Former Mountain King site to be rezoned

May 29, 2020

In a split decision, voting 4-3, the Birmingham Planning Board voted to recommend approval to the city commission to rezone the former Mountain King and Talmer Bank sites to D5 at their meeting on Wednesday, May 27, which would allow for a new building of up to nine stories..

The 0.423 acre site spans Hazel Street from S. Old Woodward to Woodward. The site currently contains two vacant single-story commercial buildings, which were formerly Mountain King Chinese Restaurant and Talmer Bank. The applicant is proposing to demolish the present buildings for the construction of a nine-story mixed use building with three levels of underground parking.

Previously, the city commission approved the category of D5 to encompass the previously built non-conforming buildings, along with the Merrillwood Building, and grandfather them, in order to allow renovations and updates to the 555 Building. However, as commissioners noted at that time, that has opened a can of worms, as a developer has applied to build a nine-story building on the site of the former Mountain King restaurant next to Birmingham Place. It is zoned for D4, which permits a five-story, mixed use building of no more than 80-feet in height.

City planning director Jana Ecker noted that the planning board had seen the item and the applicant, Doraid Markus, several times in the last two years. She said Markus had submitted a request last year to clarify rezoning in the D5 zone, and the planning board requested a review by DPZ, the firm handling the city's master plan, to look at the block and determine if any of the properties were applicable to rezoning. DPZ produced a report that determine that all of the properties in the block should be eligible for rezoning to D5 from D4, except for the property which the Peabody Mansion sits on.

The ordinance was further clarified in January to determine that only properties that abut, but are not adjacent, are applicable for rezoning, and properties cannot be separated by roads, driveways, alleys or sidewalks. For the requested properties, a new building could be as high as the Birmingham Place building, which it abuts, but not the 555 Building, to which it is adjacent.

“Bottom line, rezoning has been patiently and thoroughly studied,” said Rick Rattner, Markus' attorney. “It is contested because there are people next door, in Birmingham Place, who object to it. However, when you look at D5 rezoning, we have fulfilled all of the requirements. It would be an asset to the city.”

Markus explained a preliminary drawing of a new building shows higher, nine-story massing along the Old Woodward side of the building, where there are no windows on the side of Birmingham Place, and stepped back floors going down to the Woodward side, to allow for more light and views to those in Birmingham Place and in his proposed building.

Planning board members voted 4-3 to recommend approval to the city commission, with board members Stuart Jeffares, Bert Kosceck, Robyn Boyle and Janelle Whipple-Boyce voting for approval, and Daniel Share, Bryan Williams and chair Scott Clein opposing.

The consideration of a community impact study and preliminary site plan review were postponed until June 24, Clein stated at the beginning of the meeting, as city attorney Tim Currier had ruled earlier that day that signage noticing the study and preliminary site plan review were improperly noticed on the property. By city ordinance, each part of the meeting must have a sign up for 15 days prior to a meeting.

“I disagree with the city attorney,” Rattner said in his objection. “We are talking about another attempt to delay when someone is attempting to develop this property. It was on your agenda, on your website. This is a hotly contested item. Second, there are postcards that were sent out that did identify the items. It's not fair to the applicant.”

Clein said he did not like having to postpone, either, “considering how long we've been through this process together,” but said he had no choice since the city attorney had given his verbal opinion.

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