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Parking ordinance variance for site reconsidered

By Grace Lovins

Birmingham planners revisited a parking ordinance amendment request, filed by the property owner of 479 S. Old Woodward, at their meeting on Wednesday, September 28, that would allow D4 zoned properties outside of the former parking assessment district to apply for a parking variance from the city commission.

The amendment proposal came at the request of Doraid Markus, whose property at 479 S. Old Woodward is the only D4 zoned property not included in the former parking assessment district. Markus’ proposal would enable properties zoned as D4 in the downtown overlay zone to request a waiver of the zoning ordinance from the city commission. Markus has had plans in motion for over two years for a new development on the property, but has consistently run into issues with the parking requirements.

Planners previously met on Wednesday, July 27, to review the initial ordinance amendment proposal and Wednesday, August 24, to conduct a study session on the amendment. At both meetings, planners were weary of approving a change that would allow Markus’ property to reap the same benefits as properties who paid into the parking assessment district while it was open. Concerned over the legality of the change, the board hoped to hear an opinion on the proposal from the city attorney, Mary Kucharek.

Despite changes to the amendment from the board’s previous suggestions, senior planner Brooks Cowan noted that the planning division still recommends denial of the amendment. The language as-is appears to bypass the board of zoning appeals, there has been a lack of approval standards for the city commission, and the Article 4 parking requirements would not be typically subject to a special land use permit, which Markus is proposing.

Markus’ counsel, Stephen Estey of Dykema Gossett, told the board that the ordinance amendment is the only avenue for Markus to go at this point, considering the board denied the final site plan and design review of the proposed development earlier in the meeting due to the lack of over 70 parking spaces.

“This is the only avenue at this point now to achieve this development. As was pointed out, an appeal to the [board of zoning appeals] on the denial of a site plan isn’t the same thing as asking for a variance. If this development is going to be built, or any fashion of it, it will be done through this process,” Estey said.

Board member Bryan Williams stated that an exception to the ordinance may be the wrong way to go about solving the issue, and instead the parking needs of the city should be reviewed. “I am concerned about picking out one parcel for ‘special treatment.’ They’re the only D4 not in the parking assessment district – to me that makes no sense. So we’re going to create an exception which may in fact encourage other people to run for exceptions. I don’t think it’s the proper process to go through.”

Board member Stuart Jeffares disagreed, emphasizing the city is at fault for this particular issue. He noted that the last parking deck was built 42 years ago, and with all of the development that has been added in the city over the last 42 years, the city hasn’t added any parking, and it doesn’t make sense to have this property essentially jump through hoops to be able to build the development the city wants.

Jeffares moved to recommend the city commission adopt the new ordinance language with support from Daniel Share. The motion passed in a 4-2 vote, with Williams and chairperson Scott Clein voting against the recommendation.


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