Category Archives: Planning Commission

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.

Planning Commission, Dec. 13, 2016

planning & zoning(1)A property owner is promising an Orvis-like sporting goods development in the heart of Central Avenue and other improvements that will “clean up” the block and unify a hodge-podge of small business sites. Westward, a flooring company will move in to the old K-Mart building; duplex owners seek a rezoning out of the Green Springs Renewal District; and a Southpoint homeowner gets a setback exemption. Meanwhile, a stubborn case at 820 Cobb Street is held over once again.

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

Members absent: Mike Brandt, vice chair, and Mark Woods.

Transition seat*: With the new council sworn in in November, councilman Britt Thames takes the commission liaison position vacated by outgoing member Fred Hawkins. It is a voting position.

Staff attendance: Donna Bridges, commission secretary and Vanessa McGrath, city Building, Engineering and Zoning Department.

Audience attendance:  7

OLD BUSINESS

shedCarried over an emotion-packed case about a shed placed too close to a sidewalk and property line: This is the third carry-over for the homeowner at 820 Cobb Street, who resented having work stopped on a tool shed he’d placed too close to property lines and commission effort to force compliance. Earlier postponements were granted so all members could visit the site, and later for a new member to also visit the site. Tonight’s postponement was allowed so the homeowner could attend a school function.

NEW BUSINESS

Recommended rezoning Carr Avenue property out of Green Springs renewal district so landlords can remodel duplexes: Cynthia and Steven Parris, own duplex units at 316-332 Carr Avenue, which were grandfathered into commercial Green Springs Urban Renewal District zoning adopted in 2004. The owners’ intent to remodel the buildings triggered the non-compliance and they requested a rezoning to R-7, detached dwelling. The recommendation passed unanimously and goes to the council, which will call a separate hearing before voting whether to rezone.

In discussion about the history of the GURD, Ms. McGrath said hearings were held at the Homewood High School because the new city hall wasn’t built and the old council chamber was too small for a crowd. The GURD regulations were passed in conjunction with landscaping and other upgrades along the corridor in part to prevent a proliferation of check cashing and automotive businesses.

floordecor

Floor & Decor concept plan showing the planned look for the former K-Mart Building. The plan includes a 38-foot parapet and sign facing I-65, which must be approved by the city council.

Amended a development plan on the old K-Mart property for a new flooring company: Park Grimmer of Grimmer Realty, owner of the Mi Pueblo shopping center, were granted an amended plan for new tenant Floor & Decor to move into the old K-Mart spot at 230 Green Springs Highway. The plan includes a facelift, new front walk, covered pick-up area and loading dock rebuilt for heavier loads. The company plans larger signs, including one facing I-65, which will require a sign variance from the city council.

An addition to an existing building will be the new home of "high-end" sporting goods shop Caliber, planned on Central Avenue.

An addition to an existing building will be the new home of “high-end” sporting goods shop Caliber, planned on Central Avenue.

Combined three divided parcels into one parcel/one lot on Central for a sporting goods store: Commercial property owner Jared Lewis plans to build a 4,800 square foot “Orvis-like” sporting goods retail shop called “Caliber” on his property across Central from Little Donkey and across 28th Avenue South from IronTribe Fitness. The granted resurvey consolidates into one lot his properties at 2822, 2824, & 2826 Central Avenue and facilitates a plan to

Very approximate area of addition for new sporting goods retail shop on Central Avenue.

Approximate area of addition for new sporting goods retail shop on Central Avenue.

build an addition for retail and a covered connection between an adjoining warehouse and the new store, and unify separate lots with lawns, landscaping and parking. The store will carry fishing gear, apparel, and firearms, much like Marks Outdoors in Vestavia, he said, but present a high-end facade of poured concrete, special glass, a tin roof and other impressive architectural finishes to “clean up” the looks of the area–where asphalt is sometimes poured right to the door of businesses.

Lewis said there is already sufficient parking. He said he has been working with the city for some time on converting a portion of Central right-of-way to additional parking, but that is still in the planning stage.

801 Southwood Circle

801 Southwood Circle

Approved an amended development plan on a split vote for a Southwood Circle residence to build a screen porch: The residence at 801 Southwood Circle in West Homewood is part of a larger subdivision governed by a development plan rather than Neighborhood Preservation District regulations, as is typical. In NPD cases, requests for exemptions are decided by the Board of Zoning Adjustments. Here, the Planning Commission governs adjustments to the rules, and members voted in favor of allowing a covered porch to be built into the rear property line setback. After some discussion, the request to build 4.5 feet from the rear was changed to a more acceptable 10 feet, and passed with one dissenting vote.

Voting no: Azbik.

 

Planning Commission, Nov. 1, 2016

planning & zoning(1)Two major and ongoing developments in town–Samford and ServisFirst–requested changes in their development plans, with ServisFirst adding tiers to its parking lot earlier than expected, and Samford installing new (and quieter) cooling towers, but in a location slightly closer and more visible to Saulter Road houses than before. The drama award, however, goes to the McElheny case on Cobb Street, where an unfavorable vote was taken and then rescinded to appease the homeowner and the case carried over for a second time.

Members present: Mike Brandt, Billy Higginbotham, chair, Jeffrey Foster, James Riddle, Mark Woods, and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Members absent: None

Vacancy: The year-long vacancy created by the resignation of James Ponseti was filled by new member Brady Wilson, a mayoral appointee. Meanwhile, a new vacancy is created temporarily by the expiring council term of Fred Hawkins, who served as a voting member and council liaison to the commission. He will be replaced by a mayor’s designee from the upcoming council.

Staff attendance: Donna Bridges, commission secretary, Fred Goodwin, planner, Vanessa McGrath and Greg Cobb, city Building, Engineering and Zoning Department.

Audience attendance:  Not reported

Announcements: Ms. McGrath is going to be scheduling subcommittee meeting to discuss the master plan for the central business district.

OLD BUSINESS

shed

Homeowner John McElheny requested–and received–a do-over on a failed vote to allow his shed to remain beyond the setback limits. The case has been carried over twice in what has become a mini contest of wills between the commission and applicant.

Carried over for a second time a contentious case on Cobb Street involving a tool shed: The case at 820 Cobb Street involves a request for an amended development plan by an applicant who had been cited for building a shed inside the setback and less than a foot from two corner property lines, including a public sidewalk. (Most residential cases are governed by NPD zoning and must appeal to the BZA for variances. Here, however, the McElheny property and two adjoining lots are part of Planned Residential District subdivision, which is governed by a Development Plan and the Planning Commission). Mr. McElheny last month had refused to move the shed voluntarily and the matter was carried over pending a site visit by all concerned. This week the case was carried over again after the issues were re-presented for Mr. Brant, who had been absent, and new member Mr. Wilson. Click here for last month’s case. Mr. McElheny this time offered to move the shed three feet off the side lot and 2 feet from the rear, a request which failed on a 3-3 tie, with Mr. Wilson abstaining since he hadn’t seen the property.

Mr. McElheny seized on the abstention issue, asking for a new vote after Mr.  Wilson completed a site visit. Mr. Higginbotham agreed to carry it over and the motion on the failing vote was amended to a postponement.

Voting No: Mr. Foster, Chief Hill, and Mr. Higginbotham.

Abstaining: Mr. Wilson

NEW BUSINESS

Recommended rezoning property on Central to a different commercial classification: The owner of the properties at 2826 and 2824 Central Avenue plans to renovate and expand one side to add a restaurant and other retail uses, requiring a rezoning from the current C-2, Neighborhood Shopping District to match the zoning of the adjoining property to C-4, Central Business District. 

If the council approves the request, the owner will return to the commission to ask for an amended survey.

Abstaining: Mr. Wilson

27thcourtstreetviewRecommended rezoning a former residential building for commercial use: The property at 1718 27th Court South (next door to Jim and Jim’s auto service), is owned by MACCO, LLC, whose owner is asking to rezone it from C-4 (c)-Central Business District with conditions, to C-4, Central Business District for mixed office and retail use. The property has an interesting history.

27thcourtsouthIt was rezoned in 2006 to C-4 with conditions imposed by the city council, namely that any new building constructed would resemble a Tudor-style house and be less than 3,500 square feet in size. The owner didn’t move ahead with that development and the current request, presented by his attorney, is to remove the conditions to renovate the existing building first and develop property around that structure. The building will have to be upgraded to meet commercial building codes.

Abstaining: Mr. Wilson

Tiers added to the parking deck, center; and a parking lot is added on the east side, as planned.

Tiers will be added to the parking deck, center; and a parking lot to the right is added, as planned.

Approved a ServisFirst development plan change to allow more parking and change an entrance: The ongoing construction of the bank headquarters at 2500 Woodcrest Place is governed by a Final Development Plan, whose last change was approved in January. 

In the current request, the bank, represented by applicant Walter Schoel Engineering, asked for and received changes that allow an additional two parking tiers that the bank had initially said would be built later on.

Three people from the adjacent residential community were present, asking to see drawings of the requested changes. There were no objections made.

ServisFrst has decided to go forward with an additional two parking tiers they had previously indicated would be built later on. No other changes to their master plan at this time. 3 folks from community were present, and wanted to see what the changes were. No objections from the public.

samfordchiller

The current cooling towers are in the building left of the building with the green roof in this aerial. The new towers will be moved 24 feet north of the building and planted with a screen of evergreen trees.

Amended a development plan to allow Samford to relocate three chilling towers closer to Saulter Road:  Samford’s cooling towers atop the current chiller plant have failed and the university has been running temporary chillers (which are noisier) since August. The request for an amended plan allows Samford to place three new cooling towers in a different location, i.e., 24 feet north of the plant on the other side of a parking lot and closer to Saulter Road. For a zoomable detailed PDF of the Samford development plan, click here.

There were several questions from the public and commission members on noise, runoff, height, alternative locations east or west of the parking lot, and shrubbery, as follows:

  • Condensation runoff: Neighbors were concerned about condensation runoff in this location, as there has been in the past. Condensate from HVAC by regulation must be collected/filtered/cleaned before it can re-enter the water cycle, so either way Samford said they are aware and have been exploring ways to better deal with it, including recapturing for irrigation. Samford representatives said the university will not allow condensation runoff to affect residents.
  • Location: Several questions arose from the public and commission as to why Samford couldn’t place the new towers to the east or west of the plant instead of closer to the Saulter residential area. Samford said there were complications with moving related pipes; that the towers will be 700-800 feet from the nearest house and have a lower profile on t he north side because of topography.
  • Noise and buffering: These are not new chillers, but new cooling towers and per the manufacturer, installer, and noise consultant they should be 2-3 decibels quieter than the previous cooling towers (48-50 decibels v 52-54 decibels for the ones being replaced). Additionally, 20 foot  evergreen trees (magnolias or cypress) will be planted around the  towers to further buffer the sound. Samford representatives agreed to proffer that if noise levels from these towers is greater than from the previous towers (not the temporary units) they will add further sound dampening measures to meet the decibel limit. Homewood’s noise limit is 80 decibels.
  • Height: The new towers will be 28-30 feet tall. Based on topography they will be shorter/same height as existing chiller plant. They will not be taller.
  • Landscaping and appearance: The new towers will be surrounded by plantings of evergreen trees that will be planted at a minimum height of 20 feet and could potentially reach 50 feet tall. In addition the new towers can be painted and camouflaged, if necessary, to better blend with new plantings and existing deciduous trees on the hillside.