Rail District restaurant clears planning board
Lincoln Yard, a full service restaurant proposed for Birmingham's Rail District, received approval from the city's planning board on Wednesday, September 25, and recommendation to go to the Birmingham City Commission for final approvals for special land use permit and final site plan and design review.
Acting board chair Bryan Williams voted against moving it forward, noting that the project requires an economic development liquor license in order to proceed, and the city commission has not yet set a public hearing date to consider an ordinance amendment to rezone properties in the area from the north side of Lincoln and Cole Street to qualify for economic development licenses. To receive an economic development liquor license, where a Class C liquor license can be brought in from another municipality, the property must be zoned as qualified for it, and have at least $10 million in investments or an increase of 500 percent in value. Planning director Jana Ecker said the city commission is scheduled to set a public hearing to consider the ordinance amendment at their October 7 meeting.
Lincoln Yard, along with a smaller fast casual American restaurant, to be called “Little Yard,” is proposed for the former Birmingham Schools bus garage, located at 2159 E. Lincoln Road. Planner Brooks Cowan said they have their bank financing in place, and believe the operation will invigorate that area of the Rail District. They anticipate the restaurant will serve 75 percent food, and 25 percent alcohol.
A concern for the planning board was parking, with a shared parking plan with adjacent business Armstrong-White. Cowan said there are 59 spaces on site, with 32 in a shared parking agreement with Armstrong-White. In addition, there are nine public street spaces in front of the proposed restaurant. In addition, it was noted that across Lincoln there is public parking at the Birmingham Ice Rink/tennis facility.
“I like the project. I don't like the timing,” said Williams. “The city commission hasn't looked at economic development licenses yet. I think it's presumptuous for us to recommend an area, much less to recommend a project, until the city commission lets us know what they want to do. That is the appropriate way to go, the way we have always gone, and I don't see any reason to deviate.”
“The project is for an economic development license because that's what it will take,” said Curt Catallo, owner of Union Joints. “Anyone else would knock down a cinderblock building and build a five-story building with a restaurant on the first floor. We like to repurpose and create places for everyone in the community. Parking is vital – it's our life blood. But I have to say, we'll have more spots than any place I can walk to after this meeting.”
“We're digging our own grave. We're stopping a multi-million dollar restaurant over seven parking spaces,” said board member Robin Boyle.
“There are 2,483 parking spaces at any time in the Rail District,” Ecker said. “There is an abundance of parking at any time in the Rail District, especially in the southern end.”
The planning board voted 5-1 to recommend approval to the city commission for both the final site plan and design review and special land use permit, with board chair Scott Clein absent and Williams dissenting.