Consistent zoning key for Triangle District
After years of wishing that Birmingham's Triangle District would develop and become an active and vibrant part of the city, city leaders are seeing their dreams fulfilled in a variety of ways.
At the long vacant parcel at the corner of Maple and Woodward, a proposed development is in the planning stages for a six to nine-story, mixed use building. Lavery Porsche is building a new three-story dealership on Woodward which will also act as a catalyst for a reconfiguration of Elm Street. A six-story, 157-unit luxury apartment building at 770 S. Adams is in the midst of construction on the former site of Citizen's Bank. And a proposed five-story mixed use building with 41 units of residential for the former site of the Plant Station at 720 S. Adams Road recently received approval for its community impact study by the city's planning board, but was sent back to the drawing board for its preliminary site plan.
All of the developments are welcomed by the city, notably as ways to revitalize long vacant and at times blighted properties on the eastern portion of Birmingham. The city's Triangle District is roughly bounded by E. Maple to the north; Woodward Avenue to the east; Adams Road to the west; and the “triangle” of Adams and Lincoln to the south.
At issue are zoning ordinances requirements for buildings on the eastern side of the city. In the central business district – referred to by most as “downtown Birmingham” – city administration, the planning board and city commission spent several years determining exactly what a mixed use building was; what was permitted in each floor of a mixed use building; that retail must be located on the first floor spaces of all commercial (non-residential) buildings in the central business district, and what kinds and types of businesses qualified in which areas as “retail;” how tall a building could be in each area of downtown, which is primarily five-stories for most of the downtown area; what was permitted above the first floor retail; how much residential is allowed; and how much parking is required for each of the building's uses.
As the Triangle District has now outgrown its long-dormant infancy, requirements for each of these uses must be adapted, determined and strictly adhered to for this part of town. Developers have to know what they are building to so they can abide by the city's ordinances, or they should be penalized. Planning board members decried that only two percent of the 770 S. Adams building will have retail, despite 157 apartments – yet there has been nothing requiring the developers of the property to provide more. “Two percent, I think most of us would agree, isn’t mixed use. It’s residential and just happens to have a little bit of retail,” planning board member Stuart Jeffares said. “The zoning ordinance isn’t specific enough to deliver the direction.”
The goal, as in the downtown and adjacent areas, should be street activation and walkability. That has been the priority throughout the city for all kinds of ordinances, and we feel strongly that should extend to the Triangle District as well. It would help link the neighborhoods and businesses on the east side of Woodward together and with the downtown.
Currently, study sessions appear to try to link LEED certification for buildings in the district with permitting developers to add additional stories. That sounds like a quagmire waiting to happen. If a builder doesn't comply, there is no way to knock a floor off after the fact. As the city has already established a sustainability committee, it's more important to require LEED certification for all new buildings, and set the mixed use building height where planners feel it best benefits the city.
We also know parking in the Triangle District will become an issue. Yes, we know there have been suggestions of building parking structure(s) but we are not sure just where. This issue must be resolved before more development arrives.
On a parting note, after years of stalling in the Triangle District, it's time to hit the gas and move to integrate it into a cohesive city plan.