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Plans for new building on Woodward postponed

By Grace Lovins


After the Birmingham City Commission approved an ordinance amendment allowing a D4 zoned property outside of the former parking assessment district (PAD) to request a parking waiver, the property owner leading the charge failed to convince the city’s planning board to approve plans for a new five-story mixed used building that would be short 58 parking spaces at the planning board meeting on Wednesday, January 25.


Owner of 479 S. Old Woodward, Doraid Markus, initially petitioned for an ordinance amendment last summer, with the planning board reviewing the amendment at three separate meetings between July and September. Although it was approved by the commission, the planning board, city staff and two commissioners were not in favor of the amendment.


Before petitioning for the ordinance amendment, Markus appeared before the planning board for final site plan and design review in September of 2020. Plans were approved, but the circumstances around the proposed development’s parking changed. Markus tried to get into the former PAD, which waived on-site parking requirements for the properties that chose to buy in, but he was not able to since the assessment district closed after the 20-year time limit set by the city.


Markus came back to the planning board two years later with an amended site plan that was 74 parking spaces short, and was denied approval. The board of zoning appeals (BZA) also denied his request for a waiver of the spaces. He then requested an ordinance amendment that would allow D4 zoned properties outside of the former PAD to request a waiver of parking requirements by the city commission through a special land use permit. The amendment was adopted in December of 2022.


At the meeting on Wednesday, January 25, Markus came back to the planning board requesting a final site plan and design review and special land use permit now that the ordinance is in effect. The plans presented were like those proposed in 2020, but the uses were changed. The first floor would include primarily retail, with a roughly 750 square foot space for a carry-out restaurant. Office space and a retail warehouse would be located on the second floor, with floors three through five all being residential units.


The zoning ordinance potentially allows decreased parking requirements for buildings having residential, office and restaurant uses, but in Markus’ case, he was still short 58 parking spaces. He could go back to the BZA to request a waiver, but is instead asking the commission to waive the requirements through a special land use permit provision.


Senior planner Brooks Cowan noted that – because Markus could go back to the BZA and because waiving the parking requirements for a private owner would place the parking burden on the public parking system – if the commission were to approve the plans with a 58-space deficit, planning staff recommends payment in lieu of parking, meaning Markus would need to pay a fee for each space the commission waived.


According to Markus’ counsel, Stephen Estey of Dykema Gossett, he was able to form a parking agreement with Birmingham Place apartments, which would ultimately reduce the parking space deficit from 58 to 18. The agreement was not part of the proposal and would need to be vetted by the city attorney before the board could incorporate that into their decision, planning board chairperson Scott Clein explained earlier in the meeting.


All planners concurred on the parking issue, saying none of them would be comfortable approving a plan with such a large parking deficit. Even if the plans were approved, Markus does not provide enough on-site parking to even satisfy the requirements for the first two floors, much less the residential requirement.


“I find it interesting that 39 spaces are being provided on site, and just the first floor alone, the requirements aren’t met,” said alternate board member Jason Emerine. “On the second floor, standing all by itself, the requirements aren’t met on site. Floors three through five are barely met.”


Planners voted unanimously, 7-0, to postpone a decision on the proposed development while Markus gets the parking agreement between Birmingham Place vetted by the city attorney. Emerine voted in place of Stuart Jeffares. The board is scheduled to continue deliberations on the development at the meeting scheduled for Wednesday, March 22.

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