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Revamp proposed for historic depot building

By Grace Lovins

The historic Birmingham Grand Trunk Western Railroad Depot building located at 245 S. Eton is being proposed to house a revamped restaurant called Big Rock Italian Chophouse, and Birmingham’s planning board gave the new owner's a green light for a special land use permit and final site plan and design review at their meeting on Wednesday, July 12.

Formerly home to Big Rock Chophouse, the historic building will potentially house a renovated restaurant under Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, LLC (CMR). The company owns over 45 restaurants across the country. Ocean Prime in Troy is part of CMR’s line of restaurants as was Cameron’s Steakhouse in Birmingham before its closure in 2019.

Planning director Nick Dupuis stated that the plans were reviewed by the city’s historic district committee earlier this year and was given the green light for changes to the building itself. The final design shows that the awnings at the front of the building will be removed while the awnings in the back will be removed, restored and placed back on the windows.

Big Rock Italian Chophouse will be a two-story restaurant and private member club in the existing historic building with minimal change to the existing building. Plans show a total of 378 seats, 88 of which will be in the outdoor dining areas, according to Dupuis.

Dupuis also stated that the restaurant has a parking requirement of 340 spaces using the city’s one per 75 square feet measurement, but will need an additional 57 spaces given the building is over the floor to area (FAR) ratio. The chophouse meets the requirement and will provide a total of 403 parking spaces.

The city also asked the developers to work with staff for a five-foot easement of the property due to the current District Lofts construction project on Eton for a bike path. Mark Knauer of Knauer Incorporated said they don’t have any issues with the easement.

Two outdoor dining areas are also planned for the building on the north and south ends. Each area was designed with polycarbonate roofing and retractable seasonal screens. Most board members agreed that they wouldn’t approve a design with the screen or roof, stating it creates an enclosure they worked to eliminate with the new ordinance.

“I am extremely thrilled about this project moving forward. I live in this neighborhood. This is a wonderful reuse of an existing treasure and I’m thrilled that it’s being pursued by a firm that has national chops and knows what they’re doing,” chairperson Scott Clein said.

“I just want to say for the record that even if you’re coming back with a variance, there is no way that I’m going to support this polycarbonate roof – you’re not getting a roof from me –and you’re not getting a screen because outdoor dining is outdoor dining,” he continued.

Clein offered the option that the applicants could either move to keep the roofs and screens in the design but risk denial, work with city staff to come up with a better alternative or continue with the process without the roofs and screens and come back later to amend the site plan. Knauer said they would like to move quickly and will likely return later to amend the plan.

Board members voted 7-0 to recommend approval of the special land use permit and final site plan and design review to the city commission on the condition that the proposed screening and roofing over the outdoor dining areas be removed. Alternate board members Jason Emerine and Nasseem Ramin voted in place of Daniel Share and Stuart Jeffares.


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