Category Archives: Planning Commission

Planning Commission, Oct. 3, 2017

532 Broadway
Lot will be divided for two houses

One lot divided and lots of discussion of downtown planning, carriage-house size limits, and resuming work on the tree ordinance.

Members present: Billy Higginbotham, chair, Jeffrey Foster, vice chair, James Riddle, John Krontiras, Brady Wilson, and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Absent: Britt Thames and Mark Woods

Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk, and Fred Goodwin, planner, and Vanessa McGrath Building, Engineering and Zoning Department.

Audience attendance: 12

*Rezoning and final development plan cases are advisory only and must be approved by the city council.

Old Business:

Carried over for the seventh time a preliminary plat on a mountaintop subdivision above Berry Road: This was the month to finally hear the case of the Devonshire subdivision being developed by Charles Kessler, KADCO Homes, LLC, which had been carried over the better part of a year for plans to be completed to commission satisfaction. The new developer wants to create 6 lots out of the current 4-lot arrangement to revive the decade-old project. Ms. McGrath last month said the case at #1 and #4 Abby Lane would definitely be ready to hear this month after a conflict had been resolved over how to handle ownership of the road, among other things. There has been significant opposition from neighbors expressed at two recent hearings: February hearing.   July hearing.  This month, the problem was getting all the updated paperwork submitted to the zoning office in time for the meeting. “They really wanted to be here,” Ms. McGrath said.

NEW BUSINESS:

Approved a request to divide a residential lot on Broadway (pictured): Applicant Matthew Feld of Homewood (listed as co-owner with Trevor Cobb) said he purchased the property at 532 Broadway Street to divide and build two houses. The resulting lots would be 160 feet deep and 50 feet wide facing Broadway. There were speakers from two addresses at the hearing.

The first speaker, from 526 Broadway, asked to see any plans proposed for the lots. Mr. Higginbotham said that wasn’t a requirement for approval, and the resident said that was still her question.

The second speakers, from 527 Cliff Place, behind the property, wanted to know what the required setbacks were, and if those would be maintained when the new houses were built. He asked where the driveways would be, since the property sits up on a ledge, and asked about construction vehicles blocking the rear alley, which accesses his own house. After the hearing, Ms. McGrath said the rear setback for this lot is a 20-foot minimum with side setbacks of 5 and 9 feet respectively. The height limit is 29 feet from threshold to rooftop, and front setbacks could not be ahead of existing houses within 250 feet centered on the new house. The minimum is 25-feet written on the survey. To Mr. Foster’s question about requesting future setback variances, Mr. Feld said there wouldn’t be any. As for parking, he said it would be accessed probably from the alley. There was no discussion of maintaining alley clearance during construction.

The public portion over and there being no further questions, the division was unanimously approved.

Agreed to present a nominee for chair at the next meeting:  The planning commission is supposed to elect a chair annually. Mr. Higginbotham said he’d be happy to continue as chair if elected. The other members will nominate a choice in November.

A page from the downtown master planning website at heartofhomewoodplan.com

Discussed the Downtown Master Planning process, proposed changes affecting secondary structures (carriage houses, etc.) and imminent movement on the tree preservation ordinance: Mr. Foster asked for a report on the Sept. 26 kick-off event on the downtown master plan, hosted by the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham. He said he is still not getting email notifications. Ms. McGrath explained there were two sessions that day, with section maps and aerial photographs posted for people to mark with their suggested improvements. Residents can do the same on a special interactive map on the RPC’s website, and take a survey, at heartofhomewoodplan.com. There is also a public Facebook page by the same name. 

Mr. Foster asked how the suggestions would be prioritized, if suggestions were trending to practical or “pie-in-the-sky,” and if any cost estimates were assigned to proposals. As an example, the discussion turned briefly to the pocket park proposed at the jail site. Ms. McGrath said the property is zoned Institutional, which allows parks. She said the greenspace advocates had offered to buy the property from the city at appraised value, but gave no details. She didn’t know how costs for demolition, design, construction and maintenance would be arranged if the city chose to establish a park, she said. She did not think the planning process, which will take about a year, included offering financing options and cost estimates. 

Planning subcommittee to consider limits to “carriage house” size and resume discussions on tree preservation regulations.  Ms. McGrath said the next downtown planning meeting would be Oct. 19 at 2 p.m., to be followed by the zoning subcommittee meeting. The subcommittee will discuss limiting the size of accessory structures, which are now being built at sizes to rival the main houses. She was also expecting to present a final version of the tree preservation draft from the Environmental Commission. She, Scott Cook and Inspections Department head Wyatt Pugh will be attending an EC meeting Oct. 10 to oversee a final discussion of the draft document before it is returned to zoning, hopefully that night, she said. “The city council is asking hard– ‘When is it coming back to the planning commission?'” she said.

The Planning Commission could hear the proposed regulations as early as December, members said.

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Planning Commission, Sept. 12, 2017 special meeting

The two houses on the six combined lots, facing Highland (foreground) and Mecca (left), will be divided into five lots, the existing houses demolished.

Despite the awful weather and a popular green space forum scheduled elsewhere at 6:30, this case drew a crowd of over 25. Nevertheless, the lot division was approved unanimously; the builder offering few answers to concerns about construction site management, erosion control, tree preservation or other questions not specifically dictated by city law.

Members present: Britt Thames, Billy Higginbotham, chair, Jeffrey Foster, vice chair, James Riddle, and John Krontiras

Absent: Brady Wilson

Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk, and Fred Goodwin, planner, and Vanessa McGrath Building, Engineering and Zoning Department.

Audience attendance: 25

*Rezoning and final development plan cases are advisory only and must be approved by a vote of the city council.

Plan showing the division of property into five separate parcels/lots. The original subdivision was into six lots, but the property had been combined and used for decades as the address for just two houses.

Approved dividing two parcels historically used as two lots into five separate parcels on Highland Road: With little response to objectors or their questions, commission members unanimously approved a division of two parcels at 900 and 904 Highland Road into five separate lots for builder Jason Hale of Willow Homes. The parcels had been originally subdivided into six lots, but had been combined for decades as home to two bungalows, one of which had been recently vacant. The properties are next door to the Sims Gardens and the application shows the owner, at 900 Highland to be Dylan and Lauren Marsh. The builder plans to demolish the houses and build 4 br/3 bath houses on each of the five lots. Tonight’s case is heard at a special meeting due to an error in posting the case with those heard at the regular meeting a week ago.

In describing his case, Mr. Hale said each resulting lot would fall well above the minimum 7,300 square foot area standard computed from nearby lots and above the 53-foot width at the street. The smallest lot area is 7,331 square feet.

Speaking against the division or having concerns were five residents:

The first speaker, from 902 Stuart Street, asked what the average lot depth was and expressed her disappointment for loss of historic architecture, and poor management of construction sites on the neighborhood’s narrow streets, and steep terrain. Uncontrolled stormwater runoff from a split lot and construction of on the high side of Sims, facing Irving, continues to damage the city property. The applicant responded that lot depth was 141 feet. He was unclear about the depth of the resulting corner lot.

A speaker from 901 Irving said she owned one of the last double lots in the area and asked that the builder leave mature trees on the divided lots, not only for her privacy but for the new owners. “I ask that builders be respectful of the people who already live here,” she said. Mr. Hale made no proffers about maintaining the trees.

A speaker from 901 Highland Road, who lives across the street from Sims and part of the subject property, said he supported the division but was concerned about parking. He asked if the “paper alley” running behind the lots could be improved and used for parking. The commission chair answered that the city wasn’t interested in improving the alley. Mr. Higginbotham said a new rule required off street parking for at least two cars, and Ms. McGrath said the rule was actually a longstanding one, which is regularly enforced.

A speaker from 930 Highland on the corner of St. Charles said he was “on the receiving end of a lot of water,” from runoff. He said a city worker helped by building a berm to block some of the runoff, and he was concerned about erosion control during this large construction project. In answer, Ms. McGrath said the city inspectors were getting better about addressing erosion control on construction sites. She warned Mr. Hale that silt fences would have to be in place. She added that the city had faced lots of problems on the mountainside with building on Mecca, Highland, and Irving. The city has talked to an engineering firm about issues on the mountainside and is considering replacing and enlarging a storm drain.

A speaker from 304 St. Charles said she was opposed to the destruction of the two most beautiful lots in the neighborhood. “To tear those beautiful lots apart detracts from the whole neighborhood,” she said. “Why don’t we put more effort into preservation?” She said an earlier lot split in the neighborhood resulted in bad consequences for everyone and ruined the appearance of the property.

Commissioners asked few questions. Because the divided lots met the size and width standards and objections were beyond their powers to address, the vote was called and passed unanimously.

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Planning Commission, Sept. 5, 2017

Location of the Wildwood North parcel, showing a notch for the Milo’s restaurant. (Ms. McGrath said Milo’s was actually part of the original development.) The Wells Fargo property is adjacent to the north and was also recently subdivided, with the bank complex changing hands in August.

Members present: Billy Higginbotham, chair, Jeffrey Foster, vice chair, James Riddle, John Krontiras, and Brady Wilson.

Absent: Britt Thames, Mark Woods, and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk, and Fred Goodwin, planner, and Vanessa McGrath Building, Engineering and Zoning Department.

Audience attendance: 4

*Rezoning and final development plan cases are advisory only and must be approved by a vote of the city council.

Old Business:

Carried over for the sixth time a preliminary plat on a mountaintop subdivision above Berry Road: Once again, and maybe for the last time, the case at #1 and #4 Abby Lane, the Devonshire subdivision being developed by Charles Kessler, KADCO Homes, LLC, was carried over to allow more time to complete plans. In pre-commission, Ms. McGrath said a conflict over how to handle ownership of the road had finally been resolved. There were other problems as well and significant opposition from neighbors expressed at two recent hearings. February hearing.   July hearing. 

New Business:       

Drawing showing the location of two outparcel on either side of Milo’s (center). The eastern lot will be a restaurant.

Allowed two outparcels to be carved out of a North Wildwood property, probably for fast food: Bart Carr, an engineer representing property owners PMAT Homewood LLC, of Louisiana, said his clients were tight-lipped about their reasons to subdivide the 18.46-acre property, but surmised the east lot was no doubt for a restaurant. The so-called North Wildwood property already is the site of a Milo’s fast-food restaurant. The two newly divided lots are on either side of that restaurant and also front State Farm Parkway. Coming to the podium to learn more was John Page, owner of Taco Casa across Wildwood Parkway, who seemed satisfied to learn the location of the new businesses, whatever they become.

The entire parcel changed hands recently and lies just south of the Wells Fargo property which was subdivided into three equivalent sections in July. (Wells Fargo, formerly SouthTrust, sold its office complex in August.) Together the two parcels extend along a wooded buffer that separates the North Wildwood commercial sector from residential neighborhoods along Oak Grove Road, Hena Street, Cobb Street,  Kent Drive, Westwood Place and Glen Circle.

Google map showing property viewed from Highland

Announced a special meeting Tuesday, Sept. 12, at 6 p.m. to hear a residential lot division case dropped in error from tonight’s agenda:  

The case at 900 and 904 Highland Road is a request to redivide six lots covering two parcels into a total of 5 lots, three that would face Highland and two facing Mecca. Staff said the application was turned in on time, but other paperwork–

Current lot divisions

and the fee–trickled in later. The case was posted today to meet the minimum 7-day notice period to be heard next week.

 

 

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Planning Commission, Aug. 1, 2017

Shorter and wider, a new hotel revision actually adds two guests rooms while reducing height, at the expense of some retail.

Oh sure, the Planning Commission voted to recommend a shorter, fatter hotel tonight than was originally presented three weeks ago. That’s the big news. But judging by the number of spectators still clumped into hallway discussion groups afterward, the decisions didn’t sit well. Out of the 11 speakers heard tonight, former councilman and planning commission member Jeff Underwood was the only one singing praises, not of the hotel, but of the personal character and business integrity of majority owner Mike Mouron. (Mr. Mouron, who presented the case last month but was proxied tonight by investor Scotty Stanford, had taken offense when asked for proof of the Hilton franchise by commissioner Mark Woods. Mr. Woods was also absent tonight.)

Mr. Stanford’s presentation was brief and answered four questions raised on July 11: 1) The hotel had been reduced in height by 20 feet, or two stories, while guest rooms increased by two, to 129; 2) Owners had purchased a remote property to provide an additional 41 parking spaces; 3) The plan re-aligned the sanitary sewer so as to avoid an easement or construction inconvenience to a business neighbor; and 4) Owners produced a letter from Hilton showing its intent to make the hotel a Curio franchise.

However, the gist of residents’ concerns tonight had progressed to bigger concerns than parking spaces and the primary purpose of the commission–Planning and how little there seemed to be of it considering the size of the project. For details on the case, speaker concerns and answers, read below.

Members present: Billy Higginbotham, chair, Britt Thames, Jeffrey Foster, vice chair, James Riddle, John Krontiras, and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Absent: Brady Wilson and Mark Woods.

Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk, and Fred Goodwin, planner, Vanessa McGrath and Greg Cobb, Building, Engineering and Zoning Department.

Audience attendance: 34

*Rezoning and final development plan cases are advisory only and must be approved by a vote of the city council.

OLD BUSINESS:

Carried over a subdivision redevelopment that’s been simmering atop Shades Mountain since February.  This is the sixth carry-over for this project to renew and modify development of a 7-year-old gated subdivision on Shades Mountain that was abandoned by a previous developer after selling two lots. Much of the delay, according to Ms. McGrath, is a conflict between the developer and the two homeowners over ownership of the access road. Click here for the original case, and a later followup. 

Click to open zoomable pdf of the ground-floor layout. The project appears to incorporate the Wolf Camera building into the plan.

Voted to recommend a final development plan and rezoning for a 5-story downtown hotel after developers answered concerns about parking and building height to the commission’s satisfaction: Speaking on behalf of the project was investor Scotty Stanford, saying majority owner Mike Mouron (a Mt. Brook planning commission member who spoke last month) was on a wedding anniversary vacation with his wife. As background, the case encompasses 2713, 2725, 2727, 2739 and 2714 18th Street South and 2728 Mamie L. Foster on a prominent corner in downtown Homewood, now owned by an LLC called Homewood Place. As presented last month, 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 28th Avenue, with seven stories (802 feet) and 127 guest rooms fronted by a two-story retail/restaurant area. The applicants requested consolidating zoning of the parcels from two commercial zones to a single MXD (mixed use) zone for a hotel and ground-level retail development.

Elevations from sea level versus heights of buildings.

To proceed to final council approval, the project required commission approval of the development plan as well, which it rejected unanimously on July 11. Mr. Mouron had failed to make a case for waiving 80 parking places under the code, suggesting he had been misled by the staff about the exact parking requirements. The height at 7 stories, was also too much for the commission, despite a comparison of elevations above sea level that put the Curio second from bottom of downtown buildings, just above the Aloft. Tonight’s revised plan reads “5 stories,” and knocks about 20 feet off the building height. And even then, it is taller than SoHo, the apartments, or Aloft.

Residents thought the 28th Avenue focal point, which they compared to the city’s next “Curve,” deserved longer, more thoughtful planning on traffic, parking, landscaping and visual impact. The commission tonight voted to recommend the plan as presented.

Objections and other concerns:

  • SoHo and Broadway Parc developer Bubba Smith wanted to know more about the final appearance from different angles, effect on SoHo residents’ views, use of quality exterior materials, and the visual effect of a shorter, wider building on a key focal point in downtown. He said the commission should demand assurances on the futurity of parking arrangements if contracted or leased. “The intersection of 18th and 28th is a future focal point. This design walls it off,” he said. “This is not the vision I have wanted for that street.”
  • Ken Shaia, an 18th Street business owner, echoed the importance of the building’s appearance at that intersection. He asked for a 3-dimensional model to help people visualize the building and said the rendering didn’t fit with the character of surrounding buildings. “The Bohemian was more slow planned,” he said. “I’d like to see something that looks like the city.”
  • A Rosedale resident who has been vocal about that neighborhood’s redevelopment said there should be more information available about the project. He seemed concerned about gentrification, and said he wanted to see it benefit Rosedale, with a Rosedale business in a storefront and residents finding jobs at the hotel.
  • A real estate agent living on SoHo’s fourth floor north said residents’ views would be affected and wanted a plan that showed residents what to expect.
  • Scott Dean, a resident and 18th Street business owner, asked more detail about onsite versus offsite lots and how they would be used.
  • A resident pushing for more downtown green spaces asked how the hotel plan worked with the master plan the city had paid “$200,000 for a year ago.” She said the hotel had little to offer in landscaping and downtown already “skewed hot and hard” with concrete surfaces. “This can be a transformation in a good way, or a bad way,” she said. “Look at Regions. Would we do this now?”
  • The business owner next door wanted assurances–received–that his 10-foot alleyway wouldn’t be reduced.
  • Two Hollywood resident asked the commission to reject the project until there was more and better planning, especially for sidewalks and more trees.

In response: 

Limits to commission requirements – Mr. Higginbotham asked Ms. McGrath to list the requirements for a development plan, beyond which the commission could require nothing further of an applicant to get a recommendation. That included a dozen provisions ranging from signage, to landscaping, drainage, parking, lighting, contour maps,  and so on. Ms. McGrath said the plan contained those elements to her satisfaction. Mr. Higginbotham, saying the city attorney warned against basing commission decisions outside that list, invited Mr. Stanford to proffer a 3-dimensional model, etc., if he wanted. Mr. Stanford responded that the materials would be glass, masonry, brick and synthetic stucco. He wanted to continue working with the community he said, stopping short of proffering any further studies requested.

A chaos of overlapping planning projects  – As for the status of the downtown master plan, Ms. McGrath said is had not been initiated and she could not predict what it would contain. An initial meeting of stakeholders has not been held. However, Mr. Thames said because of the hotel, the parking component had been fast-tracked and the Regional Planning Commission  determined parking capacity would be increased by enforcing time limits (set to 3 hours). Ms. McGrath said the street scaping project planned on 18th Street had been delayed pending the hotel’s plans. (The hotel’s landscaping plans, meanwhile, are contingent on the 18th Street improvement project.) Mr. Krontiras was concerned about future density downtown and the need for more traffic studies. But Mr. Cobb said a traffic study would be premature because of plans possibly to narrow 18th Street.

Final hotel details

  • Landscaping will be “coordinated with city’s 18th Street improvements and hotel/retail green space;
  • Two 50-square-foot hotel signs will be mounted on the ground floor facing both 18th Street and 28th Avenue.
  • Total parking 211 spaces (including 5 handicap accessible) – 134 onsite, 16 on 18th Avenue, 41 on remote lot on 27th Avenue South, 20 cross-parking agreement
  • 102,461 square feet total, hotel, 96,461 about 96%; restaurant/bar = 6,000 sf 4%

A vote was called on the development plan and the rezoning separately. Each passed unanimously with Mr. Higginbotham abstaining because of a previous relationship with the applicant.

NEW BUSINESS:

Approved changes to a development plan to allow the Lakeshore Foundation to add a gym and walking trail to improve campus walkability: The plan to amend the Lakeshore Foundation development plan with a developed “treetop” walking trail, office and storage space at 4000 Ridgeway Drive, passed with no objections and few questions from the commission. Applicant Walter Schoel Engineering; Owner Andrew Phillips. 

Added a minimum lot area for NPD zoning, which had been dropped in error last year:  The minimum house size was inadvertently dropped from the zoning book during an amendment process last year for housing height and other changes. Tonight the Planning Commission amended the ordinance to include an 800-square-foot minimum house size for lots up to 49 feet across. The other minimums, by lot wide are: 1,200 square feet for lots 50-55 feet wide; 1,400 sf for lots 56-65 feet; 1,600 sf for lots 66-75 feet; and 1,800 sf for lots 76 feet across and wider. Residence maximums are 50% of the lot area.

There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned.

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Planning Commission, July 11, 2017

The Curio’s final plan didn’t pass inspection this time around. The case will be back in a month for reconsideration.

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.

OLD BUSINESS:

The gated community planned on Shades Mountain above Berry Road has been carried over multiple times since February 2017.

Carried over for the fifth 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.

NEW BUSINESS:

Sprawling hotel footprint

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.

1609 Ridge, in red, and impact area from which an average lot size/width is calculated

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.

The parcel abutting much of West Homewood through across a buffer will be divided into three separate lots.

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.

Former Mt. Brook Inn property, up (again) for redevelopment. This is the main lot as it exists today.

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.

The proposed lot division, approved tonight. The restaurant would be located in the smaller lot.

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.

Never forget: The Planning Commission in 2014 approved a preliminary development plan for a 10-story office building, a hotel and 5-level parking deck on the site of the old Mountain Brook Inn. Later it asked for zoning changes to allow a fast-food business inside the office building. The plan was later dropped.

 

 

 

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Planning Commission, June 6, 2017

Not the biggest case by any means, but certainly the most unusual was the case of the improperly zoned Pilates instructor and the city’s efforts to help the landlord, at all costs  Over the course of two meetings, with at least two more still to come, property owner John Page sought to rezone his office-zoned lot next to Mayfair Circle to a higher retail category to allow a Pilates studio. Beaten back by neighborhood opposition last month, the zoning staff and commission this week agreed to recommend adding the category Personal Fitness Studio to the uses allowed in the office district. The case must go before the council for approval. Mr. Page was delighted with outcome

Members present: All – Billy Higginbotham, chair, Britt Thames, Jeffrey Foster, James Riddle, Brady Wilson, John Krontiras, Mark Woods, and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Absent: None

Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk, and Fred Goodwin, planner, Vanessa McGrath and Greg Cobb, Building, Engineering and Zoning Department.

Audience attendance: 19

*Rezoning cases must be approved by a vote of the city council, which follows a separate public hearing.

OLD BUSINESS:

Jefferson County map showing the Devonshire subdivision

Carried over the preliminary plat approval for 1 & 4 Abbey Lane, with many questions still unanswered: Developer Charles Kessler’s project to revive the abandoned Devonshire gated subdivision development atop Shades Mountain was carried over in February pending answers to a host of objections by two current property owners and nearby homeowners worried about blasting, stormwater runoff,  legal questions about covenants and adequate fire protection, to name a few. Tonight the case got no further under questioning and engineer Joe Schefano of Engineering Design Group opted to carry it over again rather than risk a denial.

According to discussion, developer Steve Chambers had subdivided the property seven years ago into four lots, of which two were built and occupied occupied, forming the very small Homeowners Association. Kessler, of KADCO Homes LLC, wants to redraw the four lots into six and place them on a sanitary sewer line rather than septic systems, as was planned originally. Tonight, the engineer heard the same objections raised in February: A man who objected to runoff down the slope to his mother’s house on Berry Road returned to ask about a detention pond drawn onto the latest plans. Mr. Schefano said the pond would slow the calculated additional runoff from the new houses to match the current runoff, going from 10.5 cubic feet/second currently to 10.4 cf/sec after construction. The man was also concerned that sewer construction would clear vegetation on the slope, which he’d been assured wouldn’t be disturbed. The city’s stormwater system was overtaxed already, he said, with water pooling by a drain on Berry after today’s rain.

The Battalion Chief said the required fire hydrant, discussed in February, wasn’t the right capacity as drawn on the plans;

Another neighbor who owns undeveloped land abutting the subdivision claimed his deed and others sold at the same time had covenants that didn’t allow any dwellings on the property. He said four additional houses would ruin his view of the valley.

Finally, one of the two current homeowners spoke, saying they still hadn’t settled questions with Mr. Kessler about an easement for staging construction, re-writing some of the covenants, or setting up the Homeowners Association. With that, Mr. Hill said wanted those questions answered first and Mr. Higginbotham  advised the engineer to come back with issues settled — including researching whether the land was clear of any outstanding covenants. With that agreed, the case was postponed to next month.

The rezone would apply to the building on the right, which abuts the Mayfair Circle subdivision

Dropped a request to rezone an Oxmoor Road property in order to rewrite the current zoning to allow a new business: John Page, a Homewood resident and restaurant owner, was back tonight after residents of Mayfair Circle unanimously opposed his plan to rezone adjacent property at 1743 Oxmoor Road from C-1, office use, to C-2, which allows a broad range of retail. Despite the protests last month, Mr. Higginbotham had suggested he carry the case over and talk to neighbors about accepting a  “conditional” C-2 zoning, in which the lot would be rezoned, but only to allow the Pilates studio tenant he would be renting to. One month later, and with neighbors remaining adamantly opposed to C-2 under any conditions, Ms. McGrath offered as a solution changing the C-1 zone to include a “Personal Fitness Studio,” which closely describes the kind of “professional” one-on-one instruction that the Pilates business advertised. She said this use would be consistent with an office zoning. Ms. McGrath said the new category would apply to practitioners who hold “some sort of professional certificate,” and would not allow outdoor activity or music, such as group fitness classes sometimes do.

Mr. Krontiras, pointing out how much effort had gone into the case so far, asked, “Have you not considered finding another tenant?” But with no objection from the Mayfair group, and after some discussion to clarify the next steps, Mr. Page agreed to drop his current case and allow the commission to recommend the new zoning use directly to the council. That vote taken and passed, the case will likely come to before the council after being discussed in committee and advertised, probably July 26. If passed, the new use will be available to any business in the C-1 zone. 

NEW BUSINESS:

Circled is the 2,263 square foot “Hybrid Operating Room” addition planned to Brookwood hospital’s massive Orthopaedic and Neurosurgery pavilion project

Approved an amended plan at Brookwood Medical center to allow a “hybrid operating room” addition: In the shortest case of the night, applicant Gonzalez Strength & Associates requested an amended development plan at 2010 Medical Center Drive to allow Brookwood hospital to add a “hybrid operating room” at its planned Orthopaedic and Neurosurgery Pavilion. The facility, which is built where the hospital originally proposed a women’s health center, went through rezoning and development plan approvals in 2015, with some opposition. The common definition of a hybrid OR is an operating room that provides regular surgical facilities along with the imaging equipment necessary for less invasive procedures, such as vascular and endoscopic surgery

Sketch from a 1997 proposal to carry a sidewalk along the north side of Mayfair from U.S. 31 to Huntington, via Roxbury. The intersection was the focus of tonight’s review.

Approved changes to the much argued sidewalk at Mayfair Drive and Roxbury Drive intersection: For reasons not explained by Mr. Higginbotham, this case and the one following, were advertised and presented to the Planning Commission, but with no public comment period allowed. One opponent, who has been vocal and strident in his objections since the project was first renewed last spring, was in the audience, but left.

In the Mayfair-Roxbury case, the city is constructing a sidewalk on the north side of Mayfair Drive from U.S. 31 to a three-way stop intersection at Roxbury Road. From there, the sidewalk will cross Roxbury and extend north on the west side of that street to Huntington Road. Tonight’s case focused on the removal of a concrete triangle at the intersection and creation of a grass-covered island behind the curb, with a decorative streetlight. The homeowner at that location has agreed to maintain the grass.

Background: The case is the culmination of a sidewalk dispute among Mayfair neighbors dating back to the mid-1990s and renewed by residents over a year ago, which was hashed out in a series of council committee meetings last year. On one side are  residents claiming that a majority of their neighbors want a sidewalk along Mayfair as a basic amenity and safety measure for children. On the other side, objectors said the sidewalk section from U.S. 31 and up Roxbury would have an estimated pricetag of over $100,000 and remove nearly a dozen mature trees and other permanent fixtures. At least one resident said the costs would be paid to please young residents who very likely would move out of the neighborhood in a few years anyway.

The city council has since approved the project and received a construction bid of a little over $69,000. The addition of a section extending the sidewalk all the way to Ridge Road on Mayfair has been discussed but not approved. After the meeting, city zoning engineer Greg Cobb said the city did indeed remove four trees on Mayfair to make way for the sidewalk.

Angled parking and street islands should slow down traffic and help unify the look of one of the roughest looking thoroughfares in Homewood

Approve improvements to Central Avenue: Greg Cobb presented a plan to implement a Skipper Traffic Consultant suggestion (shown) for adding parking and unifying the appearance of the Central  Avenue curve by Iron Tribe and Little Donkey. The plan would place islands in the street to slow traffic and put Central on a further “road diet” by flanking each side with angled parking. There will be 35 new spaces in all, including 24 directly on Central Avenue. Mr. Cobb said it would bring the appearance of a plan to a “sea of asphalt and concrete” that is Central. He and others on the commission gave credit to the owner of the new Calibre outfitter shop for coming up with the idea. Mr. Krontiras said Reese Street should also be made one-way, an idea Mr. Thames, the council liaison, agreed should be revisited.

There being no further cases, the commission ended the meeting by electing Jeffrey Foster as vice chairman, to replace the retired vice chair Mike Brandt, whose last meeting was in May. Mr. Foster was the vice chair on the BZA until he served his final meeting last week, hitting a term limit.

Planning Commission, May 2, 2017

Owners say they want to tear down three separate buildings and replace with a strip retail building. But the real meat of this case was a request to rezone for townhouses on Columbiana. Opposition from residents and the commission overwhelmed the townhouse plan.

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

The duplex on the right was approved for second story apartments and an outdoor staircase. One Rosedale resident spoke in favor of the project.

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.

Councilman Peter Wright and other officials picketed the Circle K property and advocated its boycott when the company leased ground for a giant digital billboard facing Lakeshore. Tonight the company was approved to nearly quadruple its service station on the Lakeshore corner.

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.

A row of 6-foot evergreens were planted to appease residents upset by the clear cutting of the Meat & Three property a couple of years ago. The trees have died.

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.

Rear of Shunnarah property. Owners have been clearing for a couple of years, to the chagrin of neighbors with a view of the commercial buildings.

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.

The newly configured BP station will be nearly four times the size of the current building of 12,000 square feet, and have one additional pump.

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.

From May 2014 – A concept sketch of rebuilt duplex on B. M. Montgomery Street in Rosedale, rezoned June 9 from residential to mixed use. The rezone from residential to Mixed Use caused a furor. Tonight’s vote to enlarge a matching duplex next door sailed through with no opposition.

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.

The proposed rezone at 1743 Oxmoor applies to the small building on the right, which abuts the Mayfair Circle subdivision. Residents didn’t want more retail, and were skeptical the adjacent State Farm property could be combined for an even larger, less desirable, commercial development in the future.