Downtown church building okayed for offices

June 29, 2018

The former First Church of Christ Scientist at 191 N. Chester was unanimously approved by Birmingham city commissioners at their meeting on Monday, June 25, to become The Jeffrey, an office building which will be redone with three-story glass and a lobby that extends to the property line.

The building, a Georgian limestone church first built in 1927, closed a few years ago, although the Christian Science Reading Room, 355 E. Maple in Birmingham, remains open. After it closed, the property was purchased by The Surnow Company in Birmingham, whose founder, Jeffrey Surnow, died in 2014. The renovated building will be called The Jeffrey in his honor.

At the meeting on June 25, planning director Jana Ecker said the site had recently been rezoned transition zone 2 (TZ2), and “the owner is looking to convert it from a church building to an office building. They're looking to leave the footprint the same on three sides, except the front. They're looking to take off the front for the lobby and bring an addition to the property line. They then decided to expand the second and third floors,” noting that the property slopes, with the first floor in the front actually a lower level in the rear.

She said the second floor will enclose the building and expose the roof with glass, and the top floor will enclose and expose another area with glass. “Then the building became over 20,000 square feet,” she said, necessitating a community impact study. The new front elevation will do away with several steps in the sidewalk, which Ecker said were not ADA-compliant.

“Then they will redo the sidewalk on Willits. There will no longer be steps, and they will add a crosswalk,” she said, noting the building will become ADA-compliant. An elevator will be added inside.

The Surnow Group is proposing three potential tenants, each with over 3,000 square feet.

The church currently has three parking spaces, and Surnow will add eight more, for 11 on site by removing a retaining wall, as well as adding an outdoor patio below grade at the corner of Chester and Willits.

“I think it's a beautiful elevation, a beautiful renovation for this building,” said commissioner Rackeline Hoff.

Mayor pro tem Patty Bordman concurred. “This is a building that has been in Birmingham since 1927. It could have been an icon,” she said. “This developer (Sam Surnow) personally went to all of the neighbors to make sure they like the design.”

“In theory, many of the workers will have to park off-site,” pointed out mayor Andy Harris, with city engineer Paul O'Meara confirming there is a waiting list at the nearby Chester parking lot.

Ecker said the owners had already procured spaces for workers.

“There is definitely a waiting list – we've been on the waiting list for years,” noted Surnow. “We currently have 140 spaces. We anticipate approximately 60 people in this building, including visitors, who will pay the daily rate. We've allocated 40 spaces we're currently paying for to this building, plus the 11 on site.”

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