A preliminary site plan for 35001 Woodward, the parking lots and Hunter House locations at Woodward and Maple in Birmingham, received unanimous approval by the Birmingham Planning Board on Wednesday, April 22, with numerous conditions, allowing the developer to move forward toward final site plan and design review, although the owner of Hunter House said there remains disagreements.
City planning director Jana Ecker explained the site had been before the planning board several times. The site is currently home to the Hunter House restaurant, a city-owned parking lot and vacant land currently leased to the city for public parking, a total of a half-acre of land. It is surrounded by four streets, Maple, Park, Hamilton Row and Woodward.
“The applicant previously submitted a community impact study and preliminary site plan review for this site in 2018. At that time, a five-story building was proposed with first floor retail, a hotel use, and residential units on the top floor,” she said. “On January 22, 2020, they came before asking to amend the site plan to five-story mixed use. At that time, the planning board voted to accept the community impact study, with several conditions.”
The preliminary site plan indicates first floor retail, with a location for the Hunter House; two floors of underground parking, with 82 spaces, which Ecker said is in excess of the parking requirement of 62 spots. The upper floors would include commercial and residential.
She said they reconfigured the first floor and addressed vehicular safety concerns, although other issues still exist.
Board member Bryan Williams said, “I am still uncomfortable with the specific references to the “Hunter House” in the drawings. In the southern portion of the drawings, we should note it as retail and delete any references to Hunter House. I would delete in a motion all mention in all preliminary site plans. I don't think we should get into that.”
“Is that because you don't think we should get involved between the parties,” board chair Scott Clein asked, referencing difficulties between the developer, Hesham Gayar of Grand Blanc, and Kelly Cobb, the owner of Hunter House.
The major concern dealt with an ongoing conflict between Gayar and the owners of Hunter House, who lease the property in an unusual deal which gives them oversight on development. Gayar bought two of the parcels, with the third owned by the city.
The board unanimously agreed to delete any mention of Hunter House from the preliminary site plan.
“I understand you are removing us from the plans, but I think it muddies the waters,” responded Cobb. “We are in no better position than last time. There are three parties here. My approval rights are as equal as yours. What the deed restriction states we are to bring this to you with them, and that has not happened. You all know where this is headed, and that is not a good place.”
Board member Dan Share noted that if the matter does go to court, the planning board was not taking sides.
The board voted 7-0 to approve the preliminary site plan with a list of conditions they must meet before any final site plan is approved.