Early RH plans receive positive feedback
By Kevin Elliott
Preliminary plans for a proposed four-story Restoration Hardware (RH) building to anchor downtown Birmingham’s shopping district received positive feedback from the city’s planning board on Wednesday, April 28, as board members recommended approval of the plans, as well as rezoning requests to allow the project to move forward.
Plans for the RH location call for a 49,624-square-foot building with three stories of galleries, as well as a fourth floor restaurant that will double as a gallery for indoor/outdoor furnishings. Representatives for RH estimate more than $25 million will be invested into the project, with at least 130 new jobs created. Further, the location is intended to act as an anchor destination for the city’s downtown shopping area.
Designed by Birmingham architect Victor Saroki, the plans call for reconstructing more than an acre of property along Old Woodward, between Brown and Daines streets, including razing the existing Capital Title/Lutz building, Frank’s Shoe Service/Roche Bobois building, and the Coldwell Banker Weir Manual parking lot.
To accommodate the project, RH is asking to rezone the reformed property from D3 to D4, which allows the use of a restaurant on the fourth floor of a building. The current zoning permits a four-story building, only if the fourth floor is reserved for residential use. RH in its application volunteered to keep the building at a maximum of four stories as a special condition of rezoning the land. The requested D4 zoning would otherwise permit up to five stories.
“We are concerned about the rezoning, which would allow for five stories, and if the project wasn’t developed and the rezoning stood, then someone could come along with a five-story, and that could be a problem for us,” said planning board member Bryan Williams.
Gayle McGregor, an attorney for the applicant, said RH was volunteering to restrict the building to four stories, as presented in the preliminary plans as a condition of rezoning.
In addition to recommending approval by the city commission to rezone the property, the planning board approved a recommendation to expand the city’s economic development map, which permits liquor licenses to be established through special economic development zones. Those liquor licenses are restricted to entities investing $10 million or more into a property, or improving the value of the property by 500 percent.
Lastly, the board reviewed and recommended approval for the city commission to approve a preliminary site plan for the property. The board unanimously approved all three measures, with planning board chair Scott Clein absent from the meeting.
Geoffrey Hockman, chairman of the Birmingham Shopping District (BSD) board and co-chair of the 2016 Plan committee, praised the plans.
“This type of rezoning would be a tremendous benefit to the downtown,” Hockman said. “It would provide the ability to have unique shopping and a destination location, but it would also help our recruitment to bring in others by having a store of this caliber.”
Additionally, Hockman said the project builds on and strengthens the elements presented in the city’s 2016 Plan.
Birmingham business owner Richard Astrein, who also serves on the BSD board, echoed Hockman’s sentiments.
“I think it’s one of the greatest advances in downtown Birmingham, and will do a lot to help with density and attract new merchants downtown,” Astrein said.
Planning board members also addressed previous concerns with a community impact study review provided by the applicant. Board members in March questioned some of the methodology used in the traffic studies provided to the city. Those concerns were addressed with additional review and recommended methodology, which board members accepted.
Saroki addressed the issue of parking at the proposed location. He said while the existing site will lose some on-site parking locations, RH will provide 24 on-site parking spaces through an underground garage. Those spaces will be predominantly used for valet services. As the location is within the city’s parking assessment district, additional on-site parking isn’t required.
“Peak demand is Saturday, which is their busiest day, and Sunday is the second busiest day. Saturday has double the parking demand of the weekdays, and the weekdays usually don’t get busy until after 4 p.m.,” Saroki said. “Most customers are there for a while, spending time looking at furniture and making fairly significant purchases, usually on the weekend or evenings. Those are RH’s statistics, and consistent across the board.
“That is opposite than peak demand of our garages, which are weekday, daytime until about 3 or 4 p.m., and there is ample parking on Saturday and Sunday,”Saroki said. “This will not be a burden on the parking system.”