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Potential health club zoning studied for city

By Grace Lovins

Health clubs or studios may be coming to Birmingham’s downtown zone following the planning board’s review and study session of the use at their meeting on Wednesday, June 14.

City staff has recommended health clubs to be added to uses to the downtown B4 zone in hopes of having a multiplier effect on surrounding businesses.

Senior planner Brooks Cowan said city staff has received several phone calls about the potential for allowing smaller health studios in the city’s downtown B4 zoning district. Currently, the city’s ordinance does not allow uses like yoga, barre, pilates, spinning and personal training facilities.

Cowan said the city’s planning division recommends including the use in the B4 zone since it’s within the former parking assessment district and nearest to the city’s parking structures. Staff asked the board to consider allowing the use, limiting the size of the space and allowing retail along the frontage line if the business is on the first floor.

The board had mixed opinions on allowing retail if the business was on the first floor. According to Cowan, the retail component would only be allowed in the first 20 feet of the space in the frontage line. Daniel Share and Stuart Jeffares both felt having a retail aspect just to comply with requirements doesn’t seem like a great way to activate the area.

Both chairperson Scott Clein and Janelle Boyce thought it could be a great use of second floor space but were not as supportive of the use on the first floor.

Share offered that sometimes first floor studios can have black-out curtains or shades that prevent people from looking in during classes, which could conflict with the goal of adding activity to the zone. Boyce agreed with Share and added that a first floor use might not bring the activity the city is aiming for compared to typical retail use.

“I don’t think that this is going to cause people to go shopping and eating before and after because you’re not having lunch with the girls before you go to yoga and you’re not shopping after you just did a hot yoga class and you sweat through your clothes. I don’t know that that’s going to accomplish this activity that we’re hoping for that is achieved by regular old traditional retail,” Boyce said.

A suggestion was made by Bryan Williams to consider adding a special land use permit to the use if they want to allow retail on the frontage line. Williams said this could allow the board to add regulations about black-out curtains or shaded windows.

Board members suggested staff talk to the Birmingham Shopping District to get their opinions on allowing the use and how they envision it functioning with retail and restaurants. They also recommended staff contact brokers to see what’s happening in the market and how many interested parties are looking for a spot in the city.

Clein asked planning staff to bring more information about the typical size of smaller health club or studio uses in the area. He also urged that staff and the board create clear definitions for what they’re referring to when it comes to health club or studio, yoga studios, pilates, barre and others.

The board didn’t take any formal action but will be revisiting the idea at a later meeting.


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