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City boards discuss zoning and sustainability

By Grace Lovins

Birmingham city commissioners and planning board members held a joint workshop meeting on Monday, October 23, to discuss short-term fixes and long-term goals for the city’s zoning ordinance and sustainability efforts.

Commissioners and board members focused on two themes during the meeting, laid out by planning director Nick Dupuis. “In May 2023, about four short months ago, we did adopt the Birmingham 2040 Plan in its entirety, which has a lot of suggestions in its own right – 33 base recommendations and … over 150 subrecommendations,” Dupuis said.

“Because it’s so complex, we want to spend this time with you … to make sure you’re aware of the next steps we’re planning as it relates to the master plan, but also to inform you that we’re still keeping a keen eye on our current zoning ordinances while we go through the machinations,” he continued.

The first part of the discussion focused on potential “band-aids” for the city’s current zoning ordinances that the planning board could review while commissioners and city staff work to implement changes based on the recently adopted 2040 master plan. To start the discussion, commissioners were asked if they felt the planning board should consider any short-term tweaks to zoning ordinances while city staff looks to implement the recommendations of the master plan.

The Birmingham Planning Board has brought up various items in the zoning ordinance that likely need to be reviewed and altered in the future, including dumpster screening and the Triangle District’s mixed-use building standards. Commissioner Andrew Haig suggested the planning board take a look at addressing the consequences of non-conforming buildings.

Commissioners all agreed that they feel the planning board should come to the commission with things they think are important as experts, rather than asking for permission to review items. Commissioner Clinton Baller, along with multiple other commissioners, proposed ideas to strengthen communication between the two boards when it came to items the planning board feels are important.

Baller brought up making an agenda item for commissioners to provide their input on, and reports from the planning board so each commissioner is given the opportunity to express what they think is important for the board to tackle.

Part of the meeting also focused on how the planning board could implement sustainability into their process as the city has added sustainability as part of the master plan and a strategic goal. Dupuis asked the boards to talk about whether the commission wants the planning board to address sustainability directly, and how the two can work together to further the city’s sustainability goals.

Planning board member Janelle Boyce suggested having joint meetings between the planning board and sustainability board, which commissioners supported. Planning board member Bryan Williams, referring to a recent encounter by the planning board on the Trangle District plan, suggested commissioners create their own list of sustainability items they want to check for in developments.

Since the 2040 plan includes a separate detailed section covering sustainability, Williams said planning board members and commissioners each having their own list of items to watch out for is a great way to make sure all the details of the plan are covered.

Ultimately, the boards agreed that the planning board, along with all city boards, should be reviewing and encouraging sustainability whereever they can.

No formal action was taken by commissioners or board members. Planning board members Scott Clein, Stuart Jeffares, Jason Emerine and commissioner Katie Schafer were absent from the discussion.


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