Board of Zoning Adjustments, July 6, 2017

 

Big Bad Breakfast is coming to downtown Homewood

Zero of 4 cases were approved tonight, with two applicants taking the board’s hints to carry their cases over and fix obvious flaws before standing for a vote. One of those was the  developer for Big Bad Breakfast, who got the building construction underway downtown before securing adequate parking — or obtaining a variance from the regulation. His request to allow work to continue in the interim was denied.

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

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

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

Audience attendance: 12

*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.

OLD BUSINESS:

190 Oxmoor Road

Carried over a request for a pole sign for an auto mechanic business in west Homewood:  Trent Hatfield, proprietor of Hatfield Auto Parts and Service, carried over for the third time his seeming lost cause to keep an abandoned pole sign at his new location at 190 Oxmoor Road. Pole signs were outlawed by ordinance city-wide two years ago and this sign can’t be grandfathered because the former owner had abandoned it. On top of that, the city has since passed a more restrictive “village” zoning and signge in the area to improve appearances. To read the case as presented in April, click here. Still being requested are a 25-foot sign height variance; a 177-foot square foot sign area variance; and 1-foot sign thickness variance.

306 Devon Drive

Carried over for a second time a Devon lot size case while the owner obtains a survey: This was a return engagement for the owner of 306 Devon Drive, who was the heir to the double lot (on a single parcel) from her mother and whose daughter lives in house. The owner has said she wanted to redivide the parcel and keep the house, for now, but sell the second lot for financial reasons. The resulting lots would fall well below minimum width and square footage allowed in the area without variances from the board. However, financial hardship isn’t an eligible reason for waiving zoning regulations, and an error discovered in lot dimensions forced the case to be carried over and re-advertised. The variance for lot area was increased from 884 square feet to 1,277 square feet; the width variance was increased from 4.5 feet to 7 feet (narrower). 

Two neighbors tonight raised new questions about the case, prompting a second postponement to give the owner time to produce a survey. The neighbor at 311 Devon Drive questioned the numbers given in the case file and said his own calculations showed the new lots would be 25% narrower than the average in the surrounding “impact area” and 30% less square footage. He requested a survey for accuracy, arguing that the Neighborhood Preservation District zoning was intended to preserve the neighborhood as it had evolved, not to return it to its original dimensions. He didn’t want Hollywood to go the way of Edgewood, with big houses on small lots and loss of neighborhood character, he said.

The owner responded that two lots across the street and on either side were only 60 feet wide–the same widths as the new lots would be.

A second neighbor, from 310 Devon Drive, spoke next, saying it was difficult to make a decision without knowing the building plan. He also asked for a survey.

The public hearing being closed, Mr. Cole spoke to the issues. He said the lot division would be more likely to limit house size and he had no problem with the 60-foot lot width. However, he agreed that a survey was needed to show where the house would be positioned on the property if divided. Other board members agreed and the owner carried the case over to obtain the survey.

NEW BUSINESS:

1928 29th Avenue South

Carried over a request to waive a requirement for 31 more parking places for a breakfast chain restaurant: Stewart Miller for Birmingham Real Estate Partners was building an addition and preparing property at 1928 29th Avenue South for tenant Big Bad Breakfast when the building permit was pulled, pending securing  50 required parking spaces. The spaces could be guaranteed through a shared parking agreement with a local business, or having the requirement waived through a BZA variance. The business owner chose the latter, claiming they identified 19 spaces available in the rear, and would ask the remaining 31 spaces be waived. Mr. Cole, however, who had visited the site, expressed doubt that there were even 19 usable spaces if the current code were applied. The developer didn’t argue the point. 

The commercial property is also home to tenants Real and Rosemary, an attorney’s office, and on the east side, the Red Lion bar. The restaurant will be on two levels, with 133 seats. The developer said there were 28 additional public spaces within 150 feet of the restaurant — nearly enough public parking nearby to accommodate the restaurant.

Speaking in opposition was the attorney, who said the board should consider the critical parking situation downtown before making a decision. He hoped the city would move forward to add angled parking on both sides of 29th Ave.

In discussion, Mr. Cobb said the city is considering removing the center turn lane to add angled parking on both sides of the street. He said a parking committee formed two years ago has been identifying unused parking space. The  merchants of 18th Street have agreed to encourage, or even mandate, that employees park under the courthouse, he said. A parking study recently completed showed there were abundant spaces downtown, just not in convenient locations.

Mr. Cole then pressed the developer to produce an accurate count of code-compliant parking spaces before asking for a variance. He said he didn’t find a single empty parking space during his visit to the site at 1 p.m. “It was jam packed,” he said. Ms. McGrath then denied a request to allow construction to continue pending an accurate drawing of the available parking onsite. Before postponing the case, she reminded him that getting a shared-parking agreement in the area would satisfy the requirement for 50 spaces, and speed the process.

700 Forest Drive, rear

Denied setback variances for tool sheds on two neighboring houses on Forest: Builder Colt Byrom asked for variances to allow tool sheds to be built only a foot off rear property lines on two new houses planned at 630 and 700 Forest Drive. One house is almost finished and the other is planned next door. The new homeowners, who are friends, wanted to maximize the back yard space by putting the sheds at opposite sides of the combined yards and as close to the property line as possible. He asked for a 4-foot variance from the requirement to place accessory structures at least 5 feet from the property lines. For the 700 house, Mr. Byrom said the placement would preserve a tree 12 feet from the rear property line. Two neighbors also gave consent to the variance. However, the board, which heard the two cases together, didn’t find the reasons compelling. In two separate votes they denied the exemptions, with only one vote in favor, and only for the house at 700.

Voting yes on the failed variance at 700 Forest: Stuart Roberts

630 Forest Drive

 

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Survey Question 3 of 5, Taking Stock–measuring public engagement and satisfaction

Councilman Patrick McClusky, city attorney Michael Kendrick and council Finance Committee chair Walter Jones talk before a meeting about the $110 Million bond issue earlier this year.

In the first two surveys of a five-part series. we learned what residents value most about living in Homewood (#1 results), and what city assets residents think deserve more attention (#2 results). In this third part, we ask if respondents are satisfied with the city’s progress on those issues. Or do we know?

Please follow the link and take two minutes to answer Survey Question #3, What Do We Want from Homewood Leadership? Answers are anonymous. Results will be posted.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/9XPJC6V

 

Survey Question #2 results: What do we want for Homewood to Improve?

“Walkability,” “Safety” and “Neighborhood Attractiveness” are the top three concerns of respondents, who frequently commented on oversized houses, street parking and the need for more green space and trees. This development on Broadway was the site of a pocket park proposed by residents but voted down by the council in 2013.

In May, we surveyed Homewood residents to rank the top five reasons they live in Homewood. Those responses yielded 11 reasons, of which schools ranked #1 overall and as respondents’ overwhelming first choice. This month we took those results and asked respondents to pick three of those areas that could be improved from better planning, investment or other renewal. That survey returned 296 responses, of which the top answer was clearly Walkability, with 149 responses, followed by Safety (121), Neighborhood Attractiveness (108) and again, Schools (105). A close also-ran was Parks, with 91 responses.

Woodland park tree planting 2016

As before, respondents were able to give free-text comments for each answer, and those clarifications are summarized below. In general, its important to note that “Safety” frequently refers to traffic enforcement over more serious crime–and includes improving child safety by building more sidewalks and crosswalks, or keeping parked cars off the streets. There was significant overlap in responses to Neighborhood Attractiveness, Safety, Walkability and Parks. Out of the 91 comments on improving parks, nearly all mentioned adding pocket parks to downtown or neighborhoods, adding green space, trails, trees and landscaping, The best recent example would be the 2012 petition and grassroots movement to establish a pocket park on Broadway and Carr Avenue, which the council voted down 7-4 on Sept. 16, 2013) 

Schools category responses favored facilities and staff expansions to reduce classroom crowding and increase teacher/student ratio. The Schools category attracted the fewest comments (44) of all top answers.

Both surveys were circulated primarily through four Homewood Facebook discussion groups, as well as by email and subsequent sharing. Each category below contains the breakdown of responses by ward. The chart showing responses of all 10 categories is at the bottom along with a link to all responses.

Walkability (149)

The 2007 Master Plan calls for more connectivity within and between neighborhoods and better integration of neighborhoods with trails and green spaces. Lakeshore Drive and other roads are barriers to the trail.

Over half of the 296 respondents chose Walkability as the city asset most in need of improvement, with most of those citing “more sidewalks” (less frequently but importantly bike lanes, trails, and paths) in comments added in 2/3 of the responses. In addition to more sidewalks, respondents specified wanting sidewalks to connect important areas such as neighborhoods to retail areas, to

pocket parks, schools, to the library, or to each other. Many responding with this answer and “Safety,” below, also mentioned crosswalks and pedestrian bridges from residential areas to the Lakeshore greenway, for example, to Samford, to Brookwood mall, and connecting east and west neighborhoods over Green Springs Highway.

There were specific calls for sidewalks on Berry Road, Saulter Road, in Forest Brook, on Carr Avenue, and West Oxmoor Road.

“Any sidewalk is good but the real value comes when a sidewalk makes an unwalkable street walkable and especially one that provides a high level of connectivity. … Take Saulter Rd for example. … Yes it would be a costly project but there would be no greater return on that investment. Let’s be real not political.”

Safety (121)

Traffic along Reese Street is a nightmare. Commenters choosing “Safety” as a concern most often cited better enforcement of speeding, traffic and street parking.

Safety was the second area respondents chose as needing improvement. The clearest call from over 70 comments was for more traffic enforcement, especially of speeders, and to reducing street parking in neighborhoods and dangerous turn maneuvers on U.S. 31 and Green Springs Highway. The next most cited request was for more visible neighborhood patrol, perhaps with officers on bikes or on foot, rather than Tahoes.

Residents are aware that police and fire department salaries should be raised.

Beside traffic enforcement, comments were spread across many topics, such as “cleaning up” prostitution near west motels, apartments, Green Springs Highway, West Valley Avenue and Wildwood.

“Thankful for our city police but I wish they would find more funding for police and fire who do a great job of keeping our community safe.”

Several comments mentioned wanting more attention to thefts and break-ins and better public relations, such as reporting crime rates, following up on incident reports, and communicating with the public.

Neighborhood Attractiveness (108)

New houses push the limits of Homewood’s smaller lots.

Respondents think alike when it comes to neighborhood appearances, and the list of improvements is long. They want more trees, better landscaping and maintenance in common areas and rights of way, streets paved, curbs repaired, parked cars off of streets, old, leaning signs replaced, litter cleaned up, and codes enforced.

This topic drew the most comments as a percentage of responses than any other. In general order of frequency, comments called for enforcing nuisance codes to “clean up” yards, remove or repair abandoned houses, place limits on housing size, preserve trees and enforce regulations to maintain construction sites. Several responses asked to set up a Design Review committee for residences.

“I am very concerned about the loss of canopy and paving of large portions of single home lots for large driveways etc.”

Schools (105) 

Parents’ top priority was more classroom space and teachers to keep teacher-student ratio low.

Yes, respondents called for investment in school improvements just slightly less often than Neighborhood Attractiveness, but the topic drew the fewest comments of the top five.

Top answers all concerned relieving classroom overcrowding by expanding schools buildings and hiring more teachers to improve teacher-student ratio. There is a need for larger gym and better fields, according to one answer.

Several respondents were aware of the funding competition between ballfields and school buildings, saying that schools were their priority. They called for the city to limit housing size in the face of the school overcrowding, and maintain school funding however possible.

“The solution and funding for the schools absolutely must be the priority for Homewood. It is clear that the reason people live here/move here is for the education….”

Academically, comments asked for more foreign language courses, enrichment classes, and for money to be spent on teachers and teacher resources versus administration. Some parents found the school top-heavy in administration. They felt the majority of students in average category needed the same attention given to gifted and special needs students.

Parks (91)

Residents want more natural areas, trails and pocket parks in neighborhoods, such as Overton Park

Comments on preserving trees, adding trails, pocket parks–especially downtown–and green space were so ubiquitous throughout all categories it seems unfair not to include the fifth-place “Parks” section.

Respondents clearly used the term “Parks” to describe passive parks, trails, green spaces, community gardens and pocket parks. Of the 65 total comments, the greatest response was the call to add more pocket parks, green spaces and trails, and connect them systematically. Downtown was frequently cited as devoid of planned green spaces, or “95% hardscape.” There was a chorus of comments supporting establishment of an urban park in the soon-to-be-vacated jail space. Citywide across all categories, comments called for more tree planting, more green space, more pocket parks, more trails, more tree buffers along creeks and streams and more neighborhood parks. Are parks and street maintenance compatible departments under the same department head, as in Homewood? One commenter didn’t think so. Two others said there was too much Rec and not enough Parks in Homewood.

“Parks are one thing and Recreation is another. In Homewood, they are all mainly about organized (paid) recreation. Could use a dose of enlightenment in our parks department.”

The top 5 responses are out of 10 categories available from Survey #1, and comments to all are worth reading. Below is a chart of the numbers of responses in each category and link to the open survey; copy and paste in your browser if the link isn’t live. After following the link, click the Individual Responses tab and use the arrows to scroll through responses (one response was deleted to hide personal information): https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-6ZDZVS9P/

Park Board, June 8, 2017

The park board’s sprawling $30-$35 million facilities expansion and addition has met little opposition. But some residents are asking for more than diagrams.

The following are notes from the park board’s regular monthly meeting, published only to highlight remarks and questions about the fields expansion project that were raised during the public comment period.

Board members present: Chris Meeks, chairman, Keith Stansell, Michael Murray, Jody Brant, Kathy Pope, Paula Smalley.

Absent: Chris Bailey, Tyler Vail, Gary Isenhower, and parks liaison Patrick McClusky

Staff members present: Berkley Squires- Director of Public Services, Rusty Holley, Rec Center Superintendent, David Primus, Lee Center Director.

Audience present: 6

May meeting minutes approved unanimously.

Public comments:  Ward Five resident, Lindsey Chitwood joined the board at the conference table to ask questions in person that she had submitted by email previously.

Q. Will there be a budget-focused public forum for public input into the parks projects?

A. No. Mr Meeks said the board had hosted three meetings for community input, and had included that input into new project drawings. Mr. Meeks offered to show anyone interested the drawings as they were sketched out before and after the forums. He did not offer to show a before and after budget breakdown.

Q. Can the board show the revenue and cost studies used to justify the ball fields expansion? 

A. No. Mr. Squires said that numbers and projections for field use can be unreliable, because of use by independently-run youth programs, and weather. Youth leagues are operated by local boards that pay fees for field use. Programs are not expected to produce excess revenue for the city, he said. “We are a public service.”

Q. Is there a budget for the park board’s capital projects?

A. Not yet. The park board has been allotted $30 million from the bond issue of last fall and staff are in the process of developing a plan now. When a plan is finalized, it will be posted, in advance of the project, on the parks website along with a budget.

Q. I’m concerned about allocating money without a set plan that has been made public. I want to see schools remain a priority, and I’m concerned the park board isn’t justifying its use of the bond proceeds. 

A. The board collectively responded that Ms Chitwood didn’t seem to want more ball fields, and questioned whether she had children and if they were involved in recreation activities (she has three). They said her concerns should be directed to the city if she didn’t like the taxpayer-funded bond deal, or the way the council has split the use of the bond deal money.

Mr. Squires added the following facts that in his mind justify expansion and use of bond deal funds:

  1.  Since 2008 two new sports have been added to parks programs, which compete with baseball fields, lacrosse and ultimate disc. He expects more programs to be added in the next two years.
  2. Ballfields have aged since 1992 and need renovation. In general recreational assets need to be upgraded every 30 years;
  3. New fields are needed to keep families from traveling to other cities; families do not want to travel, he said. This is in reference to recreation for age groups 5-17.

Mr. Brant commented that he had tried to appease his constituents and listened to needs and wants for parks. He reiterated that Harbert will give a project update with hard costs next month at their regular meeting.

Q. Where are the current (working) budget numbers and where are the projections for increase?

A. Mr. Meeks directed her to check the city website for enrollment numbers look up other information in the “State of the Schools” meeting (a public presentation of schools and parks need to expand held Sept. 26 at the high school). Here’s the link to the PowerPoint.

After asking again for supporting data, Mr. Brant told Ms. Chitwood she should trust the expertise and intelligence of the board since they were in charge of the recreational facilities.

Q. Will the board use planning tools like the demographic study that the schools initiated and will complete by the end of August?

A. No. This study wouldn’t be relevant to parks.

Q. What are the city (park & rec) and schools’ shared resources?

A. Mr. Squires said the schools use park board-maintained tennis courts, indoor hitting facility, and gyms. New sand volleyball courts and tennis courts will be open to the public. And, a walking trail will be added near an added ballfield in West Homewood because of resident concerns about keeping trees and natural buffer space.

Q. Is there any possibility to have a year-round/indoor pool?

No. Board members agreed an indoor pool was not a priority and building one would mean having to rent it out at the expense of resident time at the pool, or by increasing cost of pool memberships.

Some numbers batted around: In summary, Mr. Squires said he anticipates a $24 million construction budget, to also include a covered maintenance shed for city equipment. He volunteered that it costs approximately $750,000 to build one lighted youth baseball field and they would refurbish existing fields where possible. He said again the board isn’t interested in cost versus revenue because they are concerned with increasing recreational services.

Q. (From a different audience member) How did the board arrive at the $35 million figure to complete the upgrades? Mr. Squires said that amount was $30 million (or $5 million less than what has been reported up to now, including in the Homewood Star. That $35 million figure possibly included the $4.25 million for the Mason Corp. property, although Mr. Squires didn’t mention this.) He said the amount was based on replacing all existing ball fields t the $750,000 amount. The figure would calculate to a total of 40 ball fields.

Two youth league presentations: The board continued its agenda with Lacrosse and Soccer reports. Baseball and football reports were submitted on paper and imaged below.

Lacrosse: (The lacrosse report was actually taken before public comments due to the director’s schedule, but is presented in agenda order here.)

Mr. Yacu said Lacrosse is gaining more competitive players; the girls leagues are growing, with the middle school girls team going undefeated this year.

Enrollment: Homewood teams picked up six high school players from BHM Magic City, of which 4 were girls.

Funds: A sale of Boston butts raised $15,000

Needs: More field space as four teams are trying to practice on one field. He said soccer and lacrosse compete for field space in the fall.

Soccer:

Soccer director Mason Cooks gave an update on his program.

Enrollment: Soccer has fewer players this years, with 725 enrolled compared with 766 last year, a loss he attributed to players trying other sports. Flag football, which is growing [as tackle football declines] is the sport that now competes with soccer for players, he said. The director said the enrollment rates haven’t changed in a decade. Mr. Mason gave an update on “The Academy”, a competitive soccer program with training, practices, games, and tournaments for 9,10, and 11- year-olds.

Finances and fundraising: Soccer raised $12,000 this spring to use for low-income students. The programs spent $22,000 for financial aid in the fall.

Team composition: About 20% of participants are non-residents. Homewood teams that participate. Mason presented a few positive reports of finances: soccer club outstanding collection balances are very low. Fees are paid on time. Fees and uniform costs compared to many soccer programs are very low.

Baseball report submitted

Football report submitted/page 1

Football, page 2

Facilities report:
  • Budgets and renderings still to come: There are no architectural renderings of the West Homewood recreational facilities plans yet. Mr. Squires said he would have a basic outline of all projects in the next couple of weeks and Mr. Brant said Harbert would have solid project cost estimates in July.
  • Patriot Park Pool changes: No chairs will allowed in the “beach area,” and there will be no 8-foot wall for a lap lane, as requested.
  • Mr. Murray reported several event requests, of which all were approved, including the Exceptional Foundation, Creative Montessori, Homewood Witches Ride, and MotherWalk 2018.

Adjourned 7 p.m.

Planning Commission, June 6, 2017

Not the biggest case by any means, but certainly the most unusual was the case of the improperly zoned Pilates instructor and the city’s efforts to help the landlord, at all costs  Over the course of two meetings, with at least two more still to come, property owner John Page sought to rezone his office-zoned lot next to Mayfair Circle to a higher retail category to allow a Pilates studio. Beaten back by neighborhood opposition last month, the zoning staff and commission this week agreed to recommend adding the category Personal Fitness Studio to the uses allowed in the office district. The case must go before the council for approval. Mr. Page was delighted with outcome

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

Absent: None

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

Audience attendance: 19

*Rezoning cases must be approved by a vote of the city council, which follows a separate public hearing.

OLD BUSINESS:

Jefferson County map showing the Devonshire subdivision

Carried over the preliminary plat approval for 1 & 4 Abbey Lane, with many questions still unanswered: Developer Charles Kessler’s project to revive the abandoned Devonshire gated subdivision development atop Shades Mountain was carried over in February pending answers to a host of objections by two current property owners and nearby homeowners worried about blasting, stormwater runoff,  legal questions about covenants and adequate fire protection, to name a few. Tonight the case got no further under questioning and engineer Joe Schefano of Engineering Design Group opted to carry it over again rather than risk a denial.

According to discussion, developer Steve Chambers had subdivided the property seven years ago into four lots, of which two were built and occupied occupied, forming the very small Homeowners Association. Kessler, of KADCO Homes LLC, wants to redraw the four lots into six and place them on a sanitary sewer line rather than septic systems, as was planned originally. Tonight, the engineer heard the same objections raised in February: A man who objected to runoff down the slope to his mother’s house on Berry Road returned to ask about a detention pond drawn onto the latest plans. Mr. Schefano said the pond would slow the calculated additional runoff from the new houses to match the current runoff, going from 10.5 cubic feet/second currently to 10.4 cf/sec after construction. The man was also concerned that sewer construction would clear vegetation on the slope, which he’d been assured wouldn’t be disturbed. The city’s stormwater system was overtaxed already, he said, with water pooling by a drain on Berry after today’s rain.

The Battalion Chief said the required fire hydrant, discussed in February, wasn’t the right capacity as drawn on the plans;

Another neighbor who owns undeveloped land abutting the subdivision claimed his deed and others sold at the same time had covenants that didn’t allow any dwellings on the property. He said four additional houses would ruin his view of the valley.

Finally, one of the two current homeowners spoke, saying they still hadn’t settled questions with Mr. Kessler about an easement for staging construction, re-writing some of the covenants, or setting up the Homeowners Association. With that, Mr. Hill said wanted those questions answered first and Mr. Higginbotham  advised the engineer to come back with issues settled — including researching whether the land was clear of any outstanding covenants. With that agreed, the case was postponed to next month.

The rezone would apply to the building on the right, which abuts the Mayfair Circle subdivision

Dropped a request to rezone an Oxmoor Road property in order to rewrite the current zoning to allow a new business: John Page, a Homewood resident and restaurant owner, was back tonight after residents of Mayfair Circle unanimously opposed his plan to rezone adjacent property at 1743 Oxmoor Road from C-1, office use, to C-2, which allows a broad range of retail. Despite the protests last month, Mr. Higginbotham had suggested he carry the case over and talk to neighbors about accepting a  “conditional” C-2 zoning, in which the lot would be rezoned, but only to allow the Pilates studio tenant he would be renting to. One month later, and with neighbors remaining adamantly opposed to C-2 under any conditions, Ms. McGrath offered as a solution changing the C-1 zone to include a “Personal Fitness Studio,” which closely describes the kind of “professional” one-on-one instruction that the Pilates business advertised. She said this use would be consistent with an office zoning. Ms. McGrath said the new category would apply to practitioners who hold “some sort of professional certificate,” and would not allow outdoor activity or music, such as group fitness classes sometimes do.

Mr. Krontiras, pointing out how much effort had gone into the case so far, asked, “Have you not considered finding another tenant?” But with no objection from the Mayfair group, and after some discussion to clarify the next steps, Mr. Page agreed to drop his current case and allow the commission to recommend the new zoning use directly to the council. That vote taken and passed, the case will likely come to before the council after being discussed in committee and advertised, probably July 26. If passed, the new use will be available to any business in the C-1 zone. 

NEW BUSINESS:

Circled is the 2,263 square foot “Hybrid Operating Room” addition planned to Brookwood hospital’s massive Orthopaedic and Neurosurgery pavilion project

Approved an amended plan at Brookwood Medical center to allow a “hybrid operating room” addition: In the shortest case of the night, applicant Gonzalez Strength & Associates requested an amended development plan at 2010 Medical Center Drive to allow Brookwood hospital to add a “hybrid operating room” at its planned Orthopaedic and Neurosurgery Pavilion. The facility, which is built where the hospital originally proposed a women’s health center, went through rezoning and development plan approvals in 2015, with some opposition. The common definition of a hybrid OR is an operating room that provides regular surgical facilities along with the imaging equipment necessary for less invasive procedures, such as vascular and endoscopic surgery

Sketch from a 1997 proposal to carry a sidewalk along the north side of Mayfair from U.S. 31 to Huntington, via Roxbury. The intersection was the focus of tonight’s review.

Approved changes to the much argued sidewalk at Mayfair Drive and Roxbury Drive intersection: For reasons not explained by Mr. Higginbotham, this case and the one following, were advertised and presented to the Planning Commission, but with no public comment period allowed. One opponent, who has been vocal and strident in his objections since the project was first renewed last spring, was in the audience, but left.

In the Mayfair-Roxbury case, the city is constructing a sidewalk on the north side of Mayfair Drive from U.S. 31 to a three-way stop intersection at Roxbury Road. From there, the sidewalk will cross Roxbury and extend north on the west side of that street to Huntington Road. Tonight’s case focused on the removal of a concrete triangle at the intersection and creation of a grass-covered island behind the curb, with a decorative streetlight. The homeowner at that location has agreed to maintain the grass.

Background: The case is the culmination of a sidewalk dispute among Mayfair neighbors dating back to the mid-1990s and renewed by residents over a year ago, which was hashed out in a series of council committee meetings last year. On one side are  residents claiming that a majority of their neighbors want a sidewalk along Mayfair as a basic amenity and safety measure for children. On the other side, objectors said the sidewalk section from U.S. 31 and up Roxbury would have an estimated pricetag of over $100,000 and remove nearly a dozen mature trees and other permanent fixtures. At least one resident said the costs would be paid to please young residents who very likely would move out of the neighborhood in a few years anyway.

The city council has since approved the project and received a construction bid of a little over $69,000. The addition of a section extending the sidewalk all the way to Ridge Road on Mayfair has been discussed but not approved. After the meeting, city zoning engineer Greg Cobb said the city did indeed remove four trees on Mayfair to make way for the sidewalk.

Angled parking and street islands should slow down traffic and help unify the look of one of the roughest looking thoroughfares in Homewood

Approve improvements to Central Avenue: Greg Cobb presented a plan to implement a Skipper Traffic Consultant suggestion (shown) for adding parking and unifying the appearance of the Central  Avenue curve by Iron Tribe and Little Donkey. The plan would place islands in the street to slow traffic and put Central on a further “road diet” by flanking each side with angled parking. There will be 35 new spaces in all, including 24 directly on Central Avenue. Mr. Cobb said it would bring the appearance of a plan to a “sea of asphalt and concrete” that is Central. He and others on the commission gave credit to the owner of the new Calibre outfitter shop for coming up with the idea. Mr. Krontiras said Reese Street should also be made one-way, an idea Mr. Thames, the council liaison, agreed should be revisited.

There being no further cases, the commission ended the meeting by electing Jeffrey Foster as vice chairman, to replace the retired vice chair Mike Brandt, whose last meeting was in May. Mr. Foster was the vice chair on the BZA until he served his final meeting last week, hitting a term limit.

Board of Zoning Adjustments, June 1, 2017

Summary: Miscalculations were discovered on two cases tonight, allowing one to be approved with a smaller variance than requested but forcing another case to be postponed and re-advertised because the actual variances were so much larger than originally thought. A case involving preserving a controversial pole sign, now prohibited in the city, was carried over a second time.

Members present: Beverly LeBoeuf, Lauren Gwaltney, chair, (arriving after the start of the first case and therefore not voting on it), Ty Cole, Matt Foley, Stuart Roberts (S), and new member Andrew Marlin (S), replacing Jeffrey Foster.

Members absent: Brian Jarmon and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

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

Audience attendance: 17

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

OLD BUSINESS:

190 Oxmoor Road

Carried over a request to keep and modify an outlawed pole sign on Oxmoor Road:  Business owner Trent Hatfield and an aide made an impassioned plea two months ago to keep an abandoned pole sign at his business at 190 Oxmoor Road and modify it for  Hatfield Auto Parts and Service’ current use. Mr. Hatfield was allowed to carry over the case rather than face a denial and advised to look at the West Homewood District requirements for signage, and make those regulations work. He asked to carry over the case, which as advertised requests a 25-foot overall height variance, a 5-foot width variance, a 17-square-foot area variance, and 1-foot thickness variance.  The sign was also to be illuminated.

NEW BUSINESS:

306 Devon Drive

Carried over a request to allow substantial lot width and area variances to divide one lot on Devon into two smaller lots: The property owner, who lives elsewhere in Homewood, asked for variances to allow the division of a lot she inherited at 306 Devon Drive into two smaller lots, citing financial need as the motive, which is not an allowed reason. The property had originally been purchased as two lots and combined into one. A adjacent neighbor on Hampton Drive asked if any new houses built on the divided lots would have to meet the same setbacks. The answer was yes (unless variances are granted), although it was later discovered that a division could also throw the existing house into noncompliance, if it were to remain.

The BZA can grant setback variances for divisions, but the Planning Commission must rule whether to allow the actual resurvey.

The advertised request was to allow each new lot to be 884 square feet smaller and 4.5 feet narrower than regulations normally allow. However, a measurement error discovered by a board member would have brought the proposed division even further out of compliance–making each new lot 1,277 square feet smaller and lot widths 7 feet narrower than regulations allow. Because the variances were larger than advertised, the case was carried over to be re-advertised–and with a caution to the owner that her given financial hardship was ineligible for granting variances, no matter the amounts.

400 Devon Drive

Allowed a setback variance on a Devon house for a single-story addition: The homeowner wants to extend the current right-side wall back to add a master bedroom on the ground floor at 400 Devon Drive. The house is already out of compliance on that side by 4.8 feet and because the house isn’t exactly parallel to the lot line, the extension will bring it slightly more out of compliance, by 5 feet. A planned second level addition with dormer windows would not encroach into the setback. The homeowner delighted the board by bringing a 3-dimensional model of the addition so they could visualize it better.

1609 Ridge Road

Allowed variances to allow a single lot on Ridge to be divided into two smaller lots: The homeowner at 1609 Ridge Road wants to tear down his house and divide the lot into two smaller lots for each of his two daughters. In making his case, Mr.  Robert Boyce III pointed out that the new houses planned on the divided lots wouldn’t require any further variances, and that the size variances he was requesting were based on an average of 11 surrounding lots, which were sometimes double lots and therefore much larger than usual in Homewood. As advertised, each new lot would be 4,839 square feet smaller in area and 46.5 feet narrower than required by zoning regulations. He had written approval from four neighbors and pointed out that five houses on Ridge under construction now had less clearance than would his proposed houses.

1609 Ridge, in red, and impact area from which an average lot size/width is calculated

In discussion Ms. McGrath said there was talk of extending either Wellington or Wellington View Streets to create more lots. She said original owners purchased double lots because they wanted more space, just as they had done on Lucerne, in a highly contested subdivision case. A board member pointed out that the Ridge lots were much bigger, and also hidden from view.

The board seemed persuaded by those rationales and, although an eligible hardship wasn’t stated, the homeowner’s motive to keep family nearby (versus selling for profit).

The variances passed 4-1-0 with Ms. LeBoeuf abstaining. The case will now go to the Planning Commission to rule on the actual resurvey.

1518 Manhattan Street

Granted a left side variance for an addition on a Manhattan house:  Drake Homes, builder of a 1-story addition at 1518 Manhattan Street, applied to extend the  walls of the house straight back, which on the left side was already 4.4 feet into the setback. However, a drawing produced for the first time tonight, and not in the board packets showed the addition would actually be stepped in 4 feet from the original house line–not extended straight back–and therefore only cross into the setback by 2 feet. The 2-foot variance was granted.

227 Poinciana Drive

Granted a 2.2-foot left side variance to an addition on Poinciana: Designers of an addition at 227 Poinciana Drive plan a renovation that will preserve the front but  extend the house straight back to the rear setback limit in order to preserve the roof line. Because the left side is already crossing the setback by 2-feet, 2-inches, they asked for a variance by that amount to be continued for the addition. The addition will add a master suite on the ground floor and a covered patio. Although the addition will extend the width of the house on the right, driveway, side, it will remain within the setback.

Layout of addition (darker area) for 227 Poinciana

Before adjourning the clerk advised the board chair to appoint a committee to nominate a new vice chair to replace Jeffrey Foster. After much discussion, it was decided that board member Ty Cole would contact everyone by email and present a nominee to elect at the next meeting.

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What We Want for Homewood survey, question #1 results, May 20, 2017

Schools are Homewood’s most valuable asset in this survey overwhelming top priority for a third of respondents and the top choice overall.

Would anyone be surprised that a survey of Homewood’s most valued advantages would show “Schools” as the overwhelming first choice? An informal survey asking neighborhood respondents to rank the top five reasons to live in Homewood returned 301 responses, minus a few off-topic, showing just that. Of all respondents, more than a third overall listed schools as their top priority and more than two thirds overall chose schools as a reason to live in Homewood. Since the survey allowed free-text answers, their praise made it clear they thought the system deserved the top listing.

Schools Schools Schools Schools Schools

Chart showing top five answers, by rank. The remaining answers are in a separate table (below).

Nor was it surprising that “convenience” and “sense of community” followed close behind as top answers, with 224 and 218 responses respectively. In looking at the answers, 80% of those listing “convenience” in the top five referred to Homewood’s proximity to downtown Birmingham, UAB, and a few outside destinations. The remainder referred to convenience to in-town destinations, such as stores, restaurants, and churches. Answers sorted into “Community,” on the other hand, typically either used that exact word or described an intangible sense of connectedness with people in the city, usually neighbors, but often city workers or local businesses.

1. Schools 2. Diversity 3. Creative/progressive culture, yet keep Homewood’s old, small town feeling 4. Shopping/historic business districts 5. Support of independent owned businesses

“Walkability,” a planning and transportation buzzword with apparent real-life merit, earned the #4 spot in respondents’ list, a pay-off for Homewood’s focus on sidewalk installation over the last six years. From context respondents meant the ability to walk (and run and bike) anywhere in town, walk their dogs, have pleasant walks, etc., rather than referring to neighborhoods built around dense shopping cores.

Finally, “Safety,” whose meaning we take at face value but which may refer to policing and fire protection and other factors, earned the last spot of the top five.

The rest of the story

Full survey results

The interesting answers are the ones that didn’t make the top five:  For example, a strong number of answers listed “Diversity” across all five ranks, sometimes spelling out that they valued racial diversity and open-mindedness in schools (as opposed to other OTM systems), sometimes diversity in their neighbors’ point of views and political leanings. Many used the word to refer to a variety of housing styles available, or variety in general (Homewood not a cookie-cutter community).

1. Location – easy access, urban community 2. Walkable – “green,” environmental concerns 3. Amenities – library, parks, community center, shopping 4. Quality of education 5. Sense of Community – good mix of residential, commercial, professional – celebrates history and future

Categories that need further explanation include Charm, etc., which includes a wide variety of answers referring to such physical characteristics as charm, quaintness, historic housing styles and neighborhoods, preservation of cottage-sized houses, and shade-tree lined streets.  The Miscellaneous categories ballooned in the lower ranks with answers ranging from very specific mention of “Accountability” to “Nature Preservation” to “Fitness,” “Progressivism,” and smaller numbers of references to trees and green spaces that didn’t seem to fit the category of Parks. Top mentions are listed on the category.