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

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

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

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

Bond Issue Spending poll for comparison:

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

A brief refresher course:

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

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

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

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

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

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Board of Zoning Adjustments, June 7, 2018

Site work for a new hotel, restaurant and retail is ongoing off U.S. 280 near a Homewood neighborhood.

An extended stay hotel planned for the former Mt. Brook Inn site received a substantial parking variance, sending it back to the planning commission next month for final plan and a lot split decision. Two of three residential cases will be heard at the BZA next month also, to correct or change the original cases.

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

Absent: Stuart Roberts

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

Audience attendance: 13

*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.

Approved January meeting minutes: Monthly minutes have fallen behind.

410 Sterrett

Approved variances for a porch addition on Sterrett: Under condition that a new porch would not be enclosed at 410 Sterrett, the board granted a 5-foot front setback variance to allow the porch, currently only 6 feet deep, to be extended to a more usable depth, but placing it 10 feet from the street. (The porch is already 5 feet beyond the required 20-foot setback.) Architect/applicant Jared Bussey said other renovations underway were on the interior and didn’t add to the footprint of the house. Before voting, Mr. Cole made certain the applicant understood a variance would apply only to the open porch addition, not any future addition to the house itself. That said, and with letters of support from neighbors and no objections at the hearing, the board voted to approve.

307 Poinciana Drive

Carried over a request for two variances for a covered deck in order to obtain a survey:  The homeowner of 307 Poinciana Drive and builder Blake Bash explained they wanted to replace an existing deck with a new structure partially covered by a pergola and corrugated metal roof to channel rain runoff, and extending into the right-side setback. The new deck would be no larger than the original, but because the setback distance is greater for covered porches/decks, that portion required a 7-foot variance while the uncovered portion would require a 5-foot variance. The homeowner, saying he couldn’t find his own survey, had supplied a neighbor’s survey with his property line and deck outline included. Mr. Cole asked why the city didn’t require the proper survey up front, then suggested a preliminary vote that, if approved, would be contingent on producing the required survey and matching measurements. That idea was scrapped when Mr. Foley said he wanted to see how the deck and house fit on the property before casting a vote. The case therefore will be continued to the July meeting (moved to July 12 due to the holiday).

Plans for a Marriott Residence Inn off U.S. 280

Approved a variance allowing a proposed hotel to operate with only half the required parking spaces: The Planning Commission on June 5 delayed a decision on the U.S. 280 lot division and hotel development plan until the BZA decided whether to grant the parking variance.  As on Tuesday, hotelier Rocky Patel and representatives of AUM Enterprises explained that the property sale was contingent on obtaining this variance. Mr. Patel owns several other properties in the metro area, including the new Homewood Suites at 5-Points South. For this project, he plans to open a 124-room Residence Inn by Marriott to provide an extended-stay option not available nearby, he said. The current C4-B zoning requires 2 parking spaces per room, which he argued was far above the average used in the Birmingham area, whose average is lower than other urban markets. For example, the Homewood Suites in Birmingham has 75 parking spaces for 105 rooms, he said.

To support the request, the hotel would add 8 offsite parking spaces shared with the restaurant and retail on adjacent parcels, but under same ownership. Also, the C4-B zoning was going to function more like a mixed use project, which also has a lower parking requirement. Retail parking spaces would become available after closing, when they would be needed most for hotel guests.

In discussion, before a vote to approve, Mr. Cole mentioned the need potentially to change the parking regulation.

220 La Prado

Must re-advertise and re-hear a variance request on La Prado to account for changes: The homeowner at 220 La Prado wants to renovate a 2-story carriage house on his corner lot but was advised to tear it down and rebuild on a new foundation for strength and cost savings. If rebuilding from scratch, the homeowner said he wanted to move the structure from the rear property line toward the house, requiring a 5-foot accessory structure setback variance to the rear, and a 2.4-foot variance on the left side, facing La Playa (the garage already sits this close to the street). The discussion to clarify the request revealed an error in discounting the space needed to accommodate the width of an outside stair. Under zoning rules, if an accessory structure is more than 5 feet high, the external stair must be counted in the setback (whereas the stairs to a low deck, for instance, would not be). Because the requested variance will be increased, the case must be re-advertised to the public. 

The homeowner, after a conference with his neighbor who spoke to his meticulous renovation and historical restoration of their 1920’s house,  asked if it was reasonable to go ahead and widen the garage by 2-3 feet to account for the expanded width of cars between 1920 and 2018. The board encouraged him to submit that in the next request. The new case will be re-submitted for the July meeting.

The meeting was adjourned.

Planning Commission, June 5, 2018

The clock ticks on the fate of the “Secret Garden” house, whose owner was granted a 5-lot resurvey but won’t move on redevelopment until the lease is up in January for former owners, now tenants.

 

 

 

All five cases tonight involved lot divisions as developers try to squeeze the most profit from rising property values. Despite overwhelming opposition from residents and 100 spectators who remained for most of the 3-hour meeting, the commission issued approval on three residential subdivisions, even as one commissioner apologized for doing so in advance. Mr. Thames, the council member, voted with Mr. Foster against one cases and dissented alone in two others. It was Mr. Thames who also delayed a final case on Highland Road by questioning lot measurements, a question that will be decided in a special meeting in two weeks. New rules seemed to be in play, with commissioners having to give reasons for any negative vote and refusing to issue decisions contingent on future approval by the BZA. Variances must be decided first, they said.

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

Absent: Mark Woods and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Staff present: Donna Bridges, board clerk, Fred Goodwin, planner, part-time, Greg Cobb and Scott Cook, Building, Engineering and Zoning staff.

Audience attendance: >100

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

OLD BUSINESS:

Mr. Kessler’s presentation compared the PRD-1 zoning he prefers with a plan using traditional zoning.

Voted to approve a preliminary plan for a high-density subdivision hotly contested by residents within a neighborhood preservation district to build it:  “In the spirit of NPD,” two commissioners tonight coaxed developer Jason Kessler into accepting a few more Neighborhood Preservation District regulations in his 12-unit planned development at 800-808 Saulter Road and 809 Carr Avenue. Under those proffers, side setbacks will follow NPD rules (10 feet for lots 55 feet and over, 5 and 9 feet for smaller lots), with heights not to exceed 35 and 29 feet respectively, and — after the developer squinted at drawings with the engineer — having no lots narrower than NPD’s 50-foot minimum. The developer had already agreed not to gate the private drive or allow accessory structures, and to plant the development with large trees. With those concessions made, the panel voted unanimously to approve the preliminary plan, implicitly approving the necessary rezoning from NPD to Planned Residential District (PRD)-1. The rezoning question will go before the city council along with the final, detailed development plan containing the changes. 

Chairman Billy Higginbotham, braced for a long night with more than 100 spectators and four cases involving unpopular residential lot divisions and demolitions–had opened the public hearing by giving speakers a 2-minute time limit and warning against anyone “rambling on” with duplicate concerns. (Some 60 letters of protest were sent in; the city rejected a petition of 225 signatures as being unverifiable.) Mr. Higginbotham at one point threatened to shut down the hearing if residents continued to applaud each speaker at the podium.

In all there were 13 speakers opposing the project and two in favor, including a real estate agent and resident who owns of a lot in the development. Among the concerns were the aesthetics, density, drainage, comparative percent of impervious surfaces allowed in each zoning classification (there is no maximum), traffic, and intrusion on the NPD “feel” of surrounding neighborhood. The Planned Residential classification treats the development area as a single lot, with fewer restrictions on how structures are placed inside it. The format allows 12 houses, where an alternate NPD plan would allow only 8, according to Mr. Kessler’s drawing. Interestingly, Mr. Kessler, aided by Mr. Higginbotham, speculated that an NPD development would attract buyers interested in building even larger houses — as much as 4,500 sf compared to 2,600 sf in PRD–and who were likely to build 2-story garage apartments for their relatives in their backyards. An NPD development, they argued, could be even more dense than PRD.

Nevertheless, an NPD plan was not under consideration. After the proffers were made, a vote was taken allowing developers to move toward a final development plan.

NEW BUSINESS:

Layout and parking for an extended-stay hotel proposed on the former Mt. Brook Inn site.

Approved on two 5-2 split votes a lot division and a preliminary development plan for a hotel on U.S. 31: Hotel developer Rocky Patel, owner of the new Homewood Suites at 5-Points South and other properties, made a case for a 6-story, 124-room extended stay hotel at the former Mt. Brook Inn site at 2800 US 280. The owner is MX 2800 LLC/David Arrington, Arrington Engineering.

The site was purchased shortly before the recession, in 2006, with no redevelopment attempted until 2014, when owners proposed an ambitious plan to build a hotel, office building and parking deck that never materialized. Last summer owners divided the 5-acre parcel with plans for a restaurant on the smaller site. That case was given final approval in November.  With the restaurant set to open in August, they were back again tonight, this time with plans for an $18 million, 6-story, 124-room extended-stay hotel under the Marriott “Residence Inn” banner.

Owner Dan Lovell introduced Mr. Patel, of AUM Enterprises, who proposed a Marriott “flag,” said he expected a 75% occupancy, bringing the city $600,000 a year in lodging a sales taxes. There were no speakers, but the prospect of a hotel drew a surprising number of questions from Mr. Foster, who was concerned about the market, with “38 hotels in a 3-5 mile radius” of the subject property. He cited a glut of aging interstate motels in West Homewood and concerns about  the new project competing with other Homewood hotels.

Mr. Patel said extended stay hotels serve a special niche market of corporate and academic guests, who can stay for up to several months while training, relocating  offices, etc. He didn’t foresee any competition with boutique hotels, full-service, or Embassy Suites hotels, he said. Another extended stay on U.S. 280 recently lost its Residence Inn brand due to aging.

Mr. Foster then voted no to the preliminary development plan, saying the Board of Zoning Adjustments should rule on a related parking variance first. Mr. Foster’s reaction prompted the chairman to stop the voting in mid-roll call to ask if Mr. Patel wanted a postponement. He did not, and the vote continued, with Mr. Thames also voting no, and giving the the same reason.

A second vote called on resurveying (dividing) the lot brought the same result.

Voting against 1) a preliminary development plan and 2) a lot division: Thames and Foster

Five-lot division proposed at 214 Edgewood Blvd.

Approved with one dissent a lot division on the historic “Secret Garden” house on Edgewood Blvd.:  Real estate watchers claim to have seen this case in the making for years, but the plan to demolish and divide into 5 lots an historic residential landmark came as a shock to other long-time Homewood residents.  Added to public reaction was another lot division case heard (and approved) later tonight for the house at 214 Edgewood Boulevard, across the street. The emotional “Pink House” case unfolded late into a long meeting, with 10 speakers imploring commissioners to postpone a decision until something–they didn’t know what–could be decided to preserve the 1920s villa enclosed by a lush garden and trees, the site of legendary parties with writers Fitzgerald and Hemingway. The original owners in 1988 had sold the place to Diana and Eric Hansen, owners until recently of the White Flower boutique on 18th Street, who themselves sold it out of financial necessity in 2004. They are currently living as tenants and maintaining the grounds until their lease expires in January.

Following the speakers, Mr. Cobb spoke in defense of the current owner, Mr. O’Sullivan, saying he had held onto the declining property for 12 years and there was no legal reason to deny his request for a division. The house had been built on six lots originally, he said. Asked why the property wouldn’t be redivided into those original 6, he said current zoning didn’t allow such small lots without BZA approval, but dividing into 5 lots exceeded size requirements (Mr. O’Sullivan said earlier he had sacrificed the extra lot to lessen the density for the neighborhood). 

At this point, Ms. Hansen herself spoke, laying out the property’s history and asking if anyone had $5 million to rescue the house from demolition. 

In conclusion, before a vote, Mr. O’Sullivan said he would entertain any solution in the eight months before the Hansens’ lease expired. Otherwise, he planned to develop the lots himself or sell them to individual buyers. “There was never an agreement to lease it to the Hansens indefinitely,” he said. The vote was called, with Mr. Krontiras apologizing for having to vote yes, and Mr. Thames casting the only no vote. 

Corner property at 217 Edgewood Blvd. approved for a lot split and redevelopment.

Voting against a resurvey of the property at 214 Edgewood Boulevard: Thames

Approved with one dissent a division of one lot into two on Edgewood Boulevard: The corner property directly across the street from the previous case was decided quickly in favor, with one resident asking a question about traffic.

Voting against the division: Thames.

912 Highland Road

Carried over a resurvey request dividing a lot on Highland Road for two new houses: [Following the carryover to July, the commission decided instead to call a special meeting in two weeks to resolve problems with the request.] Once again Jason Kessler addressed the commission, this time representing Overton Investments, his own LLC, and a 100-foot lot at 912 Highland Road to be divided into two roughly 50-foot lots. The house sits adjacent and east of the Sims Ecoscape residence and opposite a 5-lot subdivision and controversial redevelopment on the west that was the subject of a stop-work order for setback questions.  

Immediately before a public hearing was opened, Mr. Thames observed that the divided sections would fall short of the city’s minimum width by .15 feet each, requiring a BZA variance before proceeding to a resurvey. There would be no more commission decisions issued contingent on BZA approval, he said.

That call meant a nearly two month delay, since the BZA’s July meeting falls after the PCs meeting the same month, with no guarantee of a favorable BZA decision at all.

Mr. Kessler objected to the maneuver and, as in the KADCO project, said the city employees had already given permission for the project–this time in writing. He asked why Mr. Thames’ measurements were carried to two decimal points when most lot widths were measured in round numbers.

“Why put this on the BZA’s shoulders?” he asked. “I’ve invested several hundred thousand dollars and I’d be left with one lot when told in writing I could have two.”

Mr. Kessler said he’d already sold one of the lots based on that decision, and stood to lose that deal as well with a 2-month delay. The commission didn’t answer the question, but offered to carry over the case while measurements were verified and discrepancies resolved. With that offer accepted, reluctantly, the matter was continued to July. The commission later agreed to call a special meeting in two weeks to resolve the matter.

Image of 7 proposed zoning changes

Agreed in principle to amending details of several vague zoning regulations for submission to the City Council: Before adjourning, Mr. Cobb suggested 7 changes to setback and other zoning regulations and definitions, as follows. The BEZ has been taken to court or threatened with legal action on recent cases involving mismeasurements, unclear wording, and permits issued in error or, as in this case, decisions made by staff that belonged to city boards.

The meeting adjourned close to 9 p.m.

Kessler development zoning proposals, May 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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.