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Planners like creative redo of post office building

By Lisa Brody

A contemporary five-story mixed use building addition to the old Birmingham post office at 320 Martin Street in Birmingham was met with enthusiasm by the Birmingham Planning Board at their meeting on Wednesday, May 25, as the owner, the Surnow Company, came before it requesting approval of a community impact study and preliminary site plan and design review, which they received.

Birmingham Planning Director Nicholas Dupuis explained the new five-story addition would be built on the back of the historic post office, which was first erected in 1929. It would replace the on street surface parking lot located on Maple and Bates streets. The addition would have first floor retail along its Maple frontage, two floors of office and two floors of residential.

“We believe they conformed to the 2016 Plan, as they will be replacing a surface parking lot, which the 2016 Plan says are a detriment to the city,” Dupuis said. “It is a contemporary style but it provides context with the historic post office and with the rest of downtown. It is a historic site but not on the national registry. It has murals inside of the post office site which are owned by the national postal agency which are on the Michigan Historic Registry.”

It would be a 52,000 square foot addition, consisting of 2,450 square feet of retail, about 19,000 square feet of office space and about 14,000 square feet of residential in six large units. When asked by board members why there were not more residential units proposed, Sam Surnow responded, “Right now our plan is to rent them. Based on our research, speaking to leasing agents and brokers, and based on the upscale nature of the building, the location on Shain Park, the 360 degree views, we felt it should be this size. However, between now and the final site plan, we could change and add units.”

The site requires nine parking spaces for the proposed residential units, however there are two floors of underground parking proposed, with 26 spaces in two automated levels, for a total of 52 spaces.

“It's basically one space, stacked, and vehicles can be moved around,” said architect Kevin Biddison. “The vehicles park themselves. It is fully automated. They are not dedicated spaces, and they're only for building occupants.”

The system to be used has been utilized in Los Angeles for about 10 years, as well as in the newly renovated residential Detroit Free Press building in downtown Detroit.

“We went and saw this parking technology and think once people use it they'll view it as a great amenity,” Surnow said.

Board member Stuart Jeffares asked Surnow if he has a plan for the offices floors if people do not go back to the office. Surnow said he imagines some could be converted to residential.

“But I don't believe that'll be the case. I believe in Birmingham,” he said.

“It's a beautiful building, a perfect union of old and new,” said board member Janelle Boyce.

Board members voted 6-0, with chair Scott Clein not in attendance, to accept the community impact study and approve the preliminary site plan and design review.


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