The Birmingham Planning Board will be reviewing a proposed ordinance and hold a public hearing to potentially limit the use of first floor retail space in the downtown area from office and other commercial uses, including personal services, at their meeting on June 14.
City manager Joe Valentine wrote in a memo to planning director Jana Ecker that over the past decade there has been a desire by some city commissions and boards to review the current definition of retail "to ensure that we are encouraging true retail downtown, and not allowing office and other service uses to dominate."
According to existing city ordinances, retail uses include "artisan, community, commercial, entertainment (including all establishments operating with a liquor license), bistro or restaurant uses." He noted that "as defined...retail uses include the direct sale of products from the premises, but also include restaurants, entertainment and the purchase, sale or exchange of personal services...no definition of personal services is provided. Personal financial services, beauty services, banking services, real estate services, advertising services and other similar uses have been permitted within the Redline Retail District under the umbrella of personal services, provided there is a display area for the sale or exchange of such goods in the first 20-feet of the storefront."
The Redline Retail District consists of Maple from Bates to Peabody, Old Woodward from Willits to Brown, Pierce Street, Merrill Street and Martin Street.
There has been much discussion among retailers, the Birmingham Shopping District (BSD) and landlords in the last few years over what constitutes retail and storefront in Birmingham, which has actively sought to enliven the walkability of the city, especially through the use of its 2007 bistro ordinance. But in recent years, retail storefronts have been populated with real estate firms, internet companies, financial investment firms, ad agencies and other commercial office users, which some claim detracts from the walkability goal.
Building owners, who are expected to oppose further restrictions on how they fill their rental space, however, assert they need to fill their buildings when retail or restaurant users are not available. Some have even questioned whether the city has designated too much space for retail in the downtown area.
The city memo is the first mention of personal services, such as hair salons and spa services, in the downtown area....continued on page 2