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  • By Lisa Brody

Parking, retail proposals sent back to planning

Birmingham city commissioners on Monday, August 13, unanimously sent back two separate request for proposals (RFPs), one for planning, zoning and parking consulting services to look at revising the downtown Birmingham parking standards and the other to review the downtown retail redline district, as they did not feel either addressed the specific issues the planning board and staff had been directed to identify in the RFPs.

Noting Birmingham has been experiencing a stress on its parking system, city planning director Jana Ecker said she was presenting a parking RFP “to eliminate the residential parking standards” in the downtown area. A desire to reduce or eliminate parking standards for all residential units has been raised in order to reduce the cost of development, thus reducing the amount charged for the sale or lease of residential units. The directive for the planning board to look at this had first come up at the joint city commission/planning board workshop in June, Ecker said. She noted that they discussed hiring a consultant to review the city's residential requirements and make recommendations, and she recommended the city's current parking consultant, Nelson Nygaard, along with the city's traffic consultant.

Currently, she said, parking is required to be provided for residential uses on all properties, whether or not they are located within a parking assessment district. In the central business district, there is no requirement to provide parking for office or retail uses.

“The planning said, 'we're not going to look at it citywide – we're not going to eliminate parking in neighborhoods,'” Ecker said. “We just want to have it looked at in the downtown area, the Triangle District and Rail District, and look at a few other cases.”

In a memo, Ecker noted that over the last 10 years, there had been some precedent, with a removal of the parking requirement for senior living facilities and for outdoor dining areas.

City manager Joe Valentine said Nelson Nygaard is studying the city's operational uses in parking, as well as land use issues.

Commissioner Patty Bordman complained that one of the biggest problems “is the number of office workers per square foot in Birmingham, and the increases in office buildings. These office worker want to park in Birmingham, and use our parking structures all day long. The second problem is what we're looking for with residential dwellings. We're looking to lower the cost of residential dwellings.”

Commissioner Mark Nickita disagreed. “This can't be just about residential, but about the hyper-demand for office in the downtown. We're looking at a handful of buildings in the downtown that are approve that are office buildings. The office component is actually more important than the residential component. We have some serious issues to study here that don't really come through.”

That led to a discussion of the the RFP for a retail review of the downtown, which Ecker said “would look at a more global view of retail, what we want in the downtown area as a result of the joint meeting. The planning board felt there seemed to be a willingness to hire a consultant to help them with boundaries, tiers within boundaries and different uses in different boundaries. We're looking for a professional with retail management experience – it's not a land use issue.”

She said they would like to review the downtown overlay district, parcel by parcel in the current redline district, to provide a roadmap of where to go.

“This is not what I thought we need at this time,” Nickita said. “This is quite broad and does not match the directive we had at the joint meeting, and previous directives. It needs to be rethought.”

“I would send this all back. Let's bring it back to our intentions. Try again and start with the minutes,” directed commissioner Stuart Sherman.

Ecker said the intention was not to throw away the redline retail district.

“It's to make that redline district the strongest it can be – to support it. We need to create an ordinance to do just that,” Nickita said.

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