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Luxury apartment building gets early approvals

By Kevin Elliott


Plans for a 157-unit luxury apartment building reaching up to six floors along 770 S. Adams in Birmingham’s Triangle District received preliminary approval on Wednesday, March 31, by the city’s planning board.


The massive 235,475-square-foot building planned by developers from the Forbes Group, Hunter Pasteur and Soave Enterprises is billed as a “mixed-use” building, with retail planned for the first floor and residential uses on the upper floors. However, planning board members took issue with the limited amount of space – about 5,000 square feet – dedicated to commercial use.


The city’s Triangle Plan was created to guide development in the area, however, board members on Wednesday pointed out that the city’s ordinances and zoning requirements have never been properly adjusted to reflect the goals of the plan. The gap, board members said, led to the proposed development that contains just two percent retail use. Further, the development includes three first-floor residential units along Adams, which planners envisioned as retail and commercial use in the plan that is intended to activate the street.


Planning board member Stuart Jeffares said the city must be more aggressive in the future to ensure ordinances meet long-range plans.


“Two percent retail – it’s a loophole because we don’t have a number in (the ordinance), but 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,” he said. “The zoning ordinance isn’t specific enough to deliver the direction.”


The proposed building is a maximum of six stories tall and steps down to four stories. Plans call for an internal, private parking garage for residents. The site includes three parcels that are currently home to a two-story office building, Citizens Bank, parking lots and streetscape elements along Haynes and S. Adams.


Jeffares said the project represents seven percent of all commercially-zoned property in the Triangle District.


“The bottom line is that the city needs to review ordinances to ensure these plans can meet the vision, and not rely on private property owners to do stuff,” Jeffares said. “We bring in the whole community when making these (district) plans. … The next step is that someone is going to come in here with a vending machine and say they have ‘mixed-use.’”


Board members continued a review of a community impact study at the planning board meeting, as well as a preliminary site plan and design review that began in January and was delayed while the city’s traffic engineering consultant reviewed the proposal. The applicants returned in February with an updated plan that included relocating some first floor fitness and residential space.


Randy Wertheimer, with Hunter Pasteur, said the development group has agreed to provide $20,000 to the city for a future pedestrian crossing on S. Adams, as well as $100,000 for the future development of Worth Park, which was made a condition of the site plan and community impact study.


Planning board members voted unanimously to accept the community impact study. Board members voted 4-1 to approve the preliminary site plan and design review, with Jeffares opposing. The board will review final site plans in the future, with final approval from the city commission required. Board members Scott Clein and Jason Emerine recused themselves due to potential conflicts of interest with the developers.


Board member Bryan Williams agreed with Jeffares about updating ordinances, and used the situation as a “lesson learned” for the city’s 2040 Plan.


“The lesson here is the lesson we must take into account with the 2040 Plan, which is about to kick off,” he said. “Plans are not code. Plans are not ordinances. We have said this time and time again in the process when people talk and spoke as if the plan was going to be rezoning. Wrong. This is a clear demonstration for the entire city of Birmingham – and the city commission – if listening, take this into account. The 2040 Plan won’t change anything without ordinances and code being revised.”


Janelle Boyce, who previously opposed the development at 770 S. Adams due to lack of robust retail space, voted in favor of the site plan.


“I think retail is viable on Adams because it’s there now from Woodward to Bowers,” Boyce said. “You’ll be bringing in 300 people to live in this building. You’re creating your own retail customer base. Don’t forget, you’re directly across from an established, dense residential neighborhood that has thousands of people and potential customers that can, would and should come to you with retail on Adams. I think it’s not possible because you don’t want to give up any internal parking spaces to satisfy the parking requirement that comes along with retail on Adams.”


Board member Daniel Share said it isn’t appropriate to blame the developer for the city’s failure to implement the appropriate ordinances to require more robust retail, as envisioned in the city’s long-term plans for the Triangle District. Still, he said the project meets housing needs for the city by providing quality rental units and spurring development in the area.


“Perfect can be the enemy of the good,” Share said. “It’s a really good project, but not a perfect project. It may be perfect for developing property in the area, and I would like to see (other) things get started there. It’s an important site, and hopefully the beginning of what we've wanted for years.”

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