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The Community House turned down for rezoning

By Lisa Brody

A request by The Community House of Birmingham to change its zoning classification in anticipation of an expansion and redevelopment of the 100-year old non-profit was unanimously denied by the Birmingham Planning Board at its meeting on Wednesday, October 25.

The Community House, 380 S. Bates Street, is located west of Shain Park, south of the Baldwin Public Library, and is bound by W. Merrill, S. Bates, Townsend, and S. Chester streets. It is currently zoned R-7, and The Community House was seeking a rezoning classification to extend the community (C) overlay zoning district across the entire “L” shaped parcel, which is wholly owned by The Community House. The “L” shaped portion is currently undeveloped, but the business would like to expand and redevelop the site as a three-story building and include squash courts, a fitness center and locker rooms, among other uses.

Planning director Nick Dupuis said a rezoning request comes with certain requirements, including why rezoning is necessary for enjoyment of the property. He said they cited the new 2040 Master Plan, which they said does away with the R-7 zoning classification, “and they want to be in business for another 100 years.” He said they also stated that everything around them is community-oriented, and their expansion would enhance the city rather than being a detriment.

Dupuis noted that surrounding The Community House to the northeast is primarily public property, and to the west and east is multifamily, while to the north and east is commercial development and public spaces. He did note that other than Baldwin Library renovations and an upcoming five-story addition to the old post office on Martin Street, the area has been stagnant for development in the last 20 years.

Victor Saroki, architect for the proposed project, noted that “many months ago we were before you for a pre-application site plan,” and they have revised based on input. It originally was a four-story building. They also met and worked with adjacent neighbors and stakeholders. “The Community House has a mission to serve the community which The Community still serves, but the needs of the community have changed.”

Attorney Rick Rattner said, “It provides for a renovation that is modern yet fits in with all of the existing buildings.”

Planning board chairman Scott Clein cautioned that board members are legally not allowed to look at the proposed site plan, which was in the packet, as they approve or disapprove of a rezoning.

In response to a question, Dupuis said the entire rest of the property is zoned R-7, which permits community center development.

“I'm not persuaded a rezoning is necessary to preserve the property owner's right,” said board member Daniel Share.

“What is missing for me, and I've been involved with designing community centers, there are pro formas,” said board member Bert Koseck. “These are the people we've served historically, what you do today, what does not work, these are the people we need to serve in the future. I haven't seen this. The debate is – you can do philanthropic things in the R-7 classification, and why does that not meet your needs?”

“With regards to this, I don't think the burden of proof has been shown and why the R-7 zoning does not work for them any longer,” Clein said. “The objectives of the 2016 Plan was to be a civic use. In my opinion the current zoning already meets the planning criteria… The Birmingham 2040 Plan does not talk about zoning at all.”

“It does not allow us to raise the type of revenue we need to continue,” responded Bill Seklar, CEO of The Community House.

Board members voted 7-0 to recommend to deny to the city commission rezoning the property. If requested by The Community House, it will go to the city commission for them to consider.


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