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B-1 zoning ordinance amendment under review

By Grace Lovins


The Birmingham Planning Board reviewed a proposed ordinance amendment at their meeting on Wednesday, February 8, that seeks to update the potential uses of properties zoned in the B1 neighborhood business district.


The owner of 100 W. 14 Mile at Pierce Street, or the former Grapevine Market, is proposing the amendment to expand the available tenant options for the vacant space. These options, said senior planner Brooks Cowan, would include a health club or studio, specialty food store, boutique, bank, food and beverage, and fast-casual café. B1 zoned uses are established for the convenience shopping of the adjacent residential areas to satisfy limited basic shopping and service needs, but aren’t related to the general shopping of the business district, said Cowan.


Part of the planning board’s process, if they decide to continue with study sessions and consideration of the ordinance amendment, will be deciding if the existing use definitions will need to be expanded, or if separate definitions will need to be created for each use. As the ordinance is currently written, some definitions incorporate the proposed new uses but lack clarity.


While the applicant is proposing to add banks as an appropriate use, Daniel Share stated that office space, which is allowed in the B1 zone, encompasses banks in the definition. Cowan noted that office is allowed, which includes financial services including banks, but to figure that out is a lot of extra steps, so specifically adding banks to B1 uses would be better for clarity.


B1 zoned properties, under the current ordinance, are not allowed to be food or drink establishments, which restricts restaurants from opening up, but allows for bakeries and grocery stores. There are no definitions for bakeries or grocery stores in the zoning ordinance, per the meeting packet, so staff is required to interpret and distinguish the two.


“Currently, with city staff and the applicants when they come in with any kind of restaurant style or indoor dining, we classify that as a food and drink establishment, and a lot of times we look at that and say, ‘Is there indoor dining or not?’” said Cowan. “The issue we run into is that doesn’t provide clarity on a full service restaurant like our bistros or steakhouses versus a smaller coffee shop, where you go in and buy a croissant and coffee and there’s five chairs in there.”


The size of a proposed use could be limited through chapter 5 of the ordinance, according to Cowan. He explained that for uses such as a fast-casual café – like a coffee shop or Beyond Juice – as well as health club studios, they could restrict the sizing through the definitions.


“We get a lot of inquiries about people wanting to do yoga or Pilates studios. That gets looped into the same category as a L.A. Fitness or Lifetime,” Cowan said. “If we wanted to have that kind of use in a B1 zone, that’s another thing we could restrict and say, ‘nothing in a B1 zone beyond 1,000 or 1,500 square feet.”


Michael Vogt, attorney with Clark Hill PLC, explained that the goal is to bring convenient access to the surrounding neighborhood, and the ordinance just needs to be modernized a bit. “What we’re proposing, what it boils down to, is what we feel is a very common sense update to the ordinance more so than a change,” said Vogt.


Board members Bryan Williams and Stuart Jeffares said they feel the board should study the proposed and existing ordinance, with Jeffares saying if the city wants more small businesses, he thinks they need to incorporate separate definitions for these uses. Chairperson Scott Clein noted he’d be happy to look further into this, but the board would have to see more information and context considering how this ordinance would apply to all B1 properties, not just the applicant’s.


“If supporting neighborhood retail means that there should be some additions, I’m absolutely happy to work together and try and figure out what those are,” said Clein. “I’m not going to go so far as to say any of these are comforting to me yet because we don’t know anything yet. We’ve got to look at parking, at square footage, things like that.”


Clein asked Cowan to bring a map that shows where these uses already exist in the city, such as if these uses are already in neighborhoods and show if this property would be an exception, to better understand things like parking, density and the need for different definitions. The board will look at the proposed amendment in the future, with no formal action taken.

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