New District Lofts project moves forward
By Kevin Elliott
Plans for a four-story, mixed-use apartment building at the District Lofts campus in Birmingham’s Rail District were recommended for approval on Thursday, December 16, by the city’s planning board.
The 59,077-square-foot building proposed at 325 S. Eton will be the third and final phase of the District Lofts apartments at the campus, which spans from Villa Street to E. Maple, between S. Eton and the Grand Trunk Railroad. The overall campus consists of five buildings, including The Reserve, a private parking structure, two existing District Loft apartment buildings, and Big Rock Chophouse, 245 S. Eton.
Big Rock Chophouse, which permanently closed on December 18, is housed at the historic Grand Trunk rail depot building, which will remain unchanged, said architect Victor Saroki of Saroki Architecture.
“The building is a historic structure and it’s the crown jewel of the campus,” Saroki said. “It can’t go anywhere. It has to maintain its historic designation.”
The new proposed building will house commercial business on the first floor, with 50 apartments on the top three floors. All except three of the proposed apartments will be smaller one-bedroom units, with an estimated price point of $2,100 per month. Saroki said the apartments will have handsome, open floor plans, and all will include five-foot, metal balconies.
“It will be about $3 or $2.75 per square foot on the high end, so if you have a 700-square-foot apartment unit, it’s $2,100 per month,” Saroki said. “That’s probably realistic. We are seeing higher numbers in the downtown, but in the Rail District, I don’t think you can command that.”
Planning board member Robin Boyle commended the plans for smaller apartments in the city.
“We need this. This is what we are struggling to do in the master plan,” Boyle said.
Building plans include a separate side entry and space for deliveries and packages, which allows drivers to leave food deliveries and other packages but provides limited access to the rest of the building or apartments. The building also includes a fitness room and community room for gatherings and events.
The plans also include an outdoor park/gathering area between the building and parking structure, which will be partially screened by trees. A fountain at the campus will be relocated near the new building and act as a centerpiece for the park. Additional park amenities include a grill, a fire pit and benches.
“We wanted to create an amenity space for all three of the buildings to share,” Saroki said. “I think the park is going to be fantastic, with a grill and fire pit. It’s a community space that can be used by all the buildings’ residents.”
Board members unanimously recommended final approval of the plans to the Birmingham City Commission with seven conditions: that a formal easement agreement be reached with the city to accommodate trees and lights consistent in the area; to provide specifications of all lights, rails, benches and bike racks; to provide floor plans for apartment units; a revised photometric plan; providing screening on transformers on site; that first floor heights meet city requirements; and that the applicant comply with all city department requests.