divided into two lots for a commercial development on U.S. 280: Getting intense scrutiny from Hollywood residents was a plan by MX2800 LLC to divide the former Mountain Brook Inn property at 2796 U.S. 280 into two lots, both accessible from U.S. 280. The smaller of the two resulting lots is slated for a restaurant at some future date; no other plans were announced. The property was annexed by Homewood in 1995 and the 1974 hotel, originally a Sheraton, closed in 2003 and was demolished five years later. Three years ago the commission heard another redevelopment plan to build a 10-story office building, hotel and a parking deck on the site. That plan was abandoned.
Remembering the 2014 proposal, several residents spoke, some several times, to understand how the neighborhood might be impacted:
- A Belmont Road residents said a large contingent of Hollywood residents were concerned about lighting, noice, and traffic associated with a restaurant, and asked if it was to be a late-night or entertainment venue. (No plans had been submitted for the restaurant, just an informal sketch showing placement in the center of the existing parking lot. Ms. McGrath did not have the drawing.)
- Another resident complained that the lot division, if allowed, meant residents might have to deal with two high-rise buildings instead of one. He said Homewood annexed the property “to control” it, not to allow problems to multiply.
- Another Belmont resident asked the details of the resurvey procedure and what protections neighbors had from current zoning. Ms. McGrath explained the resurvey was a property division. As currently zoned (C4-b, high-rise office/commercial district), any building over 35 feet required a development plan and all commercial zoning next to a residential area required a tree buffer 10 feet wide and 8 feet high.
- A Windsor Drive resident said Hollywood needs trees and vegetation to buffer the sound and dust of 4-lane highways that surround the neighborhood. She later asked if there was a process to expand the amount of buffer required. Ms. McGrath said that would be a change to the zoning ordinance handled through the council or planning commission.
- A Belmont Road resident returned to ask if residents had any input to building plans that were not over 35 feet high. Ms. McGrath said not as long as the building was compliant with zoning. The resident asked if a fast-food restaurant with a drive-through was allowed. Under the current zoning, a free-standing fast-food restaurant is not allowed.
- A resident on Hampton asked if there was any way the developers could open the abandoned Dover Road into the neighborhood. Although the answer was yes, there are no plans to do so, and the process would require costly improvements.
Concluding the presentation was project engineer David Arrington. He said the size of the smaller lot would prohibit any type of high-rise. He said access from Dover Road was impractical because of its poor condition and the site plan for the restaurant used current parking.