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Birmingham animal hospital looks to rebuild

By Kevin Elliott


A longstanding Birmingham animal hospital at Woodward near Quarton, hoping to replace its current building with a modern two-story structure, could face challenges meeting some of the city’s new zoning requirements.


Gasow Animal Hospital, 36877 Woodward Avenue, has been operating in its current building since the 1960s and is in need of updating, said Birmingham Senior Planner Brooks Cowan. Plans to update the site include taking the existing building down and constructing a new two-story building on a nearly identical footprint. However, Cowan informed the Birmingham Planning Board on Wednesday, March 23, a dozen issues with current preliminary plans for the site would require changes or variances granted by the zoning board of appeals.


Cowan said the proposed building is located in the TZ-3 Transition Zone, which is one of the newer zoning categories in Birmingham.


Planning board members reviewed and approved the preliminary site plan by a vote of 4-1, with some members noting their reluctance.


“You mentioned a dozen things that don’t comply with our ordinance, and some of them are so significant – the footprint of the building doesn’t comply, the parking lot doesn’t comply. Those are fundamental things,” said board member Bert Koseck. “That concerns me because those are huge variances that go beyond this board.”


Koseck cast the dissenting vote to move the plan forward, with board members Scott Clein, Robin Boyle, Jannelle Boyce and Daniel Share voting in favor of the preliminary site plan. Koseck said his biggest concern relates to the proposed traffic layout, which allows one-way entry into the parking lot from Woodward.


Architect Michael Mathys with The Linden Group Architects said the project started as a renovation but turned into a complete rebuild after considering the extent of work needed. Mathys, representing the owners, said many of the items discussed could be addressed prior to final site plan review in order to meet ordinance requirements. However, Mathys said they would continue to seek a variance from the city for some issues.


Among the issues that would require special approval from the city relates to the setback and placement of the building. The requirements relate to the setback of the building from the lot lines and are intended to prevent gaps in the number of storefronts. However, Mathys said the spirit of the ordinance doesn’t seem to fit in the location, as there aren’t other adjacent storefronts.


Mathys did say the plans would include additional screening of the parking lot and mechanical items following comments from adjacent neighbors and the planning board.


Board members passed the preliminary plans, but offered advice to the applicants for the next review.


“I would like to see you meet the ordinance as much as possible,” said board chair Scott Clein. “To me, variances are for hardships, not ‘we don’t want to.’ Please take that to heart.”


“We have an ordinance that requires a certain bulk and mass in place for buildings, and it seems like we are trying to do our best to avoid that ordinance by pretending this is a renovation when it’s a rebuild,” Clein continued. “I’m stuck on that. Not because I dislike the project – in fact I think it’s rather smartly designed – but if you could improve the glazing, I’m not opposed to the entire concept. I’m stuck on this idea that you are going to have to get a variance to prove a hardship. I’m not going to slow you down now, but I’m telling you I don'td support the variance, per se.”

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