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  • By Lisa Brody

Planning panel studies higher height in one block

Following a request from a rezoning applicant, the Birmingham Planning Board held a study session on Wednesday, September 11, to review a report from DPZ on potentially having building heights higher than five stories in one block of downtown, between Brown and Haynes streets, and Woodward and Old Woodward avenues.

Birmingham Planning Director Jana Ecker said on July 10 the owner of property at 469-479 S. Old Woodward, where Mountain King and a bank had formerly been located, had requested an amendment to the zoning ordinance and/or zoning map, specifically requesting the planning board clarify the applicable standards to determine building height in the D5 zone; to clarify the meaning of “immediate adjacent or abutting;” and determine which properties to consider, if any, for D-5 rezoning.

While the applicant, Doraid Marcus, had previously requested rezoning, Ecker said that since the city commission had had three motions which had all failed, lawyers for both Marcus and the city had determine no action had been taken, and he was able to reapply for rezoning.

She reminded the board that at a July study session they had recommended that a consultant study the issue, and determined to have DPZ, which is doing the city's master plan, do it. After a request for authorization from the city manager which was approved, she said DPZ conducted a focused study.

“Their recommendation was the whole block should be considered for rezoning to D-5, other than possibly the Peabody Mansion, because it's a historical mansion,” Ecker said. “Now we have everything in place to amend the ordinance.”

The city had created a D-5 zoning classification in recent years for non-conforming buildings, such as the 555 Building, Birmingham Place and the Merrillwood Building, which are higher than current height standards in the city's downtown, or overlay,district, where according to the Birmingham master plan and 2016 Plan, in a D-4 zone, mixed use buildings can be no more than five stories.

Ecker said that D-5 zoning requires a special land use permit, “which allows the city to add conditions as the city sees fit. It can only go as high as an abutting building. If the city doesn't like how it is being followed, it can revoke the zoning. It's the only zoning district we have that requires a special land use permit.”

After discussion and hearing from the public, board members did not feel they were ready to schedule a public hearing, requesting massing drawings of the included properties. They also said they would like to have more discussion of what “abutting” really means.

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