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Brown St. development to complement RH

By Kevin Elliott


A proposed four-story, mixed-use building at 294 E. Brown Street with two floors of residential units and a public courtyard and passage connecting to the future RH (Restoration Hardware) site received preliminary approval on Wednesday, March 23, from the Birmingham Planning Board.


The proposed building would include retail space on the first floor, a second floor dedicated to offices and a total of 38 residential units on the top two floors. Plans calls for underground parking facilities for residents, and an additional 12 spaces for office use. A proposed courtyard and passage would run east/west connecting the future RH development site, as well as a connecting via running from Brown to Daines streets.


The development encompasses the entire site, including the building, plazas, courtyard, landscaping, a fountain and courtyard that will be open to the public, said Victor Saroki, of Saroki Architecture, which is leading the project on the former Coldwell Banker site. He said the timeline calls for having the “eggshell” of the building in place about the same time the RH development is finished.


Outside of the public areas, plans for the the 101,875-square-foot structure include a rooftop swimming pool and lounging area with benches, fire pits, grills and other amenities.


The planning board reviewed a community impact study related to the proposed project, as well as a preliminary site plan. A community impact study is required for any proposed development more than 20,000-square-feet of floor area to identify potential impacts on community services, the environment and neighboring properties. The planning board in February postponed the review until the March 23 meeting to receive an updated traffic impact study from the city’s traffic consultants.


Saroki said on March 23, that the development would include improving the pedestrian crosswalk at E. Brown Street at the Pierce Street structure with new ADA-compliant ramps, striping and installation of crosswalk signage on both sides of the street, as recommended by the city’s consultant.


“We agree with the findings of the traffic consultant,” Saroki said. “Our traffic engineer has tried to satisfy all the questions, and with the pedestrian crossing we have agreed to do all three: the ramps, new striping and the signage or lights, like near Salvatore (Scallopini) or Maple Road, near the waterfall.”


Currently, the block from Brown to Daines and Old Woodward to Purdy contains one- to three-story commercial buildings and surface parking lots.


Birmingham Planning Director Nicholas Dupuis said the area is recommended to serve as the beginning of the step-down of height and bulk from more intense buildings on the north side of Brown. Dupuis said the proposed building also falls within the retail frontage boundary, requiring retail in the first 20 feet of the building frontage, with the plans calling for 6,826 square feet of retail along Brown, enhancing the activity and character. Zoning in the area calls for a mix of retail, restaurant and service anchors.


Birmingham resident David Bloom said adding residential development to the downtown area is “cool,” but said he was concerned about the loss of parking, considering the loss of surface lots and the future loss of street parking along S. Old Woodward with future developments.


Board member Robin Boyle also questioned whether office space would be in demand, as the office market continues to change.


Saroki acknowledged the fluctuating demand for office space, but said demand in downtown Birmingham remains strong. Further, he noted that the second floor dedicated to office space shares the same footprint as the residential floors, so converting the second floor to residential would be possible if needed in the future.


“We did a detailed assessment of the office market, and there is demand for it in this location,” Saroki said. “We have many already interested in taking the whole floor, but that said, the second floor is identical to the third. It’s the same windows and layout. The footprint is identical, the floor-to-floor dimensions are the same.”


“The only problem is the P-word,” Boyle said, referring to future residential parking needs if the floor were to be converted.


Board member Daniel Share praised the proposed development as an important building and location for the community.


“This is harmonious and interesting,” he said. “The courtyard and vias are public spaces. This is a building that it's mixed-use makes it interesting.”


Board members Boyle, Share, Janelle Boyce and Bert Koseck voted to accept the community impact study and preliminary site plan. Board chair Scott Clein recused himself from the discussion and vote due to a potential conflict of interest.

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