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B1 ordinance amendment heads to public hearing

By Grace Lovins

An ordinance amendment for permitted uses in a B1 zoning district is headed to a public hearing after a fourth study session was held by the Birmingham Planning Board on Wednesday, May 10.

The owner of the former Grapevine Market, located at 100 W. 14 Mile Road, petitioned for the ordinance amendment in February to allow add new uses to the B1 neighborhood business zone. Originally, six additional uses were proposed, but after review from planning staff and board members, the options have shrunk to four potential additions and one use added for clarification.

The petition requested the ordinance to add boutique, specialty food store, health club or studio, bank, café, and food and beverage. City staff noted that B1 zones already permit bank uses under the current ‘office’ use but should be added to the ordinance for clarity’s sake. Board members decided early on that they were not comfortable with adding a food and beverage use given the potential for the location to allow for popular chain establishments and the potential for it to become a destination.

At the last study session on April 17, senior planner Brooks Cowan shared the definition that was created for café, which would be categorized as a permitted use. The parking requirements for the use are proposed to be one space per 75 square feet of the assembly area, and the patron circulation area must be no more than 50 percent of the gross square footage or 750 square feet, whichever is less.

Multiple board members felt that the 750 square foot measurement was too big and suggested bringing it down to 500 square feet. Chairperson Scott Clein was also concerned that the definition would create an extra challenge for staff to determine what businesses are considered specialty food stores and what are cafés since they have different requirements. Cowan and planning director Nick Dupuis assured the board that the option is better than what is currently in place.

During the past three study sessions, the board has shown concern over allowing a health club or studio use in the zone, primarily due to parking. Multiple board members have also said they don’t want the spot to be packed with dozens of people leaving and waiting to come into the building. City staff looked at different options to break the use down so a private studio with a small client list could operate but couldn’t find many examples from other cities.

According to Cowan, other cities have limited the size of the use but not the actual use itself. Staff reviewed potentially tagging a special land use permit, regulating the size through Article 5 use restrictions, or regulating the number of patrons through use restrictions. A special land use permit can be a longer process and might be more difficult on a smaller business, but staff recommends it as the best option since it can be regulated.

Cowan said the current health club or studio use has a one per 500 square foot parking requirement, mostly catered to larger gyms like Lifetime Fitness, so a business in the B1 could potentially have a one or two space parking requirement. Clein said he didn’t feel comfortable including a health club or studio use in the B1 zone at all, even with a special land use permit.

“I would much rather spend time later on and just come up with a new definition for personal fitness studio that has reasonable parking and find where it should go,” he said. Others felt that a health club or studio use fits for the zone, but the challenge is regulating the size and parking.

The board voted unanimously, 7-0, to send the ordinance amendment to a public hearing with the option to include a health club and studio use subject to a special land use permit. Alternate board members Jason Emerine and Nasseem Ramin voted in place of Bryan Williams and Stuart Jeffares. A public hearing is expected to take place on Wednesday, June 14.


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