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Move quicker on Triangle District ordinances

For a couple of decades now, the city of Birmingham has been frustrated in its attempts in making the area just east of Woodward, south of Maple and north of Adams, known as the Triangle District, into an active, vibrant part of the city. First enunciated and prioritized by the 2016 Master Plan, it initiated the area as a district which had the potential for businesses, residential and parks – a region within the city that would not duplicate the downtown business district but which could feed off it and extend the area with different uses.

Then the Great Recession hit, and literally nothing happened. The purchase and demolition of an old and vacant hotel at the southeast corner of Woodward and Maple, which was rezoned for a mixed use building of up to nine stories remains vacant. High-end auto dealers slowly purchased more and more parcels, extending their presence.

With downtown Birmingham property increasingly less available and expensive, developers have turned to properties in the Triangle District, finally meeting the goals and aspirations of planners and board members in Birmingham. Yet, as planning board members have faced final site plans and design reviews, they have found themselves stymied with a lack of zoning ordinances that would require first floor retail in the district, more stringent parking requirements, LEED certification to gain extra floors and other items that they feel would create better and more sustainable mixed-use buildings for the Triangle District, similar to the downtown area. Some buildings, including the apartment building under construction on Adams, was approved without some of these recommendations because they just do not exist in the current ordinances and the building met the requirements, even though planning board members were not satisfied with the plans.

Since they approved the building, they have been meeting regularly to review the mixed-use requirements in Birmingham’s Triangle District, and have discussed it with the city commission at a recent joint meeting of the boards. Discussions continue – but action is paralyzed while development continues. By only concentrating on short-term decisions – the lowest hanging fruits – city staff and the planning board and commission are avoiding making concrete decisions which will guide the city and developers for years to come.

Planning board chairperson Scott Clein said at the recent joint planning/city commission workshop regarding reviews for public projects, “There are no standards in place for what the development must conform with from a zoning perspective.”

That is unacceptable. Whether for public projects or private ones, the navel gazing must stop and decisions on zoning ordinances for the Triangle District – and other areas – must be finalized without further delay.


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