The Birmingham Planning Board was tasked by the city commission to come up with a definition of personal services as it relates to first floor retail space in the redline retail area in downtown Birmingham, and they held a study session on Wednesday, July 12, to refine the definition.
The definition of retail in first floor space has been deemed a high priority item by the city commission after several locations have been leased as "quasi-commercial," referring to ad agencies, marketing firms, real estate companies and web design firms, among others, that say they "could" do work for individuals, but are really commercial companies. In a memo, city manager Joe Valentine noted that the current ordinance permits commercial uses as a category of personal services.
"Over the past 10 years, roughly 46 businesses have occupied first floor spaces in the redline retail area under the undefined category of personal services. To assist city staff in the administration of the zoning ordinance and to clarify the intent of the personal services category, a policy directive was given to the planning board to promptly address this issue," Valentine wrote in his memo. "This directive was intended to establish a temporary relief measure while the planning board continues to study the definition of retail as part of its action list that was adopted in July of 2016."
Many planning board members were concerned that any recommendation they made would not be temporary, but permanent, with board chair Scott Clein acknowledging that could be. "This is a solution until the (new) master plan is done, and I thought the master plan was going to be done two years ago," he said.
While no vote was taken as it was a study session, board member Bryan Williams said he did not like the revised list, which spelled out that personal services would be for providing services involving the care of a person or apparel, but would not include business services, medical, dental, or mental health services.
"I don't like the list, and I don't support the list," Williams said. "I'd like a broader suggestion that would activate the streets. I think it's a useless list even though it provides clarification. Personal services by definition doesn't allow some of the uses that have been permitted.
"The question is do we agree with the care of the person. I think it's services for a person," board member Stuart Jeffares said. "We need a broader list. I guarantee it will be outdated by Day 2."
"The building official would make the determination," Clein said....continued on page 2