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  • By Lisa Brody

Nine-story rezoning recommended for hotel site

A rezoning request for the former Mountain King and Talmer Bank sites in Birmingham to permit the development of a nine-story mixed use building, which the developer said he would like to have for a high-end hotel, narrowly received approval, by a vote of 4-3, from Birmingham's Planning Board on Wednesday, January 23, which will recommend it to the city commission.

This was a request to reconsider the rezoning of 469-479 S. Old Woodward Avenue, as the planning board had denied the developer, Doraid Markus, previously, in September 2018. His attorney, Rick Rattner, spoke to the board on January 23, with a revised request, noting that adjacent properties Birmingham Place and the 555 Building were both D-5, while this site was D-4. According to the Birmingham Master Plan and 2016 Plan, in a D-4 zone, mixed use buildings can be five stories.

“Consistent with the master plan, we're the only one with a problem with parking,” Rattner said, noting the site is not in the city's parking assessment district, which only requires on-site parking for residential units. He further noted that “D-5 zones create a continuity of design and compatibility of form...Rezoning to D-5 is 'infill' zoning. It allows a building that is compatible with its context, with a building to fit the 'gap,' similar to its surrounding structures – 555, Birmingham Place. It's already in a mixed-use area.”

Architect Chris Longe said that existing buildings, “for the size they are, if they were non-conforming, in theory, we would need to provide 55 parking spaces. The developer is proposing a hotel, which has the least amount of cars used, so that goes to a usage discussion. We know we have to go down two stories, and maybe one floor above. We get about 33 parking spaces per floor, so about 100 cars. So the discussion is, what can you get with a three-story parking structure?”

Longe continued that they believe they can create a stepped-back building abutting Birmingham Place.

“We're trying to develop the property reasonably, under the ordinance,” Rattner said. “Economics plays into it, but we're not talking about doing anything unreasonable. We're saying it's unreasonable to have this property in D-4 when adjacent properties are D-5.”

Markus said if he were constrained to a five-story building, he could only put in a Holiday Inn or Hampton Inn, “but that is not what Birmingham requires. I need to clear the bricks of Birmingham Place, put in a mezzanine, and put in the air space for this kind of hotel.”

Board members were torn as to the validity of the request. Daniel Share said, “It's an unusual zoning request. I don't see they made a rezoning case, and I don't think I'm prepared to support rezoning.”

Bert Koseck agreed. “The 2016 Plan said five stories – there's no asterisk. Cities are made up of a variety of building heights. D-5 is because we had buildings that were non-compliant and we said, how do we deal with them.”

Bryan Williams and board alternate Jason Emerine felt the case was made for rezoning. Stuart Jeffares noted, “This is beyond adjacent, it's sandwiched. I'm in favor.”

Janelle Whipple-Boyce noted that city attorney Tim Currier had said the property was eligible for rezoning, said that convinced her after she had been against it before. However, board chair Scott Clein said he remained opposed.

Suitability for the property under existing zoning, it's still clear options that have not been presented that could work. I'm still firmly against rezoning,” Clein said.

The board voted 4-3, with Clein, Koseck and Share opposing. The rezoning request will move to the Birmingham City Commission for final approval.

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