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City continues study of downtown health clubs

By Grace Lovins


Birmingham’s Planning Board continued its review of potentially adding a health club studio use to the city’s downtown zone at its meeting on Wednesday, July 12.


City staff has proposed the use to be added to the B4 zone in hopes that it benefits surrounding businesses.


At the board’s study session on Wednesday, June 14, board members had mixed opinions about whether health club studios should be added as a first-floor use with a retail buffer or as strictly a second-floor use.


After talking with the Birmingham Shopping District’s (BSD) business development committee and executive committee, senior planner Brooks Cowan said they are in favor of basement and second floor and above uses. There were concerns about offering first floor uses and how it could interfere with the BSD’s vision the city’s downtown, Cowan explained.


Cowan also explained that board members had a couple different options they could pursue in terms of floors health clubs would be allowed on: limit the use to basements or garden levels and second floor and above; or allow basement level use, second floor and above uses as well as allow first level uses subject to a special land use permit.


Chairperson Scott Clein and Janelle Boyce both said they weren’t comfortable offering the use on the first floor even with a special land use permit. Boyce said that a health club or studio wouldn’t create the activity that other board members think it would.


Looking at class offerings from Blue Yoga, a yoga studio on the first floor at 161 Townsend Street, Boyce said classes are offered early in the morning and early evening, but no offerings during the day.


Multiple board members again shared that it might be worth it to offer a first-floor use under a special land use permit to test it out and evaluate on a case-by-case basis. Clein disagreed, saying they can’t give a use and then take it away, and it would be silly to offer first-floor use if the BSD committees and executive director have explained that it interferes with their vision for the downtown area.


At the board’s request from the last study session, Cowan also talked with brokers in the city to get more insight into demand and typical square footage for these studios.


He said he talked with Angela Thomas from Aeres Real Estate, who said the sweet spot for size is between 1,500 and 2,500 square feet. Cindy Ciura of CC Consulting told Cowan that the demand for fitness studios in Birmingham is high, but the city should also consider noise levels from music and weights.


Cowan wrote sample ordinance language that included a 2,500 square foot maximum for health club uses, but asked for the board’s input on whether they think it should be adjusted or removed. Clein suggested that anything over 2,500 square feet could be subject to a special land use permit, but others said they didn’t see the need for it at all.


City staff and board members have expressed concern in past discussions over large gyms coming into areas where they could hinder parking, among other things. Board member Bryan Williams questioned what would be stopping a large gym like Lifetime from buying two buildings and taking up two 2,500 square foot second floor levels that connect.


Boyce and Bert Koseck said they didn’t necessarily view that as a bad thing. “I’m trying to sit here and think of a reason I should be concerned if someone wants a 4,000 square foot studio on a second floor and I can’t come up with one,” Boyce said.


Board members directed staff to look further into a square footage requirement for the use and provide information on how it would apply to businesses in the district. No formal action was taken.

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