Homewood City Schools expansion presentation, Oct. 26, 2017

A look at how the re-worked and expanded high school might look with additions for  fine arts (right), academic classrooms (center), and an athletic pavilion across the new front. Interior renovations are planned to widen corridors, allow more windows and natural light, re-work the media center and cafeteria and build collaborative learning areas with comfortable seating and technology.

Limited to $55 million and with a mission to accommodate increasing student enrollments — but with no idea of their source or trajectory–the school system this summer put Hoar Program Management in charge of assembling an expansion plan for its five school buildings. Tonight HPM presented that plan, merging demographics gathered earlier this year from Cooperative Strategies with design services from Goodwyn Mills Cawood. The result is a conservative proposal to add classrooms to each of the five schools as a “significant” but limited bubble of large classes in grades 3-6 makes its way through the system. The high school is estimated to hit 1,400+ in the next decade, and tonight’s plans call for focusing its investment there.

Schools superintendent Bill Cleveland ended continued speculation on the fate of the Valley Avenue property in his opening remarks. He said there would be no grade realignments or switching the high school and middle school locations. All schools would remain in their current locations, as hinted a few weeks earlier, although Edgewood Elementary would need to be completely replaced in 13-20 years, he said. The Valley Avenue property would therefore provide the “flex space” to house students when the time came; the board will be cleaning up the vacant property and resuming plans for a 200 meter track, he said.

The projected maximum enrollment increase for Hall-Kent was revised upward to 700 from this summer’s estimate. There are approximately 650 students enrolled this year.

Cleveland repeatedly thanked the council members in attendance for “gifting” the $55 million. The school was allotted half the proceeds of a $110 million bond issue a year ago, to be paid by a new penny sales tax. The remainder will be spent on ballpark renovations, a west Homewood pool relocation, and a new police complex in west Homewood.

Criteria for building plans

HPM’s Greg Ellis said plans had to achieve top goal of relieving crowding, but meet criteria, such as improving quality of space, traffic flow, accessibility including ADA compliance, safety, and sustainability. “Not over building, not under building, or adding maintenance expenses that are not sustainable,” he said.

Using those guides, he and Gary Owen, architect with GMS, outlined the following plans:

All elementary schools would have added security vestibules, now routinely a part of new school buildings, which prohibit free access into the school unless a person is buzzed in.

Hall Kent Elementary– Six new classrooms on a two-story addition on the street side of the rear field; general upgrades to interior finishes.

Edgewood Elementary – Four additional classrooms; additional toilets; cafeteria seating expansion into the theater space, adding 100 seats; roof and electrical upgrades.

Shades Cahaba Elementary – Three additional classrooms created by “repurposing” the auditorium; expanding dining capacity and reducing time it takes to serve lunch; electrical upgrades and new interior finishes.

Homewood Middle School – Addition of six classroom, two per each floor; Add two counselor offices by reworking teacher workrooms; move choral room to the current wrestling room; expand the band room into the choral room; move wrestling and cheering (?) to a new multipurpose space added on to the gym.

Homewood High School – The major additions would include three pavilions across the north face of the building, for fine arts, academics, and athletics. The interior renovations would be comprehensive, bringing in more natural light, widening corridors, expanding the dining area, adding spaces for collaborative work, and turning the media center into a more multipurpose learning environment furnished with lots of technology and whiteboards, etc.

The fine arts pavilion would include a new dance studio, band room and theater, while the cafeteria would be expanded into the current theater.

Traffic reconfigured: On the exterior, GMC plans to create two distinct traffic loops for carpools and student parking. Under the plan, carpools could only enter and exit from Lakeshore and have no access to student parking lots. Students drivers would enter and exit parking areas from South Lakeshore. The separate loops would eliminate traffic entering from Lakeshore driving up the steep and sometimes slippery drive to the parking area. The change would also eliminate the unsafe drop-off lane along the south side of the building, where traffic crosses multiple pedestrian crosswalks. Plans to add an additional 60 additional parallel parking spaces will help with parking, but probably not open parking to sophomores, Owen said.

Stadium repairs and renovations – Repairs to the stadium and track are part of the planned high school renovations.

Timeline, questions and further information: 

The program manager proposed a timeline beginning next month with City Council approval of the plan, followed by a 9-12 week bid period for each separate school construction projects. The board would choose the professional services. Construction would be finished in Aug. 2019 for the high school, Jan. 2019 for the middle school, and September 2019 for the elementary schools. The stadium and track could be completed by next summer.

After answering questions about different ways of relieving traffic flow, through more pedestrian and bike access to staggered starting or dismissal times, the presentation ended about 7:45.

The entire presentation will be available Monday afternoon on the Homewood City Schools website.

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Board of Zoning Adjustments, Oct. 5, 2017

Drawing of proposed redesign at 319 Gran Avenue

The BZA approved three cases with little discussion and sought an explanation for the zoning office reversing a height variance denial on a St. Charles house without informing board members.

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

Members absent: Andrew Marlin (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: 8

*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.

517 Oxmoor Road

Approved a right-side setback variance for an addition on Oxmoor:  Homeowner Eric Brugge plans to renovate one room on the ground floor at 517 Oxmoor Road and build a second story atop existing walls, which on the right side is built 1 foot into the required 10-foot setback. Adding the second story “expands the non-compliance,” and the need for a variance. The house is on the dead-end spur of Oxmoor Road behind the Palisades Blvd. fast food businesses. Board members asked few questions before approving the variance except to comment on the “gear room” drawn on the plans, which Mr. Brugge, who wore in a full police uniform at the hearing, didn’t have to explain.

319 Gran Avenue

Approved a left setback variance for an addition on Gran: The only delay to approving this case at 319 Gran Avenue was a brief search for two letters of support from neighbors at 316 and 317 Gran. Architect Jeremy Corkern, who is designing the interior renovations,  needed a variance to allow the left outside wall that is already built 2.5-feet into the setback to be continued across a recessed section  to accommodate a powder room. On the exterior, plans show a new covered porch on the front right and a patio on the left, which are within the setback. The board found no objection and the variance was granted. 

1416 Melrose Place

Approved a left setback variance for an addition on Melrose:  Architect Richard Long presented a case to tear down the house at 1416 Melrose Place and rebuild a two-story, approximately 30-foot high house on the existing basement footprint, which is currently 2.8 feet out of compliance on the left side.  The additions will also extend into the rear–beyond the current footprint–but will not require any variances. There being no objections and with a letter of support from the neighbor on the affected side, the board approved the variance.

402 St. Charles Street The roof peak seen in this drawing has been reduced.

Ms. McGrath explains corrections to a height violation denied a variance last month. Before adjourning, Ms. LeBoeuf asked if the zoning office could keep the board informed of changes to cases after they were decided. The topic was the board’s denial last month of two height variances at 402 St. Charles. In that case, the architect, owner and contractor had been issued a building permit even though they submitted plans to exceed the height limit. The error was compounded by passing one of two followup inspections before a stop-work order was issued. The board voted 3-2 to deny two variances that would have allowed the house to stand as built. The builders amended drawings to reduce the roof height and the city waived the crawl space height violation. Yet no formal word was sent to the BZA members and Ms. LeBoeuf said she didn’t have answers for people who asked about it. A resident who checked on the site was also treated rudely by a subcontractor, she said. Mr. Cole agreed, saying if a board decision is reversed, the board should be informed. Ms. Gwaltney said the builders must have expected the denial and had a Plan B waiting, because the turnaround was so quick. 

Master Plan and zoning meetings announced: Ms. McGrath invited the BZA to attend an Oct. 19 meeting about the downtown master plan with the Regional Planning Commission. Following that meeting, at 3:30 p.m., will be a zoning meeting announced on Tuesday primarily to address tree regulations proposed by the Environmental Commission. The committee will also consider limiting height of accessory structures, she said.

Planning Commission, Oct. 3, 2017

532 Broadway
Lot will be divided for two houses

One lot divided and lots of discussion of downtown planning, carriage-house size limits, and resuming work on the tree ordinance.

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

Absent: Britt Thames and Mark Woods

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

Audience attendance: 12

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

Old Business:

Carried over for the seventh time a preliminary plat on a mountaintop subdivision above Berry Road: This was the month to finally hear the case of the Devonshire subdivision being developed by Charles Kessler, KADCO Homes, LLC, which had been carried over the better part of a year for plans to be completed to commission satisfaction. The new developer wants to create 6 lots out of the current 4-lot arrangement to revive the decade-old project. Ms. McGrath last month said the case at #1 and #4 Abby Lane would definitely be ready to hear this month after a conflict had been resolved over how to handle ownership of the road, among other things. There has been significant opposition from neighbors expressed at two recent hearings: February hearing.   July hearing.  This month, the problem was getting all the updated paperwork submitted to the zoning office in time for the meeting. “They really wanted to be here,” Ms. McGrath said.

NEW BUSINESS:

Approved a request to divide a residential lot on Broadway (pictured): Applicant Matthew Feld of Homewood (listed as co-owner with Trevor Cobb) said he purchased the property at 532 Broadway Street to divide and build two houses. The resulting lots would be 160 feet deep and 50 feet wide facing Broadway. There were speakers from two addresses at the hearing.

The first speaker, from 526 Broadway, asked to see any plans proposed for the lots. Mr. Higginbotham said that wasn’t a requirement for approval, and the resident said that was still her question.

The second speakers, from 527 Cliff Place, behind the property, wanted to know what the required setbacks were, and if those would be maintained when the new houses were built. He asked where the driveways would be, since the property sits up on a ledge, and asked about construction vehicles blocking the rear alley, which accesses his own house. After the hearing, Ms. McGrath said the rear setback for this lot is a 20-foot minimum with side setbacks of 5 and 9 feet respectively. The height limit is 29 feet from threshold to rooftop, and front setbacks could not be ahead of existing houses within 250 feet centered on the new house. The minimum is 25-feet written on the survey. To Mr. Foster’s question about requesting future setback variances, Mr. Feld said there wouldn’t be any. As for parking, he said it would be accessed probably from the alley. There was no discussion of maintaining alley clearance during construction.

The public portion over and there being no further questions, the division was unanimously approved.

Agreed to present a nominee for chair at the next meeting:  The planning commission is supposed to elect a chair annually. Mr. Higginbotham said he’d be happy to continue as chair if elected. The other members will nominate a choice in November.

A page from the downtown master planning website at heartofhomewoodplan.com

Discussed the Downtown Master Planning process, proposed changes affecting secondary structures (carriage houses, etc.) and imminent movement on the tree preservation ordinance: Mr. Foster asked for a report on the Sept. 26 kick-off event on the downtown master plan, hosted by the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham. He said he is still not getting email notifications. Ms. McGrath explained there were two sessions that day, with section maps and aerial photographs posted for people to mark with their suggested improvements. Residents can do the same on a special interactive map on the RPC’s website, and take a survey, at heartofhomewoodplan.com. There is also a public Facebook page by the same name. 

Mr. Foster asked how the suggestions would be prioritized, if suggestions were trending to practical or “pie-in-the-sky,” and if any cost estimates were assigned to proposals. As an example, the discussion turned briefly to the pocket park proposed at the jail site. Ms. McGrath said the property is zoned Institutional, which allows parks. She said the greenspace advocates had offered to buy the property from the city at appraised value, but gave no details. She didn’t know how costs for demolition, design, construction and maintenance would be arranged if the city chose to establish a park, she said. She did not think the planning process, which will take about a year, included offering financing options and cost estimates. 

Planning subcommittee to consider limits to “carriage house” size and resume discussions on tree preservation regulations.  Ms. McGrath said the next downtown planning meeting would be Oct. 19 at 2 p.m., to be followed by the zoning subcommittee meeting. The subcommittee will discuss limiting the size of accessory structures, which are now being built at sizes to rival the main houses. She was also expecting to present a final version of the tree preservation draft from the Environmental Commission. She, Scott Cook and Inspections Department head Wyatt Pugh will be attending an EC meeting Oct. 10 to oversee a final discussion of the draft document before it is returned to zoning, hopefully that night, she said. “The city council is asking hard– ‘When is it coming back to the planning commission?'” she said.

The Planning Commission could hear the proposed regulations as early as December, members said.

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Planning Commission, Sept. 12, 2017 special meeting

The two houses on the six combined lots, facing Highland (foreground) and Mecca (left), will be divided into five lots, the existing houses demolished.

Despite the awful weather and a popular green space forum scheduled elsewhere at 6:30, this case drew a crowd of over 25. Nevertheless, the lot division was approved unanimously; the builder offering few answers to concerns about construction site management, erosion control, tree preservation or other questions not specifically dictated by city law.

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

Absent: Brady Wilson

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

Audience attendance: 25

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

Plan showing the division of property into five separate parcels/lots. The original subdivision was into six lots, but the property had been combined and used for decades as the address for just two houses.

Approved dividing two parcels historically used as two lots into five separate parcels on Highland Road: With little response to objectors or their questions, commission members unanimously approved a division of two parcels at 900 and 904 Highland Road into five separate lots for builder Jason Hale of Willow Homes. The parcels had been originally subdivided into six lots, but had been combined for decades as home to two bungalows, one of which had been recently vacant. The properties are next door to the Sims Gardens and the application shows the owner, at 900 Highland to be Dylan and Lauren Marsh. The builder plans to demolish the houses and build 4 br/3 bath houses on each of the five lots. Tonight’s case is heard at a special meeting due to an error in posting the case with those heard at the regular meeting a week ago.

In describing his case, Mr. Hale said each resulting lot would fall well above the minimum 7,300 square foot area standard computed from nearby lots and above the 53-foot width at the street. The smallest lot area is 7,331 square feet.

Speaking against the division or having concerns were five residents:

The first speaker, from 902 Stuart Street, asked what the average lot depth was and expressed her disappointment for loss of historic architecture, and poor management of construction sites on the neighborhood’s narrow streets, and steep terrain. Uncontrolled stormwater runoff from a split lot and construction of on the high side of Sims, facing Irving, continues to damage the city property. The applicant responded that lot depth was 141 feet. He was unclear about the depth of the resulting corner lot.

A speaker from 901 Irving said she owned one of the last double lots in the area and asked that the builder leave mature trees on the divided lots, not only for her privacy but for the new owners. “I ask that builders be respectful of the people who already live here,” she said. Mr. Hale made no proffers about maintaining the trees.

A speaker from 901 Highland Road, who lives across the street from Sims and part of the subject property, said he supported the division but was concerned about parking. He asked if the “paper alley” running behind the lots could be improved and used for parking. The commission chair answered that the city wasn’t interested in improving the alley. Mr. Higginbotham said a new rule required off street parking for at least two cars, and Ms. McGrath said the rule was actually a longstanding one, which is regularly enforced.

A speaker from 930 Highland on the corner of St. Charles said he was “on the receiving end of a lot of water,” from runoff. He said a city worker helped by building a berm to block some of the runoff, and he was concerned about erosion control during this large construction project. In answer, Ms. McGrath said the city inspectors were getting better about addressing erosion control on construction sites. She warned Mr. Hale that silt fences would have to be in place. She added that the city had faced lots of problems on the mountainside with building on Mecca, Highland, and Irving. The city has talked to an engineering firm about issues on the mountainside and is considering replacing and enlarging a storm drain.

A speaker from 304 St. Charles said she was opposed to the destruction of the two most beautiful lots in the neighborhood. “To tear those beautiful lots apart detracts from the whole neighborhood,” she said. “Why don’t we put more effort into preservation?” She said an earlier lot split in the neighborhood resulted in bad consequences for everyone and ruined the appearance of the property.

Commissioners asked few questions. Because the divided lots met the size and width standards and objections were beyond their powers to address, the vote was called and passed unanimously.

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Board of Zoning Adjustments, Sept. 7, 2017

402 St. Charles Street

A two-hour session yielded two denials, one almost certain to lead to litigation.  A brief history of the city’s height “limits” follows.

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

Members absent: Matt Foley and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Staff present: Vanessa McGrath of the Building, Engineering and Zoning Department; Planning and zoning clerk Donna Bridges, part-time planner Fred Goodwin. A court recorder appeared to be seated next to Ms. McGrath for the first two cases.

*Note on procedure: The BZA is authorized to grant adjustments or exceptions to zoning regulations if warranted by an eligible hardship connected to the property. By state law, variances can only be granted by a super majority of 4 yes votes of the 5-member board. To keep business moving in case of absences, the law also allows two supernumerary members (S) to sit in and vote if needed. The two substitutes vote alternately. Variances expire in 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained. Decisions of the BZA are appealable to state circuit court.

Audience attendance: 30

New Business:

1920 29th Avenue South

Allowed Urban Cookhouse to build three parking spaces in a public alley: The restaurant is moving from 18th Street to 1920 29th Avenue South, site of a former wine shop now moving into Do Di Yo’s old location. To add parking, although not a requirement, the local restaurant, in a building owned by Christopher Moroun will be demolishing a curb in an alley behind the store’s parking lot and forming three parallel parking spaces. Commissioners asked why there was a rule against alley parking and staff said safety was the main concern. The area is awkward, with a power pole presenting a hazard at one end and two-way traffic allowed on the 10-foot-wide throughway. Customers will have to enter from 19th Street and exit onto 29th Avenue. Once parked, they will have to walk through a row of angled parking to get to the restaurant’s back door. Nevertheless, after some questioning, the variance was approved.

609 Forest Drive

Denied a request to divide a residential lot on a Forest cul-de-sac into two lots that are smaller and narrower than regulations require:  Property owners had done their homework before asking permission to divide a lot 100 X 180 feet at 609 Forest Drive into two lots 50 feet wide, saying they wanted to build a cottagey house on one small lot and sell the other, perhaps to relatives. Each of the two resulting lots would have fallen 1,620 square feet below the required area and 8 feet narrower than code. In asking for exemptions, one of the owners, the wife, read from a prepared script about the couple’s love of Homewood, the extended research and scrutiny they had given to building options, architects and builders. Their stated hardships were that lots in the immediate area–which are used to compute the standard lot size for such resurveys–were unusually large compared to the rest of Edgewood and skewed the metric against them. “If this lot was in another area we wouldn’t even need a variance,” she said. She made a second point, saying that any new house built on the undivided lot would have to be large to justify the land value, and thereby not fit in with the neighborhood.

Four prospective neighbors agreed, saying they trusted the couple’s taste, that new houses would add to neighborhood value, and fit in more with the new look evolving in Edgewood. However, they were out-argued by those who opposed. Both next door neighbors argued that the division would create “the smallest lots in Homewood on which would go the largest houses.” Both also said no true hardship existed except a financial one, a point that later earned the case a denial. “They are trying to maximize value,” said a neighbor at 611 Forest. A neighbor at 605 Forest argued that the house currently standing on the lot for decades is the best standard for what “fits in” with the neighborhood. 

After the hearing, the couple’s rebuttal failed the hardship test when asked by Mr. Cole what they would do if the case were denied. “Sell it,” the wife said.

Voting yes on the failed vote to approve the variances: Andrew Marlin

Neighbors said they were looking forward to a 1 1/2 story craftsman style house, as promised. Builders and city inspections are both at fault in tonight’s height variance case, and likely lawsuit.

Denied allowing a house under construction to stand that exceeded height limits: 402 St. Charles Street: In a case that is very likely to end up in court, with the city as defendants, the commission denied two variances that would allow an unfinished house to stand 1.8 feet higher than regulations allow (measured from the threshold to the rooftop) and standing on a crawl space that is 2 feet higher above ground than code allows. Complicating the issue from a legal standpoint is the contractor’s claim, confirmed by Ms. McGrath, that the city signed off on the plan not once (in allowing the initial permit) but twice (in a field inspection after the house was framed in). The mistaken inspection, made sometime in June, gave contractor Gary Smith another 30 days to work before a second inspection correctly measured the house and crawl space as being in violation. Even then, he said, a stop-work order wasn’t issued but a note left at the site saying he may need a variance. The only notice he received, he said, was in August.

Several neighbors spoke at the hearing, disputing the timeline and saying they had complained to the city about the house height months ago. Two neighbors said they were told the house would be a “story-and-a-half Craftsman design,” and reacted when they saw a different house towering out of the ground. One neighbor said she had emailed Ms. McGrath in June and was told the builders had been ordered to stop. Ms. McGrath admitted mistakes. She said the plans reflected the noncompliant measurements and the plans were approved. However, details were difficult to confirm, as Ms. McGrath didn’t have the dates of the actions immediately available, and no one questioned the contractor’s claim that he was left a “note,” not issued official order to stop until August Another neighbor said she was shocked at the amount of work that had occurred after complaints were made, saying bricks had been delivered recently as if the project wasn’t on hold. Another neighbor asked in general why inspectors and builders had so much trouble measuring and following regulations.

Following the hearing, commissioners Gwaltney and Cole continued to scold the builder, owner and architect. “Yes we made mistakes. Mistakes were made everywhere,” Mr. Cole said. “But you all are professionals. Don’t you read the ordinances when you’re doing a job?

The architect and contractor said they based their plans on past experience in Homewood. Ms. Gwaltney said their job was to have the correct measurements, not to rely on an inspection checklist. Interestingly, the architect argued repeatedly with Mr. Cole that the two-story house with an attic was only a 1 1/2 story house on one of its sides.

It is not clear what remedy the owner and builders can make, since the house is in violation at the roof and at the crawl space. With no variances granted, the cost of taking down the house will no doubt be settled in court.

Voting yes in the failed motion to grant the variances: Brian Jarmon and Stuart Roberts.

Two of five planned houses on the Broadway “triangle.” Developer Chris Tucker joined another builder in June 2016 to object to height restrictions on new houses. Over the course of the summer, the city held more than a dozen public meetings for builders to air their concerns, pushing height limits higher.

A brief history of the housing height fight in 2016, with links. This case is the first to ask for a height variance under the new rules:

Hardly anyone cared in April 2016 when the Planning Commission unanimously approved new residential height limits combined with a straightforward method of measuring, among other zoning amendments. But by the time it got to the council, builders were showing concern. From June to September 2016 through (at least) 11 additional public meetings, the limit was raised from 25 feet to 29 feet for lots narrower than 55 feet, and  being recommended unanimously by the planning commission in April 2016, an outcry by the building community raised those limits to new heights by the time of a vote five months later. up the commission and council issue was passed unanimously by Over the course of five months and at least 13 meetings of various city boards

Height limit history in links:

Height limits and straightforward measurement method recommended by the Planning Commission in April 2016

June 13, 2016 – Height limits carried over by the council following objections by two builders; BZA chair Lauren Gwaltney also asks for more time.

June 27, 2016 – Decision carried over again by council more objections from architects and builders.

July 11, 2016 – Council decision carried over a third time to accommodate an ongoing conversation with builders over proposed height limits. 

July 19, 2016 – Planning Commission subcommittee forum (not reported) draws residents, council members and builders to offer input. The council president provisionally raises the proposed height limit from 25 feet to 29 feet for smaller lots and an 800 sf dwelling minimum is kept in place.

July 25, 2016 – Details explained further but council carries over a fourth time, this time back to a Planning Commission sub-committee.

Aug. 1, 2016 – Planning and Development Committee provisionally raises height limit again from 29 feet (originally 25) to 32 feet for lots 55 feet wide and under; and height for larger lots raised to 36 feet. The matter is reported in the Aug. 2, 2016, Planning Commission meeting.

Aug. 8, 2016 – Bruce Limbaugh moves the following council meeting from Aug. 22 (the eve of the city election) to Aug. 29 and calls a second “public comment” period on the residential height question. Critics claim the move is to postpone the mayor’s budget presentation until after the election (which proves likely, as history shows the purchase of $4.25 million parcel is approved that night, later followed up by a new tax. bond issue, and other controversies.)

 Aug. 29, 2016 – Council holds a one-hour forum on the height limits, where 17 speakers come to the podium, many objecting to the trend toward large houses on cottage lots and loss of neighborhood charm. The matter is then referred back to the Planning Commission. 

Sept. 5, 2016 – Ms. McGrath reports the findings to the commission, adding that the 29-foot limit for smaller lots (measured from threshold to rooftop) could still allow up to 3 feet from ground to rooftop for a crawlspace on a sloping lot.

Sept. 12, 2016 – The council approves the changes, detailed in this post.

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Planning Commission, Sept. 5, 2017

Location of the Wildwood North parcel, showing a notch for the Milo’s restaurant. (Ms. McGrath said Milo’s was actually part of the original development.) The Wells Fargo property is adjacent to the north and was also recently subdivided, with the bank complex changing hands in August.

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

Absent: Britt Thames, Mark Woods, and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

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

Audience attendance: 4

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

Old Business:

Carried over for the sixth time a preliminary plat on a mountaintop subdivision above Berry Road: Once again, and maybe for the last time, the case at #1 and #4 Abby Lane, the Devonshire subdivision being developed by Charles Kessler, KADCO Homes, LLC, was carried over to allow more time to complete plans. In pre-commission, Ms. McGrath said a conflict over how to handle ownership of the road had finally been resolved. There were other problems as well and significant opposition from neighbors expressed at two recent hearings. February hearing.   July hearing. 

New Business:       

Drawing showing the location of two outparcel on either side of Milo’s (center). The eastern lot will be a restaurant.

Allowed two outparcels to be carved out of a North Wildwood property, probably for fast food: Bart Carr, an engineer representing property owners PMAT Homewood LLC, of Louisiana, said his clients were tight-lipped about their reasons to subdivide the 18.46-acre property, but surmised the east lot was no doubt for a restaurant. The so-called North Wildwood property already is the site of a Milo’s fast-food restaurant. The two newly divided lots are on either side of that restaurant and also front State Farm Parkway. Coming to the podium to learn more was John Page, owner of Taco Casa across Wildwood Parkway, who seemed satisfied to learn the location of the new businesses, whatever they become.

The entire parcel changed hands recently and lies just south of the Wells Fargo property which was subdivided into three equivalent sections in July. (Wells Fargo, formerly SouthTrust, sold its office complex in August.) Together the two parcels extend along a wooded buffer that separates the North Wildwood commercial sector from residential neighborhoods along Oak Grove Road, Hena Street, Cobb Street,  Kent Drive, Westwood Place and Glen Circle.

Google map showing property viewed from Highland

Announced a special meeting Tuesday, Sept. 12, at 6 p.m. to hear a residential lot division case dropped in error from tonight’s agenda:  

The case at 900 and 904 Highland Road is a request to redivide six lots covering two parcels into a total of 5 lots, three that would face Highland and two facing Mecca. Staff said the application was turned in on time, but other paperwork–

Current lot divisions

and the fee–trickled in later. The case was posted today to meet the minimum 7-day notice period to be heard next week.

 

 

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Survey Question #4, Results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a link to the entire Survey #4 results, including 77 comments, click here or copy and paste into a browser.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-296QMC35/

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