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  • By Lisa Brody

Commission, planning board review priorities

At their annual joint workshop, Birmingham City Commissioners and members of the planning board met on Monday, June 17, to discuss and review current issues before them and to review prioritizing the planning board's action list for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Among the items reviewed at the workshop session, where no formal decisions were made, were whether the planning board should review solar panel regulations; enclosure requests for balconies, patios and terraces; criteria for administrative approvals versus coming before the planning board; and the city's master plan charrette and draft of key proposals.

Birmingham Planning Director Jana Ecker explained that in the last six months there have been approximately eight requests for solar panels, and their aesthetic impact is not as great as it once was, with newer solar panels blending into roof shingles. She noted that currently, those interested in solar panels have been paying the city's design review fee if they're put in the front of the house, but just a $100 administrative fee if they're place in the rear of the home.

“During the master plan discussion, people were interested in (the concept) of 'use, reuse, sustainability,'” commissioner Stuart Sherman said. “I don't see what the harm would be to review it.”

Planning board member Stuart Jeffares concured, noting it has become a hot topic, and mayor Patty Bordman said there was consensus to have the planning board look at the requirements again.

Ecker said concerns have arisen regarding enclosing balconies, terraces and patios “because some encroach into the right of way, some are into privately-owned properties. We have had numerous occasions of people coming in and adding roof structures and walls,” to terraces and balconies.

Commissioner Mark Nickita cautioned that permitting them as physical expansion of structures is a “slippery slope. I'm immediately thinking of Eisenglass, where they're essentially adding square footage,and it's getting away from balconies.”

Others questioned the effect on setbacks, easements, streetscapes and it was determined it was a topic to have a formal review.

Members of both boards felt that staff understood when to approve items administratively, and when to bring an item to the planning board.

As for the master plan and the charrette process, while it was praised, Bordman noted, “I want to remind everyone that we have not received a draft of the master plan. There is still a survey and they could change their key proposals.”

Ecker said that while a number of items have been checked off the planning board's action list since last year, a number of items are on hold until the master plan process is complete.

“It's almost like an interim list we have,” Sherman said.

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