Category Archives: Planning Commission

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 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.

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.

 

Planning Commission, April 4, 2017

Rear of the “Meat and Three” property. Owners have been clearing the back for a couple of years with plans to divide the property, sell the rear and redevelop the section fronting Green Springs.

Two large cases were carried over once again. Development is picking up in the Green Springs area, with a proposal to partition and redevelop the Meat & Three property waiting in the wings, and the Buddy Wade building getting a retail tenant, once rezoned.

Members present: Billy Higginbotham, chair, Jeffrey Foster, James Riddle, Brady Wilson, Fred Azbik, and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Absent: Mike Brandt, vice chair, Britt Thames, 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: 21

Minutes: unknown

Carried over: Two big cases slated tonight after prior postponements were carried over again to May, including 1) Two parcels involved in a 6-lot subdivision on hilltop property overlooking Berry Road, called Abbey Lane; and 2) A proposed division and development of commercial property (Meat & Three, etc., property) between Green Springs Highway and Columbiana Road.

Buddy Wade Building on Palisades and Columbiana.

Recommended rezoning property on Palisades from office to retail: Over the objections of one neighbor, the commission agreed to recommend rezoning the Buddy Wade State Farm property–a house at 285 Palisades Boulevard converted to an insurance office–from C-1 Office Building District to GURD, Green Springs Renewal District. The original request was to rezone to C-2, Neighborhood Shopping District to allow a 5-station hair salon. It was unclear why the applicant preferred the more stringent GURD zoning. Any rezoning is subject to City Council approval after a final public hearing.

The right side of the townhouse development on Columbiana is being built. Tonight complaints were addressed before approving the final plat on the left side.

 

Approved final plat pending a list of contingencies for a subdivision addition at 818-822 Columbiana RoadThe left side neighbor presented a list of concerns and demands to the developer of a 10-unit townhouse development at 818-822 Columbiana Road. The first half of the development is underway on the right side, with six units (shown). Final plat for four additional units planed on the left side were being decided tonight. 

The neighbor complained of ground erosion after trees were cut, that her gravel driveway had been damaged during the clearing and grading process, that she foresaw parking problems on her and her neighbors’ property because of inadequate parking in the development; and that a 36-inch retaining wall was insufficient to halt water draining off the development.

She also asked that the rear of the townhouses facing her property be uniformly fenced and landscaped for buffer and privacy.

The townhouses will look something like this.

In response, the developer agreed to investigate the driveway claims, but pointed out the development had six more parking spaces than the two spaces per unit required by law. He proffered the requested rear fencing, adding that the fence, being only 10 feet from the rear of the building, didn’t leave enough room for landscaping. However, he said a retaining wall was planned later in construction.

In questioning, Mr. Riddle said something should be done to prevent erosion from a drain pipe outlet on the property, and suggested riprap. The developer said the ditch would be sodded, which should be sufficient for the low velocity of flow.

The vote of approval was further contingent on the City Council accepting the street as public; a $10,000+ performance bond for the street finishing; and that the covenants and restrictions were submitted to the city.

Concept for three houses at 169 Lucerne. The variances for three undersized lots were rejected.

Divided a large residential property on Lucerne Boulevard into two smaller lots:  The curious case of 169 Lucerne Boulevard has been heard twice in the BZA in February and March, each time being rejected after drawing lots of neighborhood opposition. The original request was to divide the large parcel, on which there is one house, into three smaller and odd-shaped lots that fit together like puzzle pieces. The BZA kicked back the request based in part on the irregularity of the lot shapes and a poor presentation by the builder/prospective owner. On the second visit, the developer proposed three equally sized and shaped lots. Neighbors, however, voiced persuasive objections about the small lot sizes and concerns about building over storm and sanitary sewer lines than ran across the property.

The left lot is larger to compensate for the storm and sewer line bisecting it. The house on this lot would be situated to the right of the utility easements and not require any setback variances.

In this visit, the developer has decided to divide the parcel into only two sections, which result in two lots meeting the city’s size and average width  regulations and which will need no variances when built. There was one speaker tonight from 321 Lucerne, although others were in attendance. The speaker urged the commission to protect the property from any development that would harm the land or utilities.

Before the vote of approval, the developer agreed the house would be built within setback and other zoning regulations, needing no variances from the BZA.

Planning Commission, Feb. 7, 2017

Planning Commission pre-meeting.

Planning Commission pre-meeting. Both of Thursday’s cases were eventually carried over.

Two important cases scheduled Thursday were postponed to allow more preparation. In one, a gated subdivision addition approved seven years ago but never completed has been revived to widespread concern of surrounding homeowners about potential blasting, damage control, runoff and incomplete plans to provide fire protection. The plan to redraw four lots into six in the Devonshire subdivision on Shades Mountain will go back to the drawing board to answer significant questions. Meanwhile, a request to divide a Green Springs commercial parcel and open it to Columbiana Road was put on hold while owners investigated the legality of the plan.

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

Absent: Mike Brandt, vice chair, Britt Thames, Fred Azbik, and Mark Woods.

Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk, Fred Goodwin, planner, and Vanessa McGrath, building, engineering and zoning department.

Audience attendance: 16

Minutes: January 2016 minutes were approved.

NEW BUSINESS

devonshire

The map shows the extent of the Devonshire subdivision, including two built lots (lower and upper left shaded areas) and the 4-lot addition approved in 2010. New owner/developer Kadco Homes is proposing to redraw the addition into six lots and extend sewer and water lines and make other changes. Adjacent Homewood residents have objected to a host of potential problems; the development also abuts the Vestavia line on the south.

Carried over a preliminary plat and construction plans for a 6-lot subdivision near Berry Road: With significant issues such as drainage and fire protection still unanswered and six households either opposing or expressing important concerns, the commission advised Wade Lowery of the Engineering Design Group to carry over the request or risk a denial. EDG took the advice on behalf of owner/developer Kadco Homes, LLC (Charles Kessler).

The project:

The project is a continuation of the 2010 Devonshire subdivision, which had been envisioned in 2007 by a former councilman as an exclusive gated community of six large houses on estate-sized lots, two of which were his own residence and that of his mother’s, both now sold and occupied by others. Those two current homeowners at #1 and #2 Abbey Lane, who were among the speakers on Thursday, also comprise the membership of the “homeowners association” and co-own a private wall, gate and drive accessing their property.

Original division of the Devonshire property into four lots. The developer plans to re-divide into six.

Original division of the Devonshire addition into four lots. The developer plans to redivide this portion into six.

The new development team has proposed dividing the four vacant lots approved in 2010 into six lots, extending a sanitary sewer (as opposed to using septic systems) and bringing an extended water main to supply a fire hydrant. Undecided plans for fire protection and stormwater drainage from the remote site were of particular concern to the commission. The fire hydrant on the plan has not been thought out or approved and there were concerns raised in the pre-meeting about the ability to gain adequate pressure for the hydrant. Also of concern was the status of a 2010 proffer from the preceding owner to furnish sprinklers in the new houses in the absence of a hydrant, and other relevant covenants on the land. These problems and others raised by residents in the public hearing contributed to the postponement.

Opposing or concerned speakers: 

  • A man speaking on behalf of his mother living on Berry said he  objected to the new plan because of surface water drainage downhill to Berry. He had relied on the 2010 approval for four lots and was worried the additional houses and construction required for sewer and water would disturb the natural buffer that was to remain in the original plan.
  • A Berry resident echoed the concern about drainage downhill to her house.
  • A Mt. Gap resident was concerned about potential damage from blasting and asked if Abbey Lane would be connected through to Mt. Gap (no, the Abbey Lane drive will be extended to a planned turnaround).
  • A Mt. Gap Drive resident whose property abuts the development on two sides was also concerned about a through road, proximity of construction work and equipment to her property, and potential damage from blasting a rock outcropping.
  • The homeowner at 1 Abbey Lane, a current homeowners association member who bought his house in 2014, was concerned about drainage problems, making the street a through road, and asked for guarantees to repair any damage to the communal gate, wall and drive. “There are only two of us, but we are a gated community and the purpose of the gate is defeated if the road will be continued,” he said. “When we bought this property in 2014, we did so with the knowledge of four lots and four larger houses. Now that value will change.”
  • The homeowner at 2 Abbey Lane echoed the same concerns, adding he wanted to be part of any change to the current covenants.

The engineer and commission respond:

The engineer admitted the project may require blasting and if so would comply with the relevant regulations. As to drainage, he mentioned for the first time that drainage channels and a detention pond would be added to the plans. He did  not object to arranging a construction easement on the private communal property controlled under HOA ownership.

Nevertheless, Mr. Higginbotham said he could not cast a vote on plans with so many questions left unanswered. The engineer agreed and the case was continued to next month.

819 Green Springs Highway

Property owners want to redevelop three buildings (yellow shading) housing the former Captain D’s, a seafood shop and car customizing business. But a questionable lot division proposed with access from residential Columbiana Road forced a postponement.

Carried over a Green Springs plan to divide commercial property with an entrance on Old Columbiana Road.  Owners of a large commercial tract at 819 Green Springs Highway want to divide the property into two lots, raze three buildings and redevelop the portion facing Green Springs and open an access point onto Columbiana Road for the new lot. Mr. Higginbotham told the family ownership in a pre-meeting that he suspected covenants on the land guaranteed a 30-foot buffer between the commercial lot and the street, which is residential. He doubted the legality of disturbing that buffer with a commercial entrance, he said. Adjacent Columbiana Road property being developed with 10 townhouses had no such covenants, Mr. Higginbotham said. Owners organized as F.R.Z. LLC asked how to investigate the covenants and were told to consult a lawyer or surveyor.

buffer

Google Maps aerial showing tree buffer along rear of former Captain D’s property.

(pictured) Columbiana residents were upset when the owners cleared trees behind the property without a permit or advance notice. To add to the buffer, visible bordering the rear of the property (on the right), the city also planted a dozen small evergreen trees, which have not survived.

Planning Commission, Jan. 10, 2017

planning & zoning(1)A homeowner finally relented in his stand to keep a tool shed up against side and rear property lines to give his children more room to play in their small back yard. In this brief meeting that included a dry cleaner’s case on 28th Avenue South, the zoning staff said the downtown master planning process will begin shortly now that an agreement has been signed between the city and Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham. Also, staff will present–with mayor’s office blessings–amendments to eliminate components of the new village code in West Homewood.

Members present: Billy Higginbotham, chair, Mike Brandt, vice chair, Jeffrey Foster, arriving after the first case, James Riddle, Britt Thames, Mark Woods, and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Absent: Fred Azbik and Brady Wilson.

Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk, Greg Cobb and Vanessa McGrath, building, engineering and zoning department.

Minutes: None

The shed at 808 Cobb Street will be moved, ending a mini-standoff between the homeowner and planning commission

The shed at 808 Cobb Street will be moved, ending a mini-standoff between the homeowner and planning commission

Reached a final compromise on a long-running but minor setback case in West Homewood: Homeowner John McElheny agreed to move a partially assembled tool shed 3 feet from rear and side property lines, ending his months-long stand against relocating the structure from its position just inches from a sidewalk and rear property line at 820 Cobb Street. The wood structure has been exposed to the weather since the fall, when city workers issued a stop-work order because its location violated setback regulations. The house is one of three added recently to an older subdivision zoned Planned Residential District, whose regulations are governed not by zoning regulations but by a development overseen plan overseen by the planning commission.

Mr. McElheny in October argued that the zoning office had waived its setback regulations due to special circumstances surrounding the construction of his house and two others on very shallow lots; zoning staff and the commission denied any special agreement, but did admit to an error recording the setbacks for his address. The matter has been carried over each month since Oct. 4, 2016.

Although similar compromise was first proposed in November 1, it failed on a tie vote with a new member abstaining. Mr. McElheny then argued the vote should be rescinded until the new member could visit the site and cast a vote. The next month Mr. McElheny was unable to attend because of a school activity and the matter was reconsidered at 3 feet again this month, and passed.

Watkins Cleaners combined four parcels into one, purpose unknown

Watkins Cleaners combined four parcels into one, purpose unknown

Approved a resurvey to combine four parcels into one on 28th Avenue South: Watkins Cleaners was granted a re-survey to combine 1707-1715 – 28th Avenue South into one parcel, reason not given. The case prompted Mr. Foster to ask staff again when the Regional Planning Commission and city would initiate the downtown Master Plan process, which will take a year to complete and begin next month with meetings with various stakeholders. Ms. McGrath said the contract had been signed.