Board of Zoning Adjustments, May 3, 2018

169 Lucerne Boulevard
Work has been stopped for months pending a ruling on a front setback violation. That ruling came Thursday.

How did the city make a 17-foot error in computing the front setback of new — and strenuously opposed — housing construction on Lucerne? The answer came late in tonight’s case to decide whether to let the violation go (by issuing a variance) or force the owner to tear it down. A dozen outraged residents would have preferred the latter in this third and decisive BZA appearance by architect/owner Ben Strout.

Members present: Beverly LeBoeuf, Brian Jarmon, vice chair, Ty Cole, Stuart Roberts (S), and Andrew Marlin (S).

Members absent: Lauren Gwaltney, chair, Matt Foley and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Staff present: Greg Cobb and Vanessa McGrath of the Building, Engineering and Zoning Department, planner (part-time) Fred Goodwin, also of BEZ; and Planning and zoning clerk Donna Bridges.

Audience attendance: 25

*Note on procedure: By state law, zoning variances granted by the 5-member board require a super majority of 4 members voting in the affirmative. To keep business moving in case of absences, the law provides two supernumerary members (S) to sit in and vote if needed. (The board clerk alternates their votes, which are not noted in the blog.) Variances expire in 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained.

OLD BUSINESS:

Piggly Wiggly
U.S. 31 Homewood

Carried over a variance case allowing Piggly Wiggly’s non-conforming rear setback to remain when the building is renovated: The grocery store at 3000 U.S. 31 already sits 20 feet into the rear setback, a nonconformity the owners want to retain as they expand the building to the side, toward Oxmoor Road. The case has been inexplicably carried over each month since February.

Our Lady of Sorrows Church

Approved — under stringent conditions — an updated variance request allowing OLS to build within a few feet of a neighboring business: Architect Tim Lucy made two appeals last month for permission to build a 2-story storage addition on the Family Life Center 13 feet into the required clear space between church property and neighboring Oxmoor Animal Clinic. The first request, easily granted by the Planning Commission, was to amend the development plan for the addition, which would provide space to store movable walls, audio equipment, stages, and seating  to transform a gymnasium into a multipurpose space for the youth program. The second request, to build within a few feet of the property line, was headed to a negative vote by the BZA and therefore postponed after veterinarian Mary Claytor complained bitterly about previous church construction  dropping nails, roofing material and other debris in her dog yard and a general long history of bad relations between them. Dr. Claytor’s story was in stark contrast to the warm picture Mr. Lucy had drawn of the church’s soon-to-retire senior pastor and his wish to improve facilities for young people. Board members asked the architect to re-think how the construction could happen in the small space, and with no harm to the Dr. Claytor’s property or animals.

Approximate location of proposed storage addition marked in red.

In tonight’s presentation, Mr. Lucy outlined a plan to build the addition from the inside out to avoid exposure to the veterinarian’s property, using no exterior scaffolding, painting with rollers instead of spray, and maintaining work zones that were cleaned up daily or kept free of any construction impact. Restating the hardship as a “landlocked” campus, Mr. Lucy said he could not revise the plan because there was nowhere else to build affordably.

Dr. Claytor objected to the proposal, but less vehemently this time, and asked the board who would be the responsible party if her fence and retaining wall were undermined by the  construction, or for any other damage. At this, Mr. Lucy said the church would sign such an agreement if necessary. Mr. Cole then suggested a vote should include the proffer to adhere to the building plan presented as well as scheduled weekly meetings of the parties to address any problems. The vote to approve had one dissenter.

Voting no to the setback variance: Andrew Marlin

NEW BUSINESS:

The Bell Center rendering, as seen from the right front corner.

Waived 5 parking spaces and a parking rule for the Bell Center redevelopment on 29th Court South: The Bell Center early childhood intervention facility is building anew at 1730 29th Court South after purchasing an adjacent lot for the expansion. The center had already been approved for the resurvey and other setback variances. Tonight’s case related to reducing the number of parking spaces from the required 40 (2 per each of 20 employees under daycare zoning regulations) to 35, and allowing parking to be directly accessible from a public alley. As Taylor Schoel of School Engineering explained, 9 of the current 31 spaces are already on the alley. With support from Mr. Cobb, saying current parking was adequate, the board voted in favor of both exemptions.

1808 Mayfair Drive

Granted a variance to allow an existing nonconformity to continue for an addition on Mayfair: The homeoowner at 1808 Mayfair Drive proposes a 2-story addition for a double garage extending directly back 37 feet to the rear of the property. As the house is already 1.2 feet too close to the side property line, the addition would extend the nonconformity unless a variance is granted.

Speaking at the hearing were the backyard neighbors from 1809 Lancaster Street, asking the depth of the addition and if any trees would be removed for construction. The homeowner said two crape myrtles and an oak tree would be removed. However, at 24 feet high, the garage would have a low profile, much lower than the main house, and little visual impact. With no objections from the neighbors, the board voted to approve. 

169 Lucerne Boulevard
The work has been stopped pending a ruling on a front setback violation due to a city mis-measurement.

Approved–under duress and with special conditions–a 17.1-foot front setback variance for a house that was granted a building permit despite a nonconforming front setback:  Tonight’s decision in favor of the builder allowed was granted with one dissent and over the objections of 12 residents, most of whom had already protested the development strenuously in two earlier BZA cases last year. Architect/owner Ben Strout, a founder of the former Appleseed Workshop and doing business as Harvest Innovations, listed his hardship as the city’s 17.1 foot miscalculation of the front setback distance, a discrepancy between the survey of the original house and the GIS mapping information Ms. McGrath relied on instead. (Front setbacks in NPD zoning are not to project further than the nearest house on the street, in this instance, the original house on the lot.) And, although city error played a role but didn’t justify variances in two recent and similar BZA cases, (on St. Charles and Oxmoor Road), a denial tonight would have certainly prompted a lawsuit if not disastrous financial trouble for the architect. As frustrated residents said to the board after the meeting, however, a lawsuit might still be in the works. 

First, some history:

Drawing showing 3 odd-shaped lot divisions first proposed for the Lucerne property.

FIRST BZA APPEARANCE: Residents on Lucerne assembled on Feb. 2, 2017 to fight a plan by architect/owner Ben Strout to combine and redraw three original lots that had been used as a single residential property for decades, demolish the house at 169 Lucerne Blvd., and build three new houses. Chief among resident concerns were the number of house planned and drainage, namely, a storm sewer that bisected the second lot and a washed-out section that the owner had packed with fill dirt. BZA members were further concerned about the odd puzzle-piece lot lines proposed, which were made to preserve street frontage by placing the center lot far to the rear, and continued the case.

Concept for one of three new houses proposed on Lucerne. The developer withdrew a variance case to talk to neighbors first.

SECOND BZA APPEARANCE:  That case was continued to March 2017, when the architect/developer returned to propose redrawing the three rectangular lots with equivalent street frontage. This time 20 residents, armed with legal and engineering arguments, opposed the division. BZA unanimously rejected the lot variances.

The left lot is larger, to compensate for the storm and sewer line bisecting it. A house would be situated on the one side of the lines, and not require any setback variances.

PLANNING COMMISSION HEARING:  Then, in April 2017, the developer reduced the property division to two lots, whose areas would conform to city standards. No longer needing lot size variances, the request went before the Planning Commission, which governs resurveys, and was unanimously approved. At that meeting, zoning planner Vanessa McGrath described the required setbacks, including the front being no further forward than the closest house and not closer than 25 feet from the front property line. Mr. Strout’s spokesman promised he would build the houses within the limits and seek no further variances from the BZA.

THIRD BZA APPEARANCE: What happened next is unclear. Ms. McGrath presented a timeline in which she provided Mr. Strout in July the front setback dimension of 32.9 feet, taken from GIS mapping software. In November, the foundation survey matched the setback dimensions and construction proceeded. It wasn’t until February that Inspections Department head Wyatt Pugh,  investigating a neighbor’s complaint about the setback, visited the site and ordered work stopped pending a BZA hearing.

Ms. McGrath explained the discrepant measurements without admitting errors. The city is looking into the methods of setback and lot size determination.

Residents tonight didn’t hear the explanation until their comments and the public hearing was closed. Some mentioned the builder’s poor record on stormwater practices, prompting calls to ADEM. Others complained that a favorable ruling would not only set a bad example, but actually set a shallow setback standard for future houses, especially the vacant lot next door owned by Mr. Strout. BZA member Ty Cole, who took the lead in deliberations, suggested a legal notation attached to the property that would prevent the 39 foot setback — if allowed– from being used in any future setback calculations. Much discussion followed about how and if such a system would work. At one point, seeing that the BZA would likely approve the variance, a resident lawyer suggested the matter be settled with city insurance money, repaying the owner for his loss and removing the house from the street. “That’s what insurance is for, to take care of mistakes,” he said.

Nevertheless, to the distress of residents and relief of Mr. Strout, the BZA called a vote conditioned on not allowing the setback to set a precedent, returning a favorable, 4-1 decision for the builder.

Voting no to the variance: Beverly LeBoeuf

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Planning Commission, May 1, 2018

Homewood High School’s current low-profile entrance, facing south. Additions planned on the building’s north side will give the school an about-face toward Lakeshore Drive.

What promised to be another long session for a controversial new subdivision on Carr and Broadway was cut short by the case postponement. In less than 30 minutes the commission approved four amended development plans for the school board and a residential lot combination in Hollywood.

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

Absent: Stuart Roberts and Mark Woods.

Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk, and Fred Goodwin, planner, part-time.

Audience attendance: 11

*Rezoning and MXD final development plans are advisory only and subject to final approval by the city council.

NEW BUSINESS

Approved development plan changes for substantial additions to four Homewood public schools for architecture firm Goodwin Mills & Cawood, with most contractor bids still pending. The contractor for adding secure entry vestibules at the three elementary schools is Duncan & Thompson Construction: Homewood schools superintendent Bill Cleveland and Hoar Program Management in October announced $44 million in planned additions and interior remodeling and renovations to all five Homewood school buildings, plus improvements to Waldrop Stadium track. Tonight, architect Cole Williams of Goodwin Mills & Cawood presented the final addition plans on four of those buildings requiring a change in the development plan. Shades Cahaba Elementary will also have interior renovations, which do not require an amended plan. Applicants were unable to give one commissioner a cost update since construction bids are pending, however, architecture fees typically fall in the range of 5-7% of those costs. Early estimates showed the high school additions taking close to 50% of the $55 million bond money allotted for school expansions.

Homewood High School addition and concept, from 2017

Homewood High School at 1901 South Lakeshore Drive: Plans call for demolishing 21,500 square feet (fine arts building and field house) and rebuilding over 100,000 square feet in additions to the side facing Lakeshore, thereby switching the current entrance from the south to the north. Some east parking will be reduced but new spaces built on the current field will add a net of 25 parking slots, Mr. Williams said. Construction, to be completed in August 2019, will include a new 2-level classroom addition with 14 new classrooms and a new sports pavilion. Interior renovations previously discussed include expanded kitchen and dining, “collaborative spaces,” “learning hubs” and other changes to improve the flow of foot traffic. 

Homewood Middle School

Homewood Middle School at 395 Mecca Avenue: Homewood Middle School will add a 3,700 square foot addition on the gymnasium to add six classrooms, two each for the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade halls, according to the school system’s website. Other interior changes discussed previously include a secure entry modification, moving wrestling/cheer to a multipurpose addition, and building out the choral room into the former wrestling/cheer space. Work to begin this month with completion slated for August 2019.

Commissioner Wilson questioned why the middle school had a 200-meter track, when competition tracks are 400 meters long. Supt. Bill Cleveland answered, saying there is no such track at the middle school any more, but there are plans to build a new one on the Valley Avenue property. He said middle school students will be bused to Waldrop Stadium for competition track and use the middle school track, which will have an asphalt surface, only for recreation and P.E. According to the school system’s website, the Waldrop track will be completely replaced, beginning immediately, and include a new sprint lane. Architect is Holcomb Norton Partners with contractor Coston General Contractors, Inc. No completion date has been set.

Photo showing new classroom wing, al.com, Bob Sims, taken at original pitch to expand buildings.

Hall-Kent Elementary at 2213 Hall Avenue: Plans are to add an 8,800 square foot 2-story wing extending into the field, adding 6 new classrooms. Other interior changes discussed previously are roof, finish, and intercom upgrades, in addition to a secure entrance vestibule.

Edgewood Elementary at 901 College Avenue: An 8,500 square foot 2-story, 4-classroom addition is planned to the rear, protruding into the walking track, which will be re-routed. Interior improvements discussed previously include an expanded cafeteria, serving and kitchen upgrades, electrical and intercom upgrades as well as a secure entrance vestibule.

For all schools, the central office reports enforcing safety by keeping student exposure to construction to a minimum and fencing off construction zones. Workers will be cleared through background checks.

Carried over to June a request for preliminary development plan for a new subdivision on Carr and Saulter:  Last month’s bid by developers Jason and Charles Kessler to rezone and approve a 2-acre tract at Carr Avenue and “short” Saulter for a high-density planned subdivision of 12 houses failed commission approval. The developer had planned to bring a revised preliminary plan tonight for 800-808 Saulter Road and 809 Carr Avenue, but were asked to carry the case over to June.  Owners: Charles Kessler, Ben & Ashley McCullars, Albert Evans.

124 and 126 Windsor

Approved combining two lots/parcels on Windsor Drive into 1 lot/parcel: The owner of 124 Windsor Drive asked to combine that lot and one he owns next-door at 126 Windsor Drive into a single lot, no future building plans discussed. The lots drawn in the pre-zoning year 1926 are narrow, with the house on 124 only 4 feet from the property line, he said. The commission believed combining the lots would not adversely affect computations of required lot sizes for future development, and voted to approve. 

Board of Zoning Adjustments, April 5, 2018

1730 Oxmoor Road

A church gets a lesson from an unhappy neighbor and is sent back to the drawing board. A couple in their 90s makes a third yearly appearance for a variance, which is approved–for the second time.

Members present: Beverly LeBoeuf, Brian Jarmon, Lauren Gwaltney, chair, Ty Cole, Stuart Roberts (S), and Andrew Marlin (S).

Members absent: Matt Foley and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Staff present: Greg Cobb of the Building, Engineering and Zoning Department, planner (part-time) Fred Goodwin, also of BEZ; and Planning and zoning clerk Donna Bridges.

Audience attendance: 9

*Note on procedure: By state law, zoning variances granted by the 5-member board require a super majority of 4 members voting in the affirmative. To keep business moving in case of absences, the law provides two supernumerary members (S) to sit in and vote if needed. (The board clerk alternates their votes, which are not noted in the blog.) Variances expire in 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained.

OLD BUSINESS:

A longstanding case from Dixon was finally withdrawn: 

The Piggly Wiggly addition case was held over until May:

NEW BUSINESS:

2917 Linden Avenue

Waived a restriction against parking places accessed from an alley and reduced the number of parking spaces needed for a new office building on Linden: Building owner and architect Chris Reebals said the redevelopment of the former Little House Gallery at 2917 Linden Avenue into an office space was more involved than originally planned. “It was a mess,” he said. “The house had charm, but it also had water damage and termites.” The business was also nonconforming as to parking, a variance Mr. Reebals asked to be continued for the office building, although it will add 9 more spaces than previously by asphalting and striping a rear space between an alley and the building, and havie 8 parking places in front, where previously there were only 7. The total parking spaces, 17, still falls short of the city’s requirement of 22, requiring a 5-lot variance, which was approved. The back 9 spaces, being accessible directly from a public alley, also required an exemption, which was granted. Asked what tenants were signed to the new space, Mr. Reebals said possibly his own business, now on U.S. 31, might occupy some space.

Approximate location of proposed storage addition to the Family Life Center is marked in red. Oxmoor Animal Clinic opposes the project after poor experiences during FLC construction.

Asked OLS to reconsider an impractical plan to build a 2-story split-block storage building less than two feet from an unhappy neighbor’s property line: Architect and OLS parishioner Tim Lucy had no trouble Tuesday winning development plan approval for a two-story storage building planned on the back side of the “aging” family life center on 1730 Oxmoor Road. But it was a different story tonight with the BZA, whose members asked how he planned to stage construction or even fit scaffolding in the slim space between the building and property line. The church is asking a    variance to build into the property setback.

The question might have been explained away–as Mr. Lucy tried– had it not followed comments by Oxmoor Animal Clinic owner and veterinarian Mary Claytor, who opposed the project, saying the construction of the family life center had cut into the slope and undermined her back yard dog area, forcing her to build an expensive retaining wall with reinforced concrete footings. Construction workers for the FLC had dropped a daily stream of roofing material, nails, cigarette butts, and litter in her dog yard, she said. The problem was aggravated by poor drainage and standing water in the setback area, which routinely floods a church playground after a hard rain.

Dr. Claytor said the church’s senior pastor hadn’t been very neighborly in all the 38 years she’d owned the property. There was no love lost between them, she said.

The plan is to accommodate a growing youth program by repurposing the center’s second-story gym for a multi-purpose gathering area, with movable walls, stages, seating, sound system, lighting, etc., for events. The storage building was a necessary addition to make it work. Although the Family Life Center was only 7-8 years old, the church hadn’t foreseen the growth, Mr. Lucy said, and there was no other buildable area on the landlocked campus. 

BZA members, however, asked how the construction could be accomplished in such a small space, especially without damaging or littering Dr. Claytor’s property? Mr. Lucy said the plan was still in preliminary stage and with that, was given the choice of a likely negative vote or the possibility of re-thinking the situation, especially in light of the church’s history with Dr. Claytor. Mr. Lucy agreed, saying he didn’t want to report a denial to his clients.

906 Westover Street in 2016 case

A couple is granted (once again) a 6.2-foot variance for a residential addition on Westover: Ed and Helen Brown, both in their 90s, plan to add a rear bed/bath addition to the house at 906 Westover Drive, and a covered wheelchair ramp and driveway. The house is already sitting 3.8 feet into the right building setback and the addition would extend the right wall straight back, encroaching into the setback to 6.2-feet because the house isn’t

906 Westover Drive in 2017 case

sitting perfectly parallel to the lot line. The variance was approved, but after a sense of deja vu on the board revealed the case had been before the BZA at least twice before, in September 2016 when the couple presented their own case and were asked to return with a survey instead of a sketch, then withdrew the application, and again in August 2017, when a similar variance was approved, but through a different builder. Whatever happened after that, tonight the case was back for the third time, with

906 Westover Dr. in 2018

the variance once again approved, maybe for the final time, for applicant Tom Williams of Home Maintenance Association, Inc.

 

 

 

239 La Prado Place

Allowed a residential addition planned on LaPrado to be built into the right setback:  Builder Tim Smith asked for a 4.1-foot variance on the right side to remove a circular retaining wall and add a screened porch to the backyard at 239 LaPrado Place. The porch will extend into the setback because the lot lines converge slightly toward the rear. There was little discussion except to ask the builder to proffer that the porch would not ever be enclosed, to which he had no objection.

Planning Commission, April 3, 2018

Photo from the Kessler/rKADCO development “The Cove” in Vestavia & Mt. Brook. Kessler houses have a distinctive look, the sales team says, and these resemble circulating illustrations of the proposed Edgewood Manor housing development on short Saulter. The preliminary plan failed a vote tonight, but the 3-3 tie on rezoning might be moved on to the council. There was some confusion on protocol in case of a tie.

Members present: Stuart Roberts, James Riddle, Jeffrey Foster, Brady Wilson Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill, and John Krontiras.

Absent: Billy Higginbotham, chair, Britt Thames, leaving after the first five minutes of the Kessler case, and Mark Woods.

Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk; Fred Goodwin, planner, Greg Cobb, Building, Engineering and Zoning office.

Audience attendance: 65+

*Rezoning and MXD final development plans are advisory only and subject to final approval by the city council.

NEW BUSINESS:

The layout circulating for the past month is a concept only. Commissioners had unanswered questions and a 3-3 tie sent the developers back to the drawing board for now.

A tie vote rejects the preliminary development plan for now, but a second tie may allow a hotly contested rezoning case to slip through to council:  It’s hard to imagine a more negative public response to the request by Hoover developer Charles Kessler to rezone two acres of Neighborhood Preservation District housing into a 12-unit Planned Residential Development (PRD-1) at the corner of (short) Saulter Road and Carr Avenue. That is, and have it end in 3-3 tie votes on both recommending the rezone and approving the preliminary development plan. But that’s exactly what happened after 18 of 22 speakers bluntly opposed the plan, asking commissioners to explain why the development couldn’t be built under current zoning, where height, setbacks, lot size, and other concerns were specified in the code.

Shown here is the “Heeter” property on Saulter Road, which was divided in 2014 and the lot near Carr sold for a new residence. Four years later that residence and surrounding 2 acres is proposed to be developed into a 12-unit luxury subdivision, Edgewood Manor. The large lot had been proposed as a neighborhood park and as a parking lot–neither getting official approval. Tonight, either did Kessler’s preliminary plan.

The property barely meets the PRD-1 minimum property size of 2 acres. Resident concerns ranged from traffic congestion to fears of setting precedent (what’s to stop any real estate speculator from buying up small plots and having them declared PRD-1? some asked) to worries about the effect of drainage (part of the property is in a flood plain and will have to be elevated behind a “boulder wall”), to school crowding and the aesthetic impact of a dozen narrow and super-tall houses on a private drive. Houses will only be 10 feet apart but may tower to 40 feet, even on lots less than 55 feet wide that in NPD would be limited to only 29 feet, commissioners learned.

Charles Kessler is a prolific subdivision developer whose work is associated with massive Hoover-style developments. One resident said he moved to Homewood 10 years ago, not Hoover. “Now we’re looking at 6 houses and no trees,” he said of the houses built on the Broadway triangle. “This doesn’t fit the Homewood aesthetic. An HOA and a gated community is contrary to the Homewood aesthetic.”

In favor: For those in favor of the development, one was a husband and wife whose corner house would be incorporated into the development. Another was a man who had already sold his house for the development (not above appraised value, he said), and two others who thought the plan and housing design were positives.

The developer answers: Speaking for the project tonight was Jason Kessler, who boasted that each house would have a gaslight and be made of painted brick, rock or other natural materials, and evoke a look of quaintness that would fit well into Homewood, where already many new housing styles are becoming prevalent, he said. 

Mr. Kessler said there are no plans to make the development gated, although the drive would remain private, and his engineer described an underground water retention system that would abate drainage problems. Houses would start in the mid-$500,000 range, he said. As to the rezoning decision, Mr. Kessler  alluded several times to city zoning staff who had suggested the PRD-1 zoning to achieve the developers’ goals, he said. In that same vein, he said he had followed advice of Ward 3 councilmen Patrick McClusky and Walter Jones, who asked that an original 15-unit idea be reduced in density and suggested additional “green space.” (The idea of converting the grassy area under the power easement  into a formal “green space” brought laughs from two speakers. One resident she didn’t really buy counting a lawn that was there as a park area. Another said she had no intention of letting her kids play out under the transmission lines.) Mr. Kessler said he imagined a playground with trees like in Overton Park, but the city’s park director said the city “was covered up with parks.”

Deliberations and votes: In deliberations, commissioners dwelt on the unknowns of the preliminary development plan. Mr. Cobb had explained that a development plan follows its own rules within certain parameters, and whatever is approved in the final plan becomes binding. For instance, only 25% of PRD-1 property can be built, but there aren’t necessarily prescribed setbacks or other rules for individual lots within the development. Commissioners asked if Kessler would proffer such setbacks in order to win approval for the plan, and he said he wouldn’t object. It became clear in questioning that the layout circulating on social media was just a “concept” and actual houses wouldn’t be determined until the lots were sold. Mr. Krontiras then asked how long the development would be under construction–as the houses sold or all at once? Mr. Kessler said he couldn’t guarantee a timeline.

Two commissioners were also concerned about driveway access for units 10-12, and the fact that three lots (as conceived) might be less than 50 feet wide but have no height limit for the houses. As the questions continued in detail, fewer  seemed to have answers and, the time getting late, there was a call for a vote. 

Voting yes on the 3-3 tie vote to recommend rezoning the 2 acres from NPD to PRD-1: Nickolas Hill, James Riddle, Stuart Roberts. With no majority, there was confusion over whether the measure should go to the council has an unfavorable recommendation, or a non-recommendation.

Voting yes on the failed 3-3 tie vote to approve the preliminary development plan: Nickolas Hill, James Riddle and Brady Wilson

Approximate location of proposed storage addition marked in red.

Approved an amended development plan for Our Lady of Sorrows church on Oxmoor: The request to add a two-story storage building to the church’s development plan was heard first tonight to allow time for the Kessler development hearing. Speaking was Tim Lucy, a parishioner and architect, who said the request is a scaled back version of the original plan to add a new youth building and parking. With a pricetag of over $3M, he said, they decided instead to renovate the second-story gym in the aging Family Life Center to accommodate youth meetings and performances. The storage building is needed for all the different guilds at work, he said, and is planned at the back of the property near the Oxmoor Animal Hospital, where it should have limited visual impact. The plan will also require variances and is slated for the next BZA meeting. With no questions or comments from the audience or commission, the plan amendment was approved. 

Approved the final development plan for the new Homewood Police complex:  Engineer Cale Smith returned to request approval for the new police station at 310 West Valley Avenue. There being few changes noted between the Nov. 7 hearing for the preliminary plan, discussion was brief and the final plan was approved.

 

 

 

Planning Commission, March 6, 2018

212 Mecca

There’s money in them thar hills of Ward 1 and developers eyeing a 7-lot subdivision got their wish even as residents appealed for more planning and forethought on the impact to their neighborhood. On a smaller scale, a single house on Stuart subject to commercial rezoning was voted down after hearing opposition from approximately 40 residents, not all in attendance. The case may still proceed to the council, though approval is doubtful.

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

Absent: Britt Thames, Brady Wilson and Mark Woods.

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

Audience attendance: 25

*Rezoning and MXD final development plans are advisory only and subject to final approval by the city council.

OLD BUSINESS:

“Cottages at Hena”

Approved construction plans and 3-lot residential subdivision in West Homewood after traffic concerns are addressed:  Strout Construction returned tonight to proffer 6 traffic recommendations for a small subdivision planned at a 90-degree curve at 123 Hena Street. Owner is WEHOLD LLC.  Those recommendations included removing the stop sign, painting double yellow lines with bumps to keep cars in line, yellow warning signs at Cobb Street and Hena, and a concrete island at the planned subdivision inlet to protect exiting cars.

The case was carried over in February when Ward 2 resident and commission member Mark Woods, absent tonight, asked about traffic safety. Commissioners tonight asked if the developer would proffer implementing the traffic recommendations. That done, the vote was taken and unanimously approved.

NEW BUSINESS:

Eight lots as originally drawn in 1907

Approved a 7-lot subdivision on Mecca after developers dropped the 8th lot: As expected, developers interested in building 8 houses at 212 Mecca Street returned from a BZA defeat November to a win approval tonight for 7 houses instead. The BZA refused to grant lot width variances that would allow 8 houses on 50-foot lots–just shy of the 53-foot minimum required width computed by nearby lot averages. Two dozen Ward 1 objectors had left that hearing feeling vindicated, but knowing it would be temporary. It was. The revised resurvey approved tonight for developer EE Edgewood Land Holding LLC creates 7 lots with a minimum width of 55 feet and minimum area of 7,689 square feet, well above the required minimum of 6,875 sf.  Minimums must be at least 85% of the averages calculated on lots within 250 feet of the proposed site. Two-story houses are planned, and developers have proffered there will be no variances requested.

Engineer Bob Easley said the southern lots were flatter and became more steep going north. Houses at the steeper end would have taller crawl spaces and the upper houses would have “downstairs basements” to minimize the difference in grade from lot to lot, he said.

Knowing that approval was certain, several residents returned to ask the city what plans it had, if any, to moderate the effect of so much new development on sloping lots. The 7 proposed lots are just half of the new housing planned on steeply graded street. An Irving resident said the cutting of so many trees would make I-65 audible year ’round instead of just when the trees were bare. Another said the number of houses should be reduced to 3-5. A resident on St. Charles said the city seemed to make decisions “in a bubble” instead of considering the overall impact of development: “All the green is coming down. Concrete is going up. Runoff is everywhere,” she said. Two speakers asked why residents couldn’t review the design of proposed houses. An agent has shown drawings to neighbors. “But the houses they showed won’t be what is built,” he said.

In response to complaints about runoff and standing water, Mr. Cobb said the city was working to unclog a drain.

The vote to approve was unanimous.

1016 Stuart Street –Less than 800 square feet and facing the back side of restaurants and shops on Oxmoor, the house has no future as a residence, the owners claimed. The Commission disagreed, as did nearly 40 neighborhood objectors. It remains to be seen if owners will continue the case to the city council.

Voted unanimously against a commercial rezoning request on Stuart Street: Neighbors presented a formidable front against allowing the house at 1016 Stuart Street to be rezoned for commercial use, while acknowledging that location, size and previous development made the fate of the tiny house “challenging.” The owners and a relative who lived there until November made a case for rezoning the 780-square-foot cottage from Neighborhood Preservation District to Edgewood Urban Renewal District to allow a quiet business, they said, such as a seamstress or accountant, to occupy the site, which sits on a one-way street and faces the back doors and dumpsters of the Edgewood shops on Oxmoor. Such a business would have fewer parking and traffic problems than renting to a college student–the likely option–they warned. They said the Dawson-owned “missionary houses” nearby were bound by a 100-year clause not to be redeveloped, which should assure the neighborhood.

Nevertheless, nine residents spoke against the rezoning as setting a precedent that would be sure to chip away at the line between housing and businesses. One of those objectors read aloud the addresses of 29 additional signers from Highland, Irving, Stuart and St. Charles who also opposed the move, saying a rezone would “erode” the neighborhood. One speaker cited the goals of the master plan, which included buffers between residential and commercial zones. Also objecting was  a rep of New York Pizza, who said traffic was “already a nightmare” and made pick-up business almost impossible. “I don’t know how we could fit another business in there,” she said.

Mr. Higginbotham reviewed EURD requirements, which include paved parking, a 35-foot rear setback, and maximum 5-foot front setback. The zone is made for retail and restaurants. Alternatively, the more stringent C-1 zone, which is geared for office and professional uses, has a 25-foot front setback and 15-feet each side. Both classifications allow a lengthy list of businesses and would force costly upgrades to comply. An objector had noted that once rezoned, the property could be developed for any allowed commercial business. Mr. Higginbotham said, however, it would be nearly impossible to tear down and rebuild a compliant building on the small lot.

The owner opted to leave the request for EURD.

Before the vote, which was unanimously opposed to recommending the rezone, Mr. Foster asked if a fire engine could even reach the building. Mr. Hill said probably not, but that was a typical scenario across Homewood.

Despite the unfavorable vote, the owners may still opt to be heard by the city council, which would hold an additional public hearing and would require a super-majority to approve the rezoning.

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Board of Zoning Adjustments, March 1, 2018

The Bell Center rendering, as seen from the front corner.

front setback

A forgetful contractor is denied a variance for an un-permitted renovation that violated setbacks; The Bell Center moves a step closer building its  new $7 million facility on 29th Court South.

Members present: Matt Foley, Brian Jarmon, Lauren Gwaltney, chair, arriving during the Allen Avenue case, Ty Cole, Stuart Roberts (S), and Andrew Marlin (S).

Members absent: Beverly LeBoeuf and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Staff present: Vanessa McGrath and Greg Cobb of the Building, Engineering and Zoning Department, planner (part-time) Fred Goodwin, also of BEZ; and Planning and zoning clerk Donna Bridges.

Audience attendance: 11

*Note on procedure: By state law, zoning variances granted by the 5-member board require a super majority of 4 members voting in the affirmative. To keep business moving in case of absences, the law provides two supernumerary members (S) to sit in and vote if needed. (The board clerk alternates their votes, which are not noted in the blog.) Variances expire in 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained.

OLD BUSINESS:

Carried over a variance request on Dixon for the fourth time: Warren Kyle has been carrying over since November a project at 109 Dixon requiring a 4.3-foot left setback variance and a 2.6-foot right setback variance. Reasons not given.

Piggly Wiggly
U.S. 31 Homewood

Carried over a case involving a planned expansion of the Piggly Wiggly building: Owners McConnell, White & Terry Realty plan to expand the grocery building at 3000 U.S. 31 toward the Oxmoor Road side, but keeping the same rear wall, which already sits 20 feet into the required setback. The case was carried over two months ago and again tonight pending a parking/lease agreement with CVS.

NEW BUSINESS:

1835 Lancaster Road

Compromised to allow a nonconforming side setback to be extended back for a house addition: A short section of the left wall at 1835 Lancaster Road extends 5 feet into the setback to accommodate a side door and steps. The homeowners, who brought a tired toddler as Exhibit A for needing more space, asked to extend the nonconforming wall straight back from that section to complete a 1-story addition toward the rear. The board asked enough questions, however, to throw a favorable vote in doubt, and Mr. Cole suggested extending the left wall from a shorter distance of only 2 feet. The couple, who postponed the case consider their choices, returned before adjournment to ask for a 3 foot variance into the setback instead. That said, and the toddler crying, the board voted unanimously in favor.

504 Morris Boulevard

Allowed a house renovation on Morris to be extended into the front setback: Architect Jared Bussey designed a second story, a small 1 story rear addition, and an open front porch on the cottage at 504 Morris Blvd. The front already sits nearly 2 feet over the required 25-foot front setback from the property line. He requested, and the board approved, to continue that variance and add 1.5 feet for a roof overhang to protect the porch.

245 Allen Avenue

Denied a request to let a house under renovation on Allen extend 3 feet farther into the front setback: The contractor working on a renovation at 245 Allen Avenue said he should have known better than to start work without getting a permit and enlarge the front of the house–pushing it 3 feet into the setback, but he did it anyway. The fact he had substantially finished the project when the city stopped worked comprised his main hardship for seeking the a 7-foot variance (the house was already 4 feet into the setback). Before the board rejected the request, Mr. Cole asked if he had done other work in Homewood (yes), and wasn’t he aware of ordinances and zoning regulations (yes)? Nevertheless, he and the homeowners, who were also present, dismissed suggestions to reduce the impact of the violation and opted for a vote, which was 3-2 to deny. The work will have to be removed.

Voting yes: Andrew Marlin and Stuart Roberts

The Bell Center, with shaded portion showing the parcel acquired for expansion. Both structures will be torn down to rebuild a new Center, subject to rezoning the combined parcel from commercial to institutional use.

The Bell Center was granted side and front variances for a new facility planned on 29th Court South: The early learning intervention center purchased an adjoining lot months ago with plans to demolish the existing house and the current Bell Center facility to build a new, larger center across both lots. Supporter David Silverstein was present with engineers and architects and the center director to ask for the variances. He outlined a brief history of the center, which has served more than 1,500 children since 1984, and operated for a time from a single room at Trinity UMC before moving to its current building at 1700 29th Court South, in 1994. The center had completed a major renovation four years later and now was raising $7 million for the new and larger facility. The center and the adjoining lot are both zoned commercial and will seek rezoning to an I-2 institutional classification at next week’s Planning Commission. The variances requested under that zoning are 10 feet into the 15-foot left setback, and 5 feet into the 10-foot front setback. 

Board members questioned the need to build the front so close to the street. Designers answered that the building needed to move forward to accommodate internal design conditions and also rear parking (which may require additional variances). Those questions answered, a vote was taken granting the variances, pending rezoning approval.

The meeting adjourned following the Lancaster case vote, postponed to the end of the meeting.

Planning Commission, Feb. 6, 2018

123 Hena Street The parcel abutts SouthPointe property across the “street,” which is still privately owned under a city maintenance and utility easement.

Developers of a 3-lot residential subdivision planned on a narrow and blind curve in West Homewood agreed to provide a traffic study to the commission, postponing their case to redraw the lots and approve construction plans until that time. The study should please families on nearby Kent Drive who last fall demanded traffic enforcement measures after a child crossing the street was struck, but not seriously, by a moving car at school pick-up time. The subdivision is planned on a narrow and blind curve of Hena Street at Cobb Street, less than a block from the elementary school, where traffic comes to a near standstill at afternoon pickup times. Also tonight the commission approved zoning changes affecting how NPD housing heights are measured and handing over control of West Homewood District sign laws and variances to the City Council. See last item, below.

Members present: Britt Thames, Brady Wilson, Billy Higginbotham, chair, James Riddle, Jeffrey Foster, and Mark Woods.

Absent: John Krontiras and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

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

Audience attendance: 9

*Rezoning and MXD development plans are advisory only and subject to final approval by the city council.

OLD BUSINESS:

The wooded property on Hena is at a 90-degree blind curve and 300 or so feet from the Wells Fargo parking deck.

Carried over a 3-lot subdivision and construction plans on Hena Street pending a traffic study, to be paid by the developer: Strout Construction plans to build three houses on a subdivision and “bulb” inlet at 123 Hena Street, to be called the Cottages at Hena. Tonight, engineer Joey Miller spoke for owner Wehold LLC, describing the plan to build three houses in a wooded parcel at the 90-degree turn on Hena Street at Cobb.

Also speaking during the hearing was a co-owner of inherited residential property in Southpointe, which appears to be across the street. However, the man pointed out that his property abutted the planned development because Hena Street was originally a private drive with a utility and city maintenance easement. Although the city for all practical purposes owns the street, the land under the pavement is technically and actually (for tax purposes) still held privately. For that reason, the resident wanted to know who owned a deteriorating retaining wall and fence that is falling into the street. The engineer didn’t know and Mr. Higginbotham said the situation would be investigated.

“Cottages at Hena” subdivision of one parcel to three triangular lots and turnaround.

In further questions, the architect and engineer described how the three lots would radiate from the “bulb” drive; that a sanitary sewer line would be extended down Hena from a point 200 feet to the west; that the houses, as conceived, would have side driveways to garages in the rear, and feature partial, brick wainscoting (drawings not made public). However the discussion led to the fate of a stop sign at the corner of Cobb and Hena, near Hall-Kent Elementary, and the dangerous school traffic and recent incident on Kent Drive, where a child was struck, but not injured, by a car in the carpool line. Mr. Woods said he was concerned about the traffic at that sharp turn so near the elementary school. And Mr. Miller, prompted to respond to the traffic question, offered to postpone the case until a traffic study was conducted and presented. 

NEW BUSINESS:

The Bell Center, with shaded portion showing the parcel acquired for expansion. Both structures will be torn down to rebuild a new facility, subject to rezoning the combined parcel from commercial to institutional use.

Recommended rezoning the Bell Center and recently purchased adjacent lot from commercial to institutional use: The Bell Center, which provides therapy for special needs children, has occupied a building erroneously zoned commercial for some time. The agency recently purchased and combined the adjacent lot to build a new larger facility across both sites and had postponed the rezoning request until that time. Tonight the commission voted to recommend rezoning the properties at 1700 and 1708 29th Court South from C-1 (Office Building District) and C-4 (Central Business District) to I-2, institutional. The city council has the final vote on rezoning cases. 

Approved a list of major and minor changes to the zoning ordinance affecting how height limits are determined in the Neighborhood Preservation District, and in the West Homewood District, turning over control of sign regulations and variances to the City Council, among other changes:

Problematic wording was redlined from residential housing height limits

Citywide single family height: The change alters how the residential housing height limits are computed, namely by eliminating the measurement from the ground (median grade). The change is intended to prevent home builders from leveling steep lots by filling them behind tall retaining walls to establish the grade, and was passed in reaction to one house already drawn in Ward 1 and the expectation of more mountainside development in the future. Mr. Thames said the problem was an unintended consequence of the council’s wording, which was supposed to take into account the city’s 3-foot required crawl space. Asked if builders on level lots would increase foundation heights now that the limit was removed, commissioners said they did not expect that to happen.

West Homewood “Village” District changes approved in one vote:

  • Transferred power to review signage and grant variances from the Planning Commission and BZA to the City Council.
  • Reduced the percentage of required glass on ground floors to 35%-70%. The original range was 70%-90%. Two of four commercial projects were denied glazing variances under the new “Village” code, including an EconoLodge addition, a Waffle House renovation, both defunct. The new Nexus fitness center and GM Pizzeria  which were granted the exemptions, are close to opening.
  • Reduced to 2 feet the required height of “street wall” (to hide car lights in open parking lots, according to Ms. McGrath). The original wall height was 4-6 feet.
  • Prohibited fences or hedges from protruding beyond the building fronts.
  • Changed all mentions of “reverse angle parking” (backing into spaces) to regular angled parking.
  • Replaced “nightclub” as a permitted use, which had been removed from an earlier version, and added the term “Brew Pub” to the list.
  • Set a 25-foot height limit on accessory structures.

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