RH construction paused for site plan change
By Grace Lovins
The construction of a new, four-story Restoration Hardware (RH) store in downtown Birmingham was put on hold after the site plan was altered, sending developers back to the city's planning board on Wednesday, December 14, for approval of the new design.
Originally, the special land use permit and final site plan and design review were approved by the city commission on August 9, 2021. While construction began on the project at 300 S. Old Woodward Avenue, changes to the approved plan brought RH back to the planning board for approval of a new site plan and design review and special land use permit.
Victor Saroki of Saroki Architecture explained various changes to the design of the building, noting that the plan is essentially the same with a few modifications. One of the key differences with the new building is its orientation on the site. The new building is rotated 180 degrees, according to Saroki, shifting the orientation of the stairs and elevator from the front to the back of the building, and the terraces and restaurant on the fourth floor will now face S. Old Woodward to the east. Saroki additionally went over two issues the new design is facing, which have ultimately caused them to request a variance from the board of zoning appeals (BZA).
In addition, Saroki presented a redesign of the exterior which he said will be the first of RH anywhere with this new look. The former building was approved with a palate that consisted of a classic grey architectural brick, modeled stucco, dark window frames and clear glass. The new proposal for the building will be comprised of a tan architectural brick from Denmark and clear glazing, creating a modern look. In addition, Saroki's design included elements such as steel canopies and a metal pergola system on the fourth floor, where the rooftop restaurant is to be located.
The interior floor plans are to remain the same.
According to Nick Dupuis, planning director, the glazing on the first floor of the building of the new design does not meet the required 70 percent clear glazing on a store’s façades as per the city's zoning ordinance. The new plan demonstrates 60 percent clear glazing, which Saroki says is all the design will allow them to do since the glass stretches to almost 14 feet on all four facades.
Dupuis also noted that RH is requesting a variance waiver from the BZA over lighting for the store’s signage. RH’s proposed design shows four signs, an “RH” on each side of the building above the third floor windows, that are “halo-lit” to reflect off of the brick. Currently, the zoning ordinance does allow for businesses to have more than one sign although it is atypical for the board to approve more than one. The key problem leading to the variance request is the lighting – the zoning ordinance makes it clear that building identification signs are not to be illuminated.
Saroki further explained to the board that the illumination is subtle and very minimal, matching RH’s modern aesthetic. RH treats all building sides equally, said Saroki, so the four signs are important to the design they’re going for. He said he hopes for the illumination on all four sides, but notes that at least three of the sides would be important since those sides each face a different street.
Most planning board members took the opportunity to explain their thoughts on the revised site plan, offering their support of the unique design. Chairperson Scott Clein, board members Bryan Williams and Stuart Jeffares all stated they did not take issue with either the glazing or signage, but Williams did suggest the lit sign facing the west be turned off once the business is closed.
Planners voted 7-0 to recommend the Birmingham city commission approve the new final site plan and special land use permit.