An effort to clarify the boundaries of the city's Rail District to include the upcoming Whole Foods Market was unanimously approved by the Birmingham City Commission on Monday, February 13, but an effort to amend an ordinance to allow the use of an economic development liquor license at the site was shot down.
Birmingham has long referred to a generalized area in Birmingham's easternmost area, along Eton Road, south of Maple and north of Lincoln, along the railroad tracks, as the Rail District. By zoning, it has been classified as the MX District, or mixed zoning, with industrial, commercial businesses, medical, residential, restaurants and a brewery. "There's a common perception that there's a Rail District, but we haven't codified the boundaries," said Birmingham Planning Director Jana Ecker.
The city has permitted bistros in the MX District, which covers about 90 percent of the Rail District, but not the area of the new Whole Foods, being constructed at 2100 E. Maple Road, which submitted a preliminary plan to the commission for a 2017 bistro license in October. The Whole Foods plan was approved to move forward to the planning board, along with two other bistros, Adachi, an Asian bistro in the Peabody mansion, at 325 S. Old Woodward at the corner of Brown Street; and Lincoln Yard, an all-American restaurant located in 2159 E. Lincoln, also in the Rail District, in the Birmingham Schools' former bus garage. All three will be heard at the next commission meeting on February 27.
Commissioners were supportive of moving the red line of the MX District to include Whole Foods, to permit it as part of the bistro perimeter.
"In my opinion, the easiest thing is to draw the red line and Whole Foods falls into it," commissioner Rackeline Hoff said.
"I agree. Whole Foods is next to the railroad, so people can walk there. It's a no-brainer," said commissioner Carroll DeWeese.
However, they were less supportive of allowing the property to be rezoned to permit the use of an economic development license with an approved special land use permit. An economic development license is a limited-use liquor license Birmingham created for properties along Woodward Avenue that have increased their value by at least 500 percent, which Whole Foods' attorney Kelly Allen pointed out Whole Foods will have done.
"As for what you are looking for, I believe this really fits the economic development criteria. This is a $25 million investment; it's 250 jobs. It's not what you envisioned for bistros, those small quaint restaurants," she said. "This is a 500 percent increase. It meets the economic development criteria on every level. My experience tells me you may give the (bistro) licenses to the traditional bistros, and they all seem like good projects. They (Whole Foods) have been at this for a year – they want to be up and running in September 2017. I think the other two are more bistro-like, and this one is a more economic development license," of the small restaurant designed to go within the grocery store....continued on page 2