Board of Zoning Adjustments, Jan. 4, 2018

1603 Oxmoor Road A case possibly headed to circuit court

Two cases were denied tonight: a split lot on Lucerne and a return visit by a homeowner on Gran wanting to add a 2-story garage on the rear setback of a new residence. In a not-unexpected development, a party whose case was denied in a special November meeting has appealed the decision to Jefferson County circuit court. In that case, the city had mistakenly issued a building permit for a new house  on Oxmoor that was being built 5 feet into the side setback. The footings were already poured when the city stopped work, but for the second time this year, the BZA failed to consider the city’s mistake as an excuse for violating published zoning ordinances. The first case, in September, was a height violation on St. Charles that the contractor revised into compliance. The recent case had  been denied 4-1 in November, with Brian Jarmon voting the only yes.

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

Members absent: Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

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

Audience attendance: 17

*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. Variances expire in 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained.


109 Dixon Avenue

Carried over for a third time a request for variances for a house addition on Dixon: The case at 109 Dixon Avenue had been carried over twice since November.


Proposed Athletic Complex building

Granted a variance allowing the city’s park board to build a facility taller than code: Davis Architecture was approved to build a covered volleyball, basketball and maintenance building at 123 West Oxmoor Road 7 1/2 feet higher than code allows, in part to accommodate internal heights required for the ball games. Volleyball requires a 23 foot clearance, for example.  Asked why the outside roof had to be so high, the architect said it was to maintain an “efficient” 2 foot to 12 foot slope from the eaves, which start at 25.6 feet, to the roof ridge, at 42.6. Zoning regulations would have capped the height at 35 feet. The building will be built on the site of the former Mason Corp. building and is part of a $35 million renovation to Park and Rec Board playing fields and facilities that expanded across the newly purchased, 15-acre Mason property. It may also house some city offices. There were no objections to the request.

102 Lucerne Boulevard

Granted a variance to allow a carport to be built in front of a house on Lucerne: Spurrier Construction argued that the house at 102 Lucerne Boulevard was positioned just 10 feet off the rear property line, presenting an undeniable hardship to building an accessory structure anywhere but in front of the house. The homeowners already have a pavilion and a one-car carport in front of the house, offset to the left, which predated zoning regulations. The accessory structures sit farther back than the fronts of adjoining houses and are screened from view by a landscaping buffer and the deep setback from the street. Mr. Spurrier said the homeowners plan to enclose the existing carport and build a new 20′ X 22′ two-car carport for vehicles and a storage room. The new carport will not be enclosed and stand almost 134 feet from the road.

There being no objection, the variance was granted unanimously.

98 Lucerne Boulevard

Denied variances to allow a lot on Lucerne to be split into two lots smaller and narrower than required by code: A Samford law professor tried but failed to make a convincing case for allowing a split lot at 98 Lucerne Boulevard, his family’s home since 2001 and one which he described repeatedly as an unappealing and poorly constructed structure that had been survived four badly planned and executed additions before he purchased the house. Mr.Smolin and his wife plan to move to a house on Wellington with the last of their 8 children, the youngest who has a serious medical condition; remodeling the current house wasn’t an option, he said. Instead, they proposed dividing and selling the lots for two new houses; a real estate agent and prospective buyer both attended tonight’s hearing.

The minimum allowed lot width is 85% of the average lots in a defined impact area, shown here as surrounding lots with 12 houses.

Under zoning regulations, acceptable lot size is set at no less than 85% of the average of lots in a surrounding defined impact area, which in this instance encompasses 12 addresses. Based on those lots, Ms. McGrath computed the minimum required lot width to be 89 feet and the minimum area 16,168 square feet. Mr. Smolin’s lot, at 151 feet, would produce two lots of ~75 feet, requiring width variances of 13.5 feet per lot and area variances of 1,607 square feet for each.

Two people spoke, one opposing the division and a next door neighbor enthusiastically in favor. Mr. Smolian had collected 5 signatures in favor of the division, including three from adjoining properties.

The poor condition of the current house comprised part of Mr. Smolin’s detailed argument to divide, namely, that two proposed brand new Tudor or Craftsmen-styled houses would be better for the neighborhood than leaving behind one rambling, unattractive, rundown, out-of-date rancher, a choice Mr. Smolin presented as somewhat of a threat when the possibility of his winning the variance seemed to be fading. More  convincing was his argument that the current property was a double lot that even divided would be larger than many residential lots elsewhere in Homewood. Further, the divided lots would be wider or just as wide as 4 of 7 surrounding properties on Lucerne, he said. The residents of one of those properties–whose own lot was less than 75 feet wide–had written one of the two letters of opposition: “They want to deny us the right to obtain what they already have for themselves,” he said. The hardship, he went on, was the 85% formula itself, which produced inconsistent/arbitrary size requirements based on where a certain property happened to be. In his case, large corner lots and double lots on Lucerne put his subdivision plan at an unfair disadvantage, he said.

Nevertheless, the board said the formula was designed to maintain consistency within a neighborhood–not within the city as a whole or just one block of it. Mr. Cole asked Mr. Smolin if he could explain what hardship prevented him from building one large house on his large lot? “It’s all about scale, you know?” he asked. “The original lots may have been narrower, but the houses you plan to build there aren’t the same. They will be built from setback to setback.” In response, Mr. Smolin said it wasn’t financial gain, but financial feasibility that motivated his desire to divide the lot. Then, seeing that his case was failing, he asked if any other board members beside Mr. Cole had questions. They did not. A vote was taken and returned a unanimous denial.

The new house at 312 Gran Avenue

Denied a variance to allow a two-story garage built into the required setback on Gran: This case is a return from December, when a request to build a garage inside the 10-foot setback was denied, citing an absence of drawings. In December, the homeowner at 312 Gran Avenue was unable to show a credible hardship for building a large two-story brick facade garage with an attic four feet into the side setback. This time, the homeowner presented drawings of the garage, explaining that two households were

(former house at) 312 Gran Avenue

being combined at the new residence and needed storage. As before, he argued that a rear deck and sewer/water lines on the property prevented him from moving the garage to the right. As before, Mr. Cole said that hardship was self-inflicted since the owner himself designed the house and built it anew. Mr. Foley reiterated that the board rarely granted variances on new construction for that reason. Also as before, the homeowner said the original house also had a garage in the rear. This time, Ms. LeBoeuf

(former) 312 Gran Avenue
garage seen from rear

pointed out that the lot had been completely cleared of trees, including a buffer between the garage and Shades Cahaba Elementary. Ms. McGrath and Ms. Gwaltney then pointed out building options to avoid putting the garage onto the setback. There being other routes available to comply, the vote was taken and the variance unanimously denied.


Board of Zoning Adjustments, December 7, 2017

House planned on South Lakeshore, across from the soccer fields

A 10-case docket was reduced to 9 with a postponement and the rest decided quickly. The single denial was decided for variances to accommodate a two-story garage on Gran.

Members present: Brian Jarmon, Beverly LeBoeuf, Ty Cole, Matt Foley, and Andrew Marlin.

Members absent: Lauren Gwaltney, chair, Stuart Roberts (S), and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

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

Audience attendance: 23

*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. Variances expire in 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained.


Carried over for a second time a house addition case on Dixon: The case at 109 Dixon Avenue was carried over to January. 


202 Bonita Drive

Approved a front setback variance for a house addition on Bonita: The homeowner at 202 Bonita Drive wanted a covered carport at the front right of the house convenient to the entrance, which would push the front line of the house 15 feet closer to the street and 4 feet into the required front setback (of 49 feet from the street). There were no speakers at the hearing and no stated hardship for waiving the regulation except the convenience and security of having a carport versus having none, which is the current case. In discussion, the

Front design for a terrace and carport

contractor said the protruding carport would be balanced on the left side with a terrace, with stairs and planters and a reconfigured walkway to the drive on the right (see drawing). Neighbors on the carport side had expressed no objection, and with few questions asked, the board voted approval. 

1617 Woodfern Drive

Approved a right setback variance for a substantial front addition on Woodfern: Although most of the addition planned at 1617 Woodfern Drive will be added to the front–bringing it forward to the street by 15 feet–it is only a short section of the addition on the right side that extends into the setback, by 4.2 feet. The laundry room already juts into the setback by that amount, and the addition will merely extend it another 12 feet along the side of the house. The board was told the front gable would remain. There were no speakers or objections submitted on the case, and the board approved it unanimously. 

505 Hampton Drive

Approved continuing a rear setback variance to allow a house addition on Hampton: With one exception, a homeowner at 505 Hampton Drive didn’t leave anything to chance in making her argument for a 15-foot rear setback variance to rebuild most of an existing deck and enclose it under a metal roof. (The rebuilt deck will have the same footprint as the existing open deck, which doesn’t require the same setback.)

The homeowner pointed out several hardships that prompted the decision to rebuild and roof the deck, the first being the shallow lot, which makes privacy a concern. Others were 1) Exposure to sun, making the open deck difficult to use during the summer; 2) A sloping rear yard difficult to use without a deck; 3) An effort to divert rainwater from the house, which is already subject to some flooding because of topography; and 4) The intention to use some existing deck support structures, instead of building from scratch. In addition, she produced four letters of support from surrounding neighbors.

However, before the approving vote, Mr. Foley noticed that the proposed roof overhang was a foot over the 1.5-foot limit, which the homeowners proffered to change to meet regulations.

312 Gran Avenue

Denied 2-3 a setback variance for a two-story garage planed behind a house on Gran: Homeowners at  312 Gran Avenue, which backs up to Shades Cahaba Elementary, were thwarted in their plan to build a two-story garage within the 10-foot property line setback, in part because the structure would be built anew and not to match the former garage footprint. The house was recently built after the original house and 2-story garage were torn down. Now a new 26′ X 25′ garage is planned 4.5 feet inside the setback to avoid crowding a backyard deck. Mr. Cole, however, called the hardship self-inflicted due to poor space planning on the part of the contractor.  The contractor replied that the deck was already “sized down” and was sited to avoid electrical and sewer lines, an argument that didn’t sway the board given the size and height of the proposed garage. It will be two stories, both with heat and air, and attic storage. The vote was 3-2 in favor, which failed the required 4 votes to approve a variance. The contractor can appeal the decision in court, return with a different request, or build within the required setbacks.

Voting no to the variance:  Ty Cole and Brian Jarmon

210 West Linwood Drive

Approved a left side setback variance for an addition on West Linwood:  The planned addition at 210 West Linwood Drive is a master bedroom suite and laundry in the rear left side of the property. The lot is 55.8 feet wide, or just inches over the 55-foot lot-size limit that requires  wider side setbacks of 10 feet each (an accepted hardship in a previous case). The architect asked to build 2 feet into the left side to make the rooms more usable, he said, and to avoid the existing garage. In discussion, Mr. Cole pointed out that the addition, as designed, makes the garage virtually unusable for parking a car. He asked, with a smile, if the plan was to keep the garage, or was the garage only useful as a way of getting the 2-foot variance? He was assured the garage would remain; it is being used as an office. The architect also produced letters of support from neighbors on either side, and the case was approved.

305 Westover Drive

Approved a right side setback variance for a house addition on Westover: Architect Joe Ellis spoke at the case at 305 Westover Drive and the one following. In this case, the plan is to add a 1-story bedroom and bath addition on a side that is already nonconforming by 2.6 feet; the addition would add several inches to that nonconformity for a total required variance of 2.45 feet. With no objections from the board or audience, the request was approved.

214 Malaga Avenue

Approved an existing setback variance for a house addition on Malaga: Mr. Ellis had only slightly more trouble winning an approval for a 4.1-foot left setback variance at 214 Malaga Avenue, where an already non-conforming rear porch is being enlarged, and the steps removed and deck railed in. In discussion, Mr. Cole asked if the homeowners would also agree to remove an existing side deck and awning. The homeowners having been called and giving their permission, the vote was unanimous to approve.

309 Le Jeune Way (2016)

Approved a right setback variance for an addition on Le Jeune: This house was heard in an April 2016 case.  The designer spoke on behalf of the plan for an addition at 309 Le Jeune Way, including a single story rear addition of the kitchen and roof that extends the house line for 5 feet, 9 inches before the wall is stepped back to within the setback. A variance was approved in April 2016 for a different plan under a different owner, who changed her mind about renovating. With no objections from the board or audience, the vote was unanimous to approve.

1721 South Lakeshore Drive

Approved a variance to allow a new house to be built 5 feet closer to the street on South Lakeshore: The only speaker of the evening was for this case at 1721 South Lakeshore Drive, and his interest was not to object but to learn more about the plan for the lot across from the Homewood soccer fields. The owners responded that they encountered rock while leveling the back of the half-acre + lot and are asking to build 5 feet closer to the street than the required 35-foot setback. Of those 5 feet over the line, four feet would be an open front porch and only 1 foot would be the house proper. Board members asked few questions and, it being the last of nine cases, voted to approve.

Before adjourning the board approved the 2018 calendar showing regular meetings the first Thursday of each month, except July and November.










Planning Commission, Dec. 5, 2017

The Bell Center

The commission heard and approved the Bell Center request to combine two parcels into one for a future rebuilding of the early intervention/special education center north of Central Avenue.



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

Absent: John Krontiras, and Britt Thames

Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk, and Fred Goodwin, planner, and

Audience attendance: 3

*Rezoning and final development plan cases (Mixed Use Districts only) are advisory and must receive final approval from the city council.


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

Approved a request to combine a new parcel with existing property for a future Bell Center expansion: Walter Schoel engineering spoke at a brief hearing, saying the Bell Center (1700 29th Court South) had acquired an adjacent parcel (1708) that it wanted to combine with its existing property. With no speakers coming forward, the hearing was closed and Mr. Higginbotham explained that the resurvey was the first in a multi-step expansion process for the organization. The center had purchased the adjacent property, on which there stands a 50-year-old house, and plans to demolish both buildings and rebuild a new facility in their place. The steps also involve rezoning both properties, which are, oddly enough, both zoned commercial: C-1 for the current Center, and C-4 for the house, which Mr. Goodwin later explained was at one time a catering business.

Although the rezoning and resurvey requests could have been combined, they were not. The applicant will return in February with its request to rezone the parcels to Institutional use.

Before adjourning the commission approved the 2018 calendar. Next meeting will be on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018.







Board of Zoning Adjustments, special meeting, Nov. 28, 2017

The BZA tonight was forced to rule on new residential construction that violated setback limits but had been issued a building permit in error. It was not the first time: In September the board heard — and also rejected — a height variance for a nonconforming house on St. Charles that had been issued a building permit and passed at least one formal inspection before work was stopped.

Members present: Brian Jarmon, Beverly LeBoeuf, Lauren Gwaltney, chair, Ty Cole, and Matt Foley.

Members absent: Andrew Marlin (S), Stuart Roberts (S), and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Staff present: Vanessa McGrath of the Building, Engineering and Zoning Department, and 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. Variances expire in 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained.


Original house on 1603 Oxmoor Road in March 2017 A right-side variance was granted for a planned addition, but the house was demolished for a rebuild in September.

Rejected a request to waive setback requirements on a nonconforming house already under construction — but with an approved building permit: No one on the building team at 1603 Oxmoor Road had looked up the city’s zoning regulations when they submitted plans for a new two-story house to replace the 40-year-old cottage (pictured) surrounded by boxwoods. Instead, the investor and contractor who spoke at tonight’s special called BZA hearing had relied on an old set of plans and a variance approved by the BZA in March to determine where the new house would stand. But that variance was for the other side, and for a one-story addition, not the complete tear-down and 2-story rebuild planned six months later. It was a costly miscalculation, since on Nov. 1 the footings were poured nearly five feet into the required left setback just hours before a stop work order was issued. And making matters worse–but by no means working in the builders’ favor–city planner Vanessa McGrath had overlooked the mistake and signed off on the building permit herself. 

The lot is 56 feet wide, requiring a 10-foot setback on either side of the house. The left wall as planned required a variance of 4.8 feet–nearly half the setback. Had the lot been just 1 foot narrower, putting it in a different setback category, the required variance would have been even less.

What was the BZA to do, excuse the building team for its ignorance? Not as it turns out, and not with a neighbor on the affected side opposing the variance. (Three letters of opposition were also filed on the case.) BZA’s Ty Cole argued the city’s error didn’t create the builders’ setback error, and by demolishing the original house and its foundation, the team had started with a “clean slate” for adhering to regulations unless there was a credible hardship. What was that hardship? The owner (who objected being called a developer) argued that staying within the setbacks would force him to lengthen the house in an unappealing way to “maximize the square footage,” a financial argument that doesn’t constitute a hardship under the law.

One objector speaks: The neighbor at 1605 Oxmoor said he didn’t oppose a new house next door, but the proposed house was very large and should be kept within the setbacks, he said. The neighbor described how he had contacted the city with concerns when the stakes were placed and later when the foundation trench was dug. He called the city on the very day the footings were poured, but an inspector didn’t arrive in time to stop it, he said.

In discussion, Ms. Gwaltney struggled to see if the lot size difference presented a workable hardship. It did not. Mr. Cole took the lead, asking repeatedly why professionals wouldn’t look up the building regulations before they started work. (The designer had probably not even been to the site, the contractor said.) Mr. Foley said the job wasn’t very far along. They “should go back to the designer and challenge him to do his job,” he said.

402 St. Charles Street The roof peak was more than 2 feet over the height limit, an error caught — and corrected — months after a permit was issued.

Ms. McGrath, asked to provide an explanation, said she saw so many jobs come through and experienced so many interruptions, she couldn’t remember how the mistake happened. It was not the first time: In September the board heard — and rejected — a height variance for a nonconforming house on St. Charles that had been issued a building permit and passed at least one formal inspection. 

With discussion over, Ms. LeBoeuf moved to approve the plan, with Mr. Cole seconding after a long pause. The votes were all negative with the exception of Mr. Jarmon, who also paused a long time before voting yes.

The applicants now have two options, either present a compliant plan to the inspection office and resume work, or within 15 days submit an appeal to the state circuit court.

Voting yes on the failed variance: Brian Jarmon




Planning Commission called meeting, Parks & Rec, Nov. 14, 2017

Rosedale resident Mary Edwards scolded the council last winter for not including Rosedale in the tax and bond spending windfall. Tonight, Ms. Edwards reminded officials about the needs of Spring Park during hearings for the $30 M sports facility expansion in West Homewood.

Nine residents spoke tonight at special called hearings on expansion of ball fields and other sports facilities, and relocation of an outdoor pool by the Senior Center. As expected, concerns focused on retaining landscaping and buffering noise, traffic and other nuisances from neighborhoods. Several residents made the trip this evening to be assured the city plans renovations at Spring Park in Rosedale as well. Those plans are being discussed now, with $350,000 budgeted to rebuild the park from scratch.

Members present: Britt Thames, Billy Higginbotham, chair, Jeffrey Foster, James Riddle, Mark Woods, and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill

Absent: John Krontiras and Brady Wilson

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

Audience attendance: 16


Plan for new pool and related structures, and 120-space parking lot off Oak Grove Road.

Approved changes to the Park and Rec. board’s final development plan of Patriot Park, to add a swimming pool: Two residents with little  knowledge of the year-long planning process for the Senior Center pool addition spoke at tonight’s hearing for the property’s amended development plan. The plan, presented by Curtis Eatman of LBYD engineering firm, involves building a swimming pool, concession area, pool building and 120-space parking lot into the lawn at 816 Oak Grove Road, between the existing Senior Center and Patriot park. A resident at 725 Hillmoor Lane, behind the development, asked if the plan was a revision of a former discussion years to add a year-round swimming pool as part of the Senior Center facility and dedicated for use by center members. A second speaker, from the Hollywood neighborhood, asked if the Senior Center was going to be demolished to make way for the pool. He also asked if and when improvements would be made to the Spring Park in Rosedale. 

Commissioners and staff explained that the new pool is being built to replace the pool eliminated for more field space in West Homewood Park. It will be  located next to the Senior Center but will not otherwise affect that facility. The pool will be outdoors and open only during the summer months, with completion scheduled for May 2019.

As for Spring Park, the city has budgeted $350,000 for a top-to-bottom renovation and replacement of that facility in Rosedale.

There being no other questions, the commission unanimously approved the amendments to the development plan.

Final development plan approved for the combined recreational facilities of West Homewood Park and Mason Corporation properties.

Approved a final development plan to include and combine new acreage added to the West Homewood Park sports fields: Mr. Eatman presented an overview of the final development plan, which involves renovating existing fields and the addition of 15 acres from the Mason Corporation, whose building will be demolished to make way for two multi-purpose soccer-sized fields with artificial turf, an indoor basketball courts, covered batting cages in the same structure, and additional parking. Parking will also be added along the edge of the drive now connecting West Oxmoor to the Six Acre field, which also will be converted to artificial turf.

The Weygand Field gravel parking lot will be paved.

Residents express concerns: 

  • A resident from Parkside Circle, which backs up to the park, asked if the final plan had reduced parking areas to be built along the park drive, and behind the neighborhood. Mr. Eatman said plans had been changed closer to the segment of the drive near West Oxmoor. The parking area would be where people now park on the grass. A 10-foot tree buffer is required in the project, but no details have been decided. Mr. Foster asked if a landscape plan would be submitted, but zoning staff said the trees and landscaping indicated on the drawing was sufficient. No details have been decided on landscaping. Mr. Woods said repeatedly that tree height would have to remain low because of the power lines.
  • A second Parkside Circle resident asked about plans to modify traffic and traffic noise. There are no such plans.
  • Delcris Road resident asked if there would be any passive park areas worked into the plan or if the entire space was dedicated to organized sports. “Will there be a place for a family to gather, or to throw a Frisbee?” she asked. “Central Park is busy and now so is Patriot Park. I want a place to just take my grandchildren.” Mr. Eatman said it was planned as a sports facility, but Mr. Woods said the pavilion and lawn area by the creek would still remain for gatherings.
  • A resident on Cobb Street (reporting) asked what trees and wooded areas would be eliminated and which would remain. Mr. Eastman said a strip of woods 45 feet X 350 feet behind the Mason Corporation would be removed, and the rest would remain, under the current plan. Approximately 10% of the trees by the former pool area would be removed as well, he said. Trees by the entrance and tennis courts would remain.
  • A business owner at 140 West Oxmoor asked if the entrance would be signalized or if traffic would be affected along Snow Drive. Mr. Eatman said a right turn lane exiting the park would be added, but no signal. Traffic should not be an issue on Snow Drive.
  • A resident n 27th Avenue South took the opportunity to ask if a water feature could be added to the Spring Park renovation. Mr. Thames, who represents that ward, referred her and another Rosedale resident to the park board. Plans for Spring Park are being sketched out now, he said.
  • A resident from Sherbrooke Drive, behind the park, asked if there would be fencing along the neighborhood perimeter to block out noise and light. There is no fence planned. Mr. Woods said modern public lighting is much improved with LED lights and downward facing fixtures.

The questions answered, the commission voted unanimously to accept the final development plan, conditioned on council approval of the rezoning, to follow. 

Voted to recommend uniform institutional rezoning for combined West Homewood and Mason Corp. property addition: The separate parcels comprising the new West Homewood sports facilities are zoned I-1 (Institutional), and M-1 (Manufacturing). The recommendation passed tonight would rezone all the parcels into the I-3 institutional designation. With no objection or discussion from the audience, the commission voted unanimously to recommend the rezoning, which is subject to final council approval and separate public hearing. 

(#1-3)West Homewood parcels zoned I-1, and Mason Corp. parcels to be rezoned I-3:


Current ball field area

















Planning Commission, Nov. 7, 2017

A residential subdivision over Berry Road gets approved after a record 9 months of postponements. Ditto a restaurant planned after a decade of vacancy on the old Mountain Brook Inn site. But without any objections the commission approves a new police complex and renames Billy Higginbotham as chair for another year. A special meeting is called next Tuesday for park board projects.

Members present: Billy Higginbotham, chair, James Riddle, Brady Wilson, Mark Woods, and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill

Absent: Jeffrey Foster, John Krontiras, and Britt Thames

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

Audience attendance: 19

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


Devonshire development as redrawn for a total of 8 lots

After nearly a year, approved a preliminary plat and construction plans for an 8-lot subdivision above Berry: Speaking tonight was Engineer Joe Schefano of Engineering Design Group for a project by developer Charles Kessler, KADCO Homes, to redraw four vacant residential lots into six lots on the private Abbey Road above Berry Road. The case first came before the Planning Commission in February and has been carried over ever since to resolve a laundry list of legal concerns, mainly a dispute over the private road. 

The property was originally subdivided into four lots by developer Stephen Chambers, who abandoned the venture years ago after two lots were sold and built. Kessler seeks to re-divide the remaining four lots into six lots and create a unified 8-lot subdivision. Since the last hearing, in July, the two homeowners and Kessler struck an agreement to re-divide the private drive and dedicate it to the future Homeowners Association when all the lots are built. That and questions about water erosion controls and fire protection were also answered.

Property layout for renewed “Devonshire” gated subdivision above Berry Road

Since the original development, Kessler has added plans for sanitary sewer connections instead of septic tanks and a fire hydrant and fire engine turn-around, avoiding the need to furnish the houses with sprinklers. Utilities will be extended from Mt. Gap Road, meaning a temporary opening will be made in the buffer to excavate and convey utilities, which will lay inside a permanent 20-foot easement. The easement will be replanted by the developer and then maintained by the county, the engineer said.

Objectors in the past had included Berry homeowners concerned about stormwater runoff, residents on Mt. Gap Circle and other surrounding residents concerned about construction damage and blasting, some of whom claimed covenants prohibited building houses on the property. That claim was dismissed tonight, and although one objector returned from the last hearing, three speakers tonight brought concerns for the first time.

Two residents from Mt. Gap Circle expressed concern about construction damage to their foundations, particularly the possibility of loosing large boulders or rocks, and claims that the property lies on a fault line. One asked why utilities couldn’t be extended from Berry Road instead of Mt. Gap. The answer was to avoid tearing up the private drive that is already paved. 

In discussion, Mr. Schefano said the developer would build around rock outcroppings and boulders where possible. There would be no interruption of any utility service, he said.

Part of the 10-month delay had been researching covenants and reaching an agreement over ownership of the private road. The signed agreement presented tonight redivides the road, as extended, to all future homeowners and holds harmless the current homeowners from any loss due to construction.

There being no objections, the commission approved both requests in separate votes.


Site plan for new public safety building on Bagby and West Valley Avenue.

Approved a preliminary development plan and combined 3 parcels into one for a new police complex off Bagby Drive: The two separate requests were heard simultaneously and approved before hearing a third request, for a rezoning recommendation, on the same property.

The case involves the preliminary development plan for 68, 70, and 90 Bagby Drive, the site within a larger complex of former phone company office buildings, some now city-owned and used for the shop and Streets and Sanitation location, which will remain. A derelict building at one of the addresses (facing West Valley Avenue) was demolished 5 years ago, with talk of using it as a remote parking area for the Brown-Mackie college building down the street. That plan didn’t materialize and Brown-Mackie later closed down. 

Detail of public safety building plans. Existing city shop and other facilities are on the left.

Presenting the case tonight was engineer Cale Smith, who discussed how the parcels would be combined to accommodate a three-story police and court administration building with a jail on the third floor. The building would be set into the steep slope, which drops 75 feet from rear to front line, and will be fronted by an 84-space parking lot for the general public.  A  fenced, 95-space limited access parking lot will be located behind the main building for police and official vehicles. Access to the jail’s sally port in the rear of the building is within the limited access area and close to the third level due to the elevation change. The back lot and building would be connected by a pedestrian bridge, he said.

Billy Morace of CMH Architecture addressed the building interior organization. As planned, the ground floor would house courts, detective desks, and 911 dispatch. The second floor would house administrative staff, patrol officer area and a training room. The third floor would house the tactical squad and a jail to hold up to 32 inmates.

Questions from the public: Two speakers from a condominium homeowners association across the Birmingham city line raised questions about proximity to inmates. Although city jails will temporarily house inmates arrested or charged with a felony, those offenders are transported to the county jail. Planning commissioners and staff said the jail didn’t meet the definition of a “residence” prohibited to sex offenders or other felons within a certain distance of a school or daycare. Ms. McGrath said an existing 10-foot buffer would remain between the development and residences.

The preliminary plan and resurvey were approved.

Voted to recommend rezoning Bagby Drive and Goodwin Crest Drive properties for use as a police complex: The rezoning recommendation included a site at 255 Goodwin Crest Drive that isn’t currently part of the redevelopment but is included as a matter of convenience, according to Ms. McGrath. The rezoning request from C-1 Office Building District to I-2 received no objections and the recommendation passed, subject to council approval.

The 2014 plan that didn’t materialize, above, included a 10-story office building, hotel and 5-level parking deck, with zoning changes to allow a fast-food business in the office building.

Approved a final development plan for a restaurant on the former Mt. Brook Inn location: The “Bricktops” restaurant is planned for a portion of the former Mountain Brook Inn site  at 2800 U.S. 280, which was subdivided into two lots and backs up closely to the Hollywood neighborhood. Two Hollywood area residents tonight raised concerns about building lighting, a tree buffer, and especially about round-the-clock noise over the last two weeks produced by a Birmingham Water Works pump. Project representative Henry Graham said the owners had allowed the BWWB to stage the work on the property. He didn’t realize it was a nuisance, he said, and offered the name Doug Stockham as a BWWB contact.

Vacant parking lot and buffer between proposed restaurant and Hollywood residences.

The lot was purchased by these owners in 2006 and a 2014 attempt to build a 10-story office building, parking deck and hotel brought out lots of neighborhood opposition. The lot division case heard earlier this year got attention, but was overshadowed by the same night hearing for the proposed Curio hotel.

Tonight’s speakers were concerned about parking lot lights invading the neighborhood or that the buffer would be inadequate to screen out noise and light. Mr. Graham said lights would be directed downward and kept at a minimum after closing hours, for security purposes. Mr. Higginbotham said there had been vast improvements in lighting since the last commercial development on that site.

There being no further objections, the commission voted to approve the plan.

Final plans are subject to approval by the city council.

Re-elected Mr. Higginbotham chairman for 2018: Mr. Riddle nominated Mr. Higginbotham to resume as chair of the commission, with the approval of other members. Mr. Higginbotham accepted and was voted in unanimously. 

Announced a called meeting of the planning commission next Tuesday, Nov. 14,  at 6 p.m. to hear rezoning and development plans for Patriot Park (pool relocation) and West Homewood athletic fields. 








Board of Zoning Adjustments, Nov. 2, 2017

An 8-lot subdivision proposed on a wooded parcel on Mecca gets a surprising denial and a sense of victory for construction-weary Ward 1 residents. But the celebration may be temporary. Developers are likely to comply by reducing the number of lots from 8 to 7 and taking their case to the Planning Commission instead.

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

Members absent: Matt Foley, Stuart Roberts (S) and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

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

Audience attendance: 23

*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. Variances expire in 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained.


Carried over until next month a case at 109 Dixon requesting a setback variance for a house addition. 

600 Hambaugh

With one dissent, allowed a 6-inch variance for a new garage on Hambaugh: The homeowner at 600 Hambaugh Avenue, a corner lot, plans to add a three-car garage (34′ X 24′) on the rear of the house, which faces Dixon Avenue. The house is already non-compliant by 6 inches on the left side, and the attached garage addition would have to continue that noncompliance in order to extend the roofline with no interruption. Mr. Cole argued there was no real hardship except the design because the garage could have been moved to avoid building into the setback. The other members disagreed and approved the variance.

3117 Whitehall Road

Allowed a variance to the right setback for a house addition on Whitehall: Homeowners at 3117 Whitehall Road plan to add to the second story, but the requested variance only involves infilling a small notch on the rear right exterior wall, which is a single story. The variance was allowed because the house is already over the setback line and the addition would just be to “square off” the notch, not extend the footprint. 

1744 Kensington Road

Granted a continued variance for a house addition on Kensington: The house at 1744 Kensington is already sitting 2 feet into the setback on the left side, usually an acceptable hardship for gaining a code variance. The plan is to partially demolish some walls and rebuild a first and second story, requiring a variance to allow the noncompliance to continue with new construction. The addition includes a gabled wall and the neighbor on the affected side, an architect himself, had no objections, he said. The board asked few questions and approved the variance.

323 Dixon Avenue

Denied a major portion of four variances requested for a house and garage addition into a small back yard: The couple wanting to preserve the looks of a small house at  323 Dixon Avenue by extending the house 17 feet to the rear for a master bedroom suite and laundry, and enlarging an existing detached garage, were thwarted by board objections to reducing the backyard area. NPD rules prohibit building on more than 50% of the entire lot area, and/or over 30% of the back yard, as measured from the back of the house to the property line and side-to-side. In this case, the fatal combination of both additions required a third variance to allow smaller than required back yard area. Mr. Cole said the plan

323 Dixon

had buildings “colliding” in the back, with little room between them. Ms. McGrath and some board members were equally concerned about enlarging the garage on the narrow alley and having any turning room to enter it. The husband rejected as “lame” the idea of substituting an uncovered parking pad in the back, which wouldn’t count against the 30% requirement.

The request, therefore, included four variances: 1) A 1-foot left setback for the house addition, and 2) A left setback variance for the garage, 3) A rear setback variance for the garage, and 4) A variance allowing 103.52 square feet less than the 30% calculation allowed by code. 

323 Dixon, from the left side

The builder argued that there was no direction to expand except to the rear or up due to the deep front setback of the house. However, as the discussion progressed, objections mounted, and Mr. Cole said the board was only given a sketch of the plan instead of a drawn layout with measurements to judge by. The couple made things worse by saying they had formal plans but didn’t submit them. Ms. Gwaltney warned that she would not ever be in favor of exempting yard area requirements because the code already allowed a generous amount of building. The discussion taking a negative turn, and to possibly salvage some of the variances, the couple decided to split the vote into two requests, one for the house addition and one vote for the garage and yard variances combined. The first vote passed with Mr. Cole voting no. The second vote failed unanimously. 

212 Mecca

Denied lot width variances (narrower) on each of 8 vacant lots on Mecca: Nearly two dozen people showed up to watch or protest the proposed division of a parcel of vacant wooded land on Mecca into 8 lots of 50′ X 140′ as originally drawn in the early 1900s. According to city regulations, lot sizes must meet 85% of the average of lots in a 250-foot “impact area” that reflects the look of the street. That calculation–which included several nearby large or combined lots occupied by single houses–produced a required minimum width of 53 feet, or a 3-foot variance for each of the 8 lots.

Housing plans are very preliminary and include two-story structures of about 2,800 square feet each, with 60-foot driveways leading to parking pads in the rear. No builder has been selected.

Location of 8 wooded lots

Eight speakers came to the podium. Several asked the developer to build on only 7 lots, which would produce 57-foot widths, compliant with zoning but requiring a resurvey and approval by the Planning Commission. Other speakers objected to concerns about parking (street parking is already prohibited on the east side of the street), stormwater runoff and erosion affecting the city and neighboring properties, tree and buffer destruction, and typical construction nuisances such as debris, noise, and traffic congestion. There was concern about building on steep topography.

A neighbor at 320 Laurel apologized for taking a purely emotional stand against over-building and the loss of trees, bird and animal species. “It’s not our Homewood anymore, it’s the developer’s Homewood,” she said.

More stringent stormwater and erosion control rules coming 

Ms. McGrath addressed the erosion and stormwater concerns. She agreed the terrain is challenging to build on and drain, saying there was a 100-foot grade change on the property. However, the state had just issued a new stormwater permit (ms4) under more stringent and detailed rules; Cities in Jefferson County were combining to write a uniform set of regulations to comply, expected by the end of the year. The city will be responsible for providing the stormwater controls and infrastructure to meet the new regulations, she said.

What’s the hardship?

In response to questions, the engineer and real estate agent Guy Bradley argued repeatedly that 50-foot lot widths were routine in Edgewood and the norm even on Mecca. However, Mr. Cole dismissed that argument as a qualifying hardship–the developer could have avoided variances simply by building 7 lots instead of 8: “Why do you have to build eight? What is the hardship? You still haven’t answered that,” he said.

Before the vote, Mr. Cole said lots were drawn 50-feet wide over 100 years ago because the houses were scaled to fit on them. Those small lots weren’t intended to hold multiple cars and two-story houses, he said. “There’s a whole dynamic that isn’t represented in a two-dimension layout,” he said.

The discussion having ended, the vote was taken and the variances denied.

1811 Mayfair Drive

Allowed variances to the front, right and left side setbacks for an addition on Mayfair: The homeowner at 1811 Mayfair plan to extend an already non-conforming second story toward the rear, requiring variances of 3-feet on the right and 2.5-feet on the left for the new construction, and extending the front porch out 8 feet, or 4 feet into the required setback. Other additions, such as a screened  porch on the back, are within the setback. Two letters of approval from neighbors on either side were submitted, and the vote was unanimous to award the variances. 

1811 Mayfair Drive