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Birmingham reconsiders parking denial

By Kevin Elliott

Parking woes in Birmingham led city commissioners on Monday, January 11, to reconsider their denial last year of the use of six public parking spaces by The Pearl, 855 N. Old Woodward, in order to meet zoning ordinance requirements.

Construction of the four-story, 90,000-square-foot building, called The Pearl, had initially included required parking for proposed retail use on the first floor of the building. The owner has since proposed new first-floor businesses, including salons and food service establishments, thus requiring additional parking, under city ordinances.

In November, The Pearl’s request to use six on-street, public parking spots to meet parking requirements was denied by the city commission. At that time, some commissioners recommended coming back to the commission and requesting inclusion in the city’s parking assessment district (PAD). The current building was constructed last year and is not included in the adjacent parking assessment district. Properties that are included in the district aren’t required to meet zoning requirements for on-site parking for any commercial uses, including retail, salons and food establishments.

The advisory parking committee reviewed the request and recommended denial, citing high demand for parking in the area prior to the pandemic. Commissioners on Monday, January 11, initially leaned toward rejecting the request from The Pearl.

City commissioner Stuart Sherman said The Pearl’s dilemma was “self imposed,” as it had already been approved but changed its tenants after that approval.

“We can say ‘no, we aren’t going to fix your problem,’ or we can have a public hearing on this and see if we are going to fix it and include them in the district,” Sherman said.

Attorney Richard Rattner, who represents The Pearl, said the building wasn’t included in the city’s parking assessment district because it didn’t exist. Had the original building not been demolished, he said the address would undoubtedly have been included in the district.

“When I first started practicing law in the Dark Ages, we used to have our monthly meetings at Carrie Lee’s (Chinese) Restaurant every month. It was a great restaurant. It burned down in 1988. Since that time, that site was a scar on the landscape of Birmingham. It was contaminated and very difficult to develop. Nobody touched it for 30 years,” Rattner said. “During that 30 year period – I was on the planning commission during that time – the PAD came into existence. The outline of the PAD followed what was developed at that time. … the (PAD) stops right before this new building. More importantly, the overlay district didn’t stop there. What you have done, unintentionally, is to provide that The Pearl has to do that same thing, developmentally as everyone else on that street, but not allow them the advantage of the PAD. That’s unfair.”

Commissioners struggled with the requirements of including The Pearl in the parking assessment district, noting the high demand for parking already in the area.

“Our job is to not overload the system,” said commissioner Clinton Baller. “I’m concerned that if we allow you into the PAD, nobody will park in Lot 6, and fewer in the parking structure, and they will end up in the neighborhood, or battling with neighbors.”

Birmingham City Manager Thomas Markus asked commissioners if they would be in favor of taking no action on the PAD request, instead allowing the six public parking spots in front of the building to be used to meet parking requirements.

“It makes more sense to me to reverse the decision on those six spaces,” he said. “At least you have a governance on how many spaces they can use.”

Commissioner Rackeline Hoff agreed.

“In this case, by putting the building in the PAD, they can put in a restaurant or something else with much more intense use, and what will happen is that customers will take up all those spaces in the area,” she said.

Commissioner Mark Nickita agreed that if the building had existed decades earlier, it would have been included in the parking assessment district. “It’s a victim of circumstance of the fire and demolition,” he noted.

Business owner and leasing agent Emil Cherkasov, who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, said he was considering whether he could continue to wait for the parking situation to be rectified or pull out of a tenant agreement in the building.

“These businesses can’t afford to sit around and wait while commissioners make a decision,” he said. “The owner of the building will lose a tenant.”

Mayor Pierre Boutros said the city has yet to see the full effects of the pandemic on local businesses, and is concerned about losing those willing to open.

“I’m concerned about people trying to open a business to survive,” he said. “We are still going through a difficult time in the business world.”

Commissioners discussed whether it would possible to pass a motion that night to reverse the previous decision to deny the use of the six public parking spaces, but determined the matter would have return at the next meeting, per the advice of the city’s attorney.


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