The Community House proposes large expansion
By Grace Lovins
The Community House, located at 380 S. Bates in Birmingham, has submitted plans for a large expansion of its current 100-year-old facility, which was reviewed by the city’s planning board during a preapplication discussion on Wednesday, March 22, sparking worry from the board about the design’s possible infringement on neighboring townhomes.
Board members will see the application and designs again on Wednesday, April 26, but wanted feedback on the plans before preliminary review. The expansion and new facilities will support The Community House’s expanded mission, explained architect Victor Saroki, which was recently changed to encompass life, health and wellness.
Bill Seklar, presdient and CEO of The Community House, stated that the organization has conducted surveys asking what residents want The Community House to be. From those surveys, Seklar said the organization identified critical needs of the community they hope to address, such as helping senior citizens and making the organization more relevant to those aged 20-40 years old. The Community House is proposing to expand services and collaborations with other organizations in the area, and an expanded campus is needed to meet the mission, said Seklar.
Part of the proposal includes having a piece of their campus rezoned from R7, single family residential, to C, for community use, which according to Saroki, would be consistent with The Community House’s uses. The expansion includes a new wellness center on the second floor. where there would also be a teaching facility for a partnering healthcare institution to hold classes.
They will also be redoing the kitchen, said Saroki, and there will be a demonstration kitchen constructed. An outdoor garden will be found on its rooftop, also intended for educational purposes to teach individuals how to grow their own food. The rooftop area will also have a glass observatory. The fourth level will largely be a terrace with a conservatory, said Saroki.
Multiple board members were confused about the use of The Community House. Given the number of uses being proposed in the extension, they said they don’t really understand the mission of the organization.
Chairperson Scott Clein and board member Bryan Williams each stated they had concerns over the potential impact the expansion may have on its neighbors, considering the building will border townhomes without a buffer. Saroki and Rick Rassel, attorney with Williams, Williams, Rattner and Plunkett, P.C., stated they had not talked to the neighbors in the townhomes yet but do plan to do so.
“We live in a reality where we’re bound by ordinances and there are a lot of concerns here just from a process perspective in addition, to me, some from just a basic land planning perspective,” chairperson Scott Clein said.
“As you said, you’ve got a lot of uses you’re trying to fit into a very small space, a space which the entire block is currently two stories, all single family residential except for the library across the street which is two stories. … I worry that this is completely out of proportion with the block. I worry about its impact on the surrounding community, on the residents, particularly those townhomes,” he continued.
A member of the association for the townhouses, attending the meeting by Zoom, told members of the planning board that owners of the townhomes objected to the proposed height of the proposed expansion of The Community House and that the group would be retaining an attorney to oppose the project.