Category Archives: Special topics

Midterm poll-Homewood campaign issues 2020, June 19, 2018

Homewood Campaign Issues 2020 Poll: To go along with the state primary elections this month, we asked residents what the issues are in Homewood, looking forward to the 2020 municipal elections. Of 222 respondents, most thought the chief issue was “Control of Zoning and Development,” possibly due to controversial subdivisions in neighborhood news. Coming in a distant second was “Better Bike- and Walkability,” which has been a common theme for years,  and vying for third were a full-time chief executive and architectural design review.

Approximately 20% of responders (45) filled in their own issues. The most votes for any single topic were 6 votes each for school improvements, combatting crime, and controlling housing density, followed by 3 votes each for street repairs/paving, and Green Springs Highway improvements. The remaining answers either combined topics from the list provided or various individual answers: banning  on-street parking, promoting public transit, increasing traffic flow, and decreasing traffic flow.

Dead last on the list of issues was green space and passive parks, a top issue in a similar survey about bond issue spending last summer; see below.

Bond Issue Spending poll for comparison:

Three capital projects financed by the 2016 bond issue are in motion now, with school expansions to begin this month.

A brief refresher course:

What was last year’s poll about? Back in October 2016, just after the August election but before new members were sworn in, the council passed a 1-cent sales tax to back a $110 million bond issue for three projects–ballfield renovation, police station relocation, and school building expansions. At the end of that meeting, the mayor thanked the council for its hard work for the preceding 21 months on behalf of the school system, noting the effort might have “escaped public notice.”

Mayor McBrayer makes a case for partitioning the school system from the city and parks projects, recommending the job go to Hoar Program Management instead of Harbert – April 2017

The reason hard work escaped notice was because select council, school system, and parks officials were meeting secretly with the Harbert construction firm during that time. Once the bond issue was passed, council president Limbaugh favored continued privacy during the bid award process, establishing a “task force” not subject to open meeting laws because  membership excluded majorities of the council or any of the other two boards. The task force unraveled months later, mainly due to Mike Lanier, president of rival bidder Hoar Program Management, who went public with his objections to improper maneuvering among a few Harbert advocates on that panel  [HPM letter]:

With that backdrop, we polled residents in August 2017 how they would have spent the bond money if they had been included in the planning process. The answer from nearly 200 respondents showed agreement with the city’s $55 million for schools, but taking $10 million away for police relocation and slicing another $20 million off the park & rec ballfield project of $35M. Respondents would have spent those funds improving walkability, passive parks, and neighborhood appearance instead.

Have zoning issues overshadowed interest in increasing green space, or do surveys just reflect the latest  issue in neighborhood news?

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Advertisements

Kessler development zoning proposals, May 14, 2018

Mr. Kessler’s presentation compared the higher-density zoning he prefers with a plan using traditional zoning.

Developers Charles and Jason Kessler today met with residents concerned about the impact of a rezoning on Carr Ave. and Broadway to achieve a higher-density subdivision of 12 houses on a private drive. The developers prefer the rezoning but prepared a competing plan (pictured) under traditional Neighborhood Preservation District zoning, with 8 houses and no private drive, to persuade residents of the benefits of their first plan.

Below are meeting notes prepared by resident DeeDee Shashy, who’s been a leader in an organized opposition to the rezoning plan. It’s presented here as made public, minimal editing:

Thanks so much to everyone that came today! I know it was really hard to fit it in on a Monday in the middle of the day, so I really appreciate that. Sorry for picking a location with no parking.  I wasn’t able to take great notes as there was a lot of back and forth. …  I’ll try to keep my personal opinions out of the notes.

  •  Charles Kessler, Jason Kessler, and 4 other Kadco employees were in attendance.
  • About 10 neighbors were in attendance.
  • Kadco passed out the attached flyer at the beginning and Jason passed out his business cards at the end. We discussed their NPD plan and their PRD-1 plan.
  • A few wins: Even if they get their PRD-1 plan approved we have already gotten some wins! They will agree to follow the NPD standard of height restrictions (meaning 29’ tall if houses are on lots smaller than 55’ wide and 32’ tall if on larger lots). They will have 9’ and 5’ side setbacks. These side setbacks are obviously much larger than they originally presented (they originally wanted zero lot line houses). Though on some of the lots 55’ and under NPD would also have 9’/5’ side setbacks, the larger PRD-1 lots would not meet NPD side setback standards which requires 10’/10’ side set backs for lots larger than 55’ wide (this also means that the two homes facing Saulter on the NPD plan would need to have 10’/10’ side set backs if those lots are larger than 55’ wide. We know the Carr lots on the NPD plan will be around 43’ wide requiring only 5’/9’ side setbacks).
  • The two houses facing Saulter on the NPD plan would be the same lots that are there today, so those lots would not be re-platted.
  • As you will see, they added accessory structures to the NPD plan. They plan to build these structures as two-story buildings with a garage on the ground floor and opportunity for a garage apartment/office or something similar above.
  • If they do the NPD version they will not be adding the new storm sewer. This means they will still have to mitigate any flooding issues their development causes, but they won’t help fix any issues people are having currently. Their PRD-1 plan would include the new storm sewer because the city is making them do that. They would build up the soil on both plans so that the new homeowners would be out of the flood plain and not have to have flood insurance.
  • If they do PRD-1 they can make covenants like a covenant stating that the road can never be gated, or making a covenant for no accessory structures. Charles promised he would put these items in writing if we allow them to do PRD-1.
  • The PRD-1 plan is only able to move forwards if they get the zoning.
  • Once they make their master plan for PRD-1 they cannot make changes to that plan.
  •  If we get on board with their PRD-1 plan, they will allow us (one of the neighbors) to be on their internal design review to provide feedback on the aesthetic of the exterior of the homes. This coordination is not available to us if they do the NPD plan.
  • According to them, neither elementary school is at capacity. The dividing line is if the house faces Carr then they go to Edgewood. If it doesn’t, they go to Hall Kent.

Image

Homewood Downtown Master Plan, results of public input


 

 

 

Click on the logo to see the report.

Survey Question #4, Results

The city council announced this division of the $110 million borrowed for capital projects. Survey respondents had different ideas.

Asked how they would divide $110 million among six capital projects, nearly 200 residents agreed with city leaders when it came to funding new classroom space and police facilities. Indeed, survey responses fell eerily close to the city’s decision to allocate $55 million to the expanding school system and $20 million to relocate the police and city court complex to West Homewood.

As an average, survey respondents left the schools and police allocations intact, but cut out two thirds of the Park & Rec allotment in favor of sidewalks, trails, passive parks and neighborhood improvements.

But when it came to devoting an entire $35 million for a sprawling remake of the West Homewood ballfields and pool–including a $4.25 million piece of property to expand on–respondents did not follow-their-leaders. As an average, survey respondents only eked out $13 million for fields, preferring to spread the rest among projects chosen in earlier surveys to 1) Advance Walkability (bridges, sidewalks, crosswalks, trails), 2) Add Greenspace and neighborhood pocket parks; and 3) improve Neighborhood Attractiveness (plant trees, landscaping, repairs, planning). An open comment field brought remarks critical of planning and city management regarding spending and the city’s physical condition. Many revealed frustration with council’s decision (reached after nearly two years of non-public meetings) to expand recreational facilities at the expense of higher priorities, including schools:

“Parks need to maintain what they have. The central pool kids area is closed and has been for weeks. General maintenance issues there such as ice machine broken for a very long time, bathroom stalls with locks that don’t work, water fountains broken. Building more and not taking care of what you have is irresponsible and not prudent. Or maybe it is a personnel issue at the park and that needs to be addressed to better manage things.”

Other voters cited a common misconception, that the $110 million bond issue and the penny sales tax passed to repay it were voted into existence by the residents. There was no such referendum, although officials frequently cited the portion of the bond issue designated to help schools,

“We voted for these funds initially to be allocated to our school system without having the ability to approve these additional options that are now included. Therefore, I think the vast majority of these funds should be allocated to our school system as we were informed in order for us to approve this additional tax.”  — respondent selecting an 80/20 split of the funds for schools and police only

Although 181 answers doesn’t comprise a referendum, the clearcut rejection of ballfields as a priority (or even a runner-up) in this and past 3 surveys (which averaged 300 responses each) may be one reason council leaders didn’t ask for public input in the first place. Where Schools and Safety are the two pillars of Homewood’s appeal, ballfields have given way to grass, trees, sidewalks and adult connectivity as top concerns. Possibly leaders knew this. Some respondents wondered why they didn’t:

“… Youth sports are important BUT park and Rec is more than fields. It should be the overall well-being of ALL Homewood Citizens. The items added to this survey should have been on their radar anyway. …. “

“We have enough ball parks. Education and broad livability issues should be a priority.”

“If I could choose increments differently, I would have increased schools to $70 million, and allocated walkability, neighborhood, green space and sports $5 million each, but only if there were a detailed prioritized plan to spend this money as approved; and, also a comprehensive public plan to further improve these last four areas of expense within another 5 years to progress toward a full-scale improvement of the basic issues in Homewood.”

This survey and three previous polls (#1, #2, #3 )were conducted by a group promoting more transparency in city government. It sought to discover what residents thought were the city’s top needs after the council, with no notice, passed a penny sales tax and $110 bond issue last fall. The schools, parks and police were each to be allocated a part of the total proceeds, a plan worked out privately in the previous 21 months by a group representing members of those boards and working with Harbert International, which was to bid on the management project overseeing all three projects. The council, led by Bruce Limbaugh and wanting to continue the private planning process, established a “task force” of the same group to deliberate the details. In the face of protest and other changes, those plans–and the task force–were abandoned earlier this year.

Since that time, the school board was allowed to choose its own program manager (Hoar Program Management) and a demographer, who recently found the system’s growth trajectory wasn’t as large as guessed at earlier. The Park & Rec board meanwhile was given the $4.25 million Mason Corp. property to expand on. However, P&R plans are currently $9 million over budget and being cut accordingly.

Over the four surveys, respondents have repeatedly ranked Walkability, Greenspace and Neighborhood improvements as priorities needing attention. In Survey #4, they have put a dollar amount on those priorities, stripping the parks & rec plan of its planned $30 million to pay for more greenspace, trails, sidewalks and outdoor amenities.

Homewood Greenspace Initiative proposes a park at the current jail site when the police complex is relocated. The group also advocates planning for more greenspace and pocket parks in Homewood.

Throughout the summer a new group, calling itself the Greenspace Initiative, organized to convert the current jail site to an urban park when the new facility is built. That group will make a pitch to the council tonight, as the mayor presents his FY2018 budget later in the meeting.

It remains to be seen if the council will amend or leave in place its original plan to divide the $110 million bond proceeds.

To see all the results:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-296QMC35/

SaveSave

Homewood City Schools, Growth and Demographic Projections presentation, Aug. 10, 2017

About 50 people, including many city officials, attended the school system’s surprising presentation of its demography projections for the next decade. While a wave of growth will flow through the system and crest in the high school, the numbers are expected to recede behind it. No population boom is predicted for West Homewood, despite the city’s $35 million investment in parks, the demographer tells the council president.

 

 

 

Click to link to meeting video

Click to link to the demography charts and graphs

By the bulletpoints

The presentation was made by the Cooperative Strategies demography firm over the summer. The purpose was to look at the direction increasing enrollments would likely take into the next decade in order to inform a building plan. In the last 2 1/2 years, with an eye to actual enrollments, the city council, parks and school board staff worked with Harbert International to sketch out a shared expansion of west Homewood property for ballparks and possibly a relocated high school building. The city then backed a $110 million bond issue, dedicating half to the school facilities expansion project (minus the high school relocation), $35 million to ballfields expansion and new pool, and the rest to a relocated police facility. Tonight, the results of the projections showed a wave of student growth moving up through the system and cresting in the high school in 2025, while enrollments behind it will recede. While audience members resisted the news, particularly as it pertains to assumed population explosion in West Homewood, the demographer steadfastly disagreed.

Background:

Basing findings on a method using birth rate, student yield per unit of housing, census data and current enrollments, the demographer hit the following points:

  • A bubble of enrollment began in 2007 and is working through the system.
  • Routine student yield for multi-family dwellings is about 15 per 100 units; in Homewood the number is nearly twice that.
  • The housing composition served by each elementary school is 74% single family for Edgewood versus a 50/50 breakdown between single- and multi-family housing for both Hall-Kent and Shades Cahaba elementary schools.
  • Student densities and housing type have shifted over the last decade. Specifically, the approximately 300 students displaced by the razing of the Magnolia Apartments was counterbalanced by an equal growth in the western area apartments over the following three years.  
  • Student yield by school zone has been decreasing over the last 4 years.
  • The birth rate has remained relatively flat; and building permits show a relatively flat rate of growth.

Projections:

  • The elementary schools are at or slightly over capacity at the present time, with numbers expected to decrease.
  • Even the most liberal projection only adds 200 students to Hall-Kent over the next decade, while the most conservative projection shows the high school hitting 1,400 at its peak and the middle school rising to 1,110 students.
  • The high school is over capacity now and will be compounded

Reaction:

City council president Bruce Limbaugh seemed stunned, perhaps disappointed to hear that a population boom wasn’t predicted in West Homewood. He asked if the city’s commitment to building $30 million in new parks would increase that number, but the demographer dismissed the “If we build it they will come” mentality, saying investment doesn’t necessarily create a bubble, and that there were no indications of an increase based on the “time-tested” model the company was utilizing. Several from the audience then questioned whether the figures could be wrong, or the demographer overlooking trends more obvious to long-time residents, builders, etc. The demographer said all that may be true, but those factors weren’t reflected in the numbers so far.

Superintendent Bill Cleveland said he hoped to start taking steps on a plan by Labor Day. He assured the audience that he was taking more into account than just demographics, such as the likelihood that millennials drawn to Birmingham’s growing cultural and entertainment scene will bring their families to Homewood — and Homewood schools — in the near future.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Survey question #4, How Would You Spend the Money?, Aug. 3, 2017

The city council has proposed dividing $110 million in bond proceeds for capital improvements in three areas. In this survey, YOU decide how to allocate the funds for the most enduring impact. Chose one, none or any combination of the top five city assets identified in previous surveys. Use the open comment box for explanations. Answers are anonymous. Results will be posted wherever the survey is sent.

Survey was closed. See results here:

 

Survey results, question #3, Public satisfaction and engagement: Are we making progress on key issues?

Survey #3 Results–What do we know and when did we know it? 321 residents respond

Vance Moody, outgoing West Homewood councilman, explains to a tiny group of West Homewood residents last fall how the incoming council must decide to divide the $110 bond money between city, parks and schools.

Approximately 300 respondents each in two earlier surveys listed a host of Homewood amenities they value from which a strong top five priority assets have emerged.  Keeping the health of these assets in mind–and knowing that a penny tax and $110 million for capital improvements are in play–Survey #3 asked “Are you satisfied with progress so far?” A total of 321 residents responded to nine questions about their engagement. And because the tax and millions were passed with no public input, the survey also asked if voters were staying in touch with elected officials, if they knew the funding status of their projects, and how do they gather news on city business. In short, if we’re not satisfied with how things are going, what are we doing about it?

“I don’t have time to involve myself in city politics and budgeting. I trust my elected officials to allocate resources appropriately but it’s clearly not being done” 

Results

How proactive are Homewood voters? Reading from L-R are the total who chose each category followed by the number in each category who are “satisfied with progress,” and of those, how many have contacted a council rep. The number polling “not satisfied” and calling a rep continues on the right.

Q. List the top (two) city assets of importance to you: 

Survey #3 asked respondents to choose their top two city assets from a list of five named in earlier surveys and to answer a series of questions about each. Top assets in order of responses were Safety, followed closely by Schools, and less closely by Walkability. Further behind were Neighborhood Attractiveness at #4 and finally, falling steeply to #5 Public Green Space/Parks. This follows the same order as noted earlier except for Safety overtaking Schools in the first spot. And, as before, comments are instructive since residents tend to see a lot of overlap in categories:

“The solution and funding for the schools should be of extreme priority over the Parks and Rec Improvements. People do NOT choose to move to a municipality because they’ve got great pools.”

Q. Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with progress?  Have you contacted your ward representative about this?

Content and Commentary

A fervor over sidewalks versus the preservation of trees and history brought residents out in force to a recent council forum. The event was a potent mix of interests in walkability, safety, neighborhood appearances and green space.

It’s important to note, as the commentary bears out, that the level of satisfaction with a category usually relates to a specific issue, the pace of progress or priority given to it, not to the category itself. For example, dissatisfaction with raising police wages (noted by several respondents) obviously indicates support of the department overall. It’s important to read beyond the chart into the context of each survey answer. Please follow the open link to the survey results, below.

“Aren’t neighborhood attractiveness and public green spaces/parks redundant? Are these the only issues the City of Homewood faces? What about flooding issues, overcrowding, over-sized McMansions, lack of zoning enforcement. …”

Of all five content areas, only the top two, Safety and Schools, drew a majority of “satisfied with progress” answers, while also posting the lowest percentage of comments. Conversely, the three remaining areas polled more “dissatisfied” answers and substantially more commentary. Walkability led the way with the highest number and percentage of feedback comments. Perhaps respondents feel more qualified to comment on their sidewalks, trees and parks than on lofty abstractions like Safety and Schools, important as they are.

Q. Is this concern a funded priority for Homewood city leaders? Is it in the current budget?

This question sought mainly to point out that if an issue isn’t address in the budget, it’s not a priority. But answers were hard to analyze and indicated the difficulty in “following the money”: Certainly schools, parks and police are key budget funds, but what about adding more foreign language, establishing pocket parks or upgrading police technology, as some respondents asked? School and park board budgets are governed by separate boards, and how do residents know about particular funding questions without asking directly? They don’t.

Most talked about

2016 tree planting at Woodland Park

As a measure of public engagement, the survey followed up by asking respondents if they had contacted council representatives about their issues. While the number contacting reps was higher in the dissatisfied group, as expected, public responsiveness overall seemed remarkably low. Which isn’t to say they kept silent–Survey commentary was often detailed and colorful.

Walkability60 comments of 132 responding:  Most comments fell into two main categories: A. Demands for more sidewalks (Forest Brook especially), more quickly built (31); and B. Calls for more pedestrian crosswalks and bridges over major arteries, including U.S. 280 from Hollywood to Mountain Brook, over Lakeshore Drive from Hollywood to Target, over Lakeshore Drive from Green Springs to the Greenway and over Green Springs Highway from Raleigh to Old Columbiana (13).

“While the they are putting in sidewalks each year, I wish they would focus on connecting areas by putting them where it is hard to walk – like coming up from the tunnel into the pig’s parking lot – where does one go safely??” 

New houses push the limits of Homewood’s smaller lots.

Neighborhood Appearances58 comments of 114:  Comments fell into four main critiques: A. Overbuilding and tree cutting (15); B. Need for regulating house design, height and size; (8); C. Cleaning up unkempt yards; and D. Neglect of Rosedale and West Homewood (5).

“There is no standard for continuity among Edgewood homes.  Anything goes.  Want to pave over your entire front lawn for more convenient parking? Great!  Want to clear cut a tiny lot to put a 5/5 house on it?  Great!  Want to build houses with cheap materials that degrade the value of surrounding houses?  Great!  I’m not saying I want a strict neighborhood covenant, but some sort of architectural line needs to be drawn in the sand.” 

Safety 46 comments of 161: While safety means policing to most people, comments typically reflected suburban concerns about traffic over crime: A. Improve intersection safety, parking, traffic enforcement (11); B. More neighborhood patrols, specifically on Murray Hill, West Homewood, Green Springs Highway, and on Oxmoor Road (10); C. Citing good work and improvement/asking for better wages, more technology, more officers (9).

“The intersection of Hwy 31 and Saulter is very dangerous. We also have too many people parking on the streets–directly across from one another, creating narrow chutes for drivers.”

More than 300 people attended a September 2016 presentation about schools overcrowding, facilities expansion and possible relocation of the high school (shown). Funding seems less certain six months later as parents await studies due in early August.

Schools – 40 comments of 150 responding: Top school comments were divided evenly between concern over council meddling and short-changing school funds (10), and school board failure to plan for growth (10). The next most common concerns were class size and student/teacher ratio (5), and concern over the fate of the high school relocation (5). Other comments covered a variety of issues. Only two addressed curriculum, one asking for more recess, and support for the arts and the other more foreign language and innovative teaching.

“Schools here are great. But I am not satisfied with the lack of progress in the long-term master plan for schools. The $110M bond issue should have had the schools’ long term plan in place before parks could begin plans. I fear this will create unnecessary overlap if a new high school is the chosen route.” 

A new group is promoting a pocket park in the current jail property when it is relocated to West Homewood. Residents want more green space across the city.

Public Green Spaces/Parks31 comments of 81: People responding in this category were of one mind–the city needs more green space and more pocket parks in every neighborhood, but especially downtown. Of the 31 commenting, 18 specifically mentioned pocket parks. Remaining comments spanned a topics such as planning, establishing off-leash areas; keeping the school property on Valley Ave natural as a residential buffer, and hiring an arborist, among other responses.

“We have less green space than the average city and we’re losing what we have.”

Q. How do you keep informed about city plans?

The survey asked respondents to list every information source they use, so the columns aren’t mutually exclusive. Most respondents (267 of 319), or 84%, use the Homewood Star community newspaper and an astonishing number (247 of 319) or 74% use social media for some news. Which they rely on more, and for what kinds of information is anyone’s guess. But if I were on the city council and concerned about communication, I might propose adding a social media component to the city’s website.


Other sources (51) include an interesting mix of sources, such as Jennifer Andress’s council news emails, the East Edgewood neighborhood watch emails, this blog, and informed neighbors, and “the grapevine.” Is it enough without regular coverage by a major metro news organization? As one respondent put it, ” I do all this and still am too often sadly surprised.”

To read the actual responses, including comments, follow this link:https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-DQTS5C26/