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.
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.
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.