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West Maple building to get four-story makeover

By Grace Lovins

Downtown Birmingham will likely see a new four-story makeover on one of the city’s historic buildings after the city’s planning board voted to approve the preliminary site plan and design of a proposed four-story extension on the building located at 139 West Maple Road at their meeting on Wednesday, June 26.

City planner Brooks Cowan presented the item to the board explaining that the applicant is looking to expand the rear side of the building’s first two floors and add an additional third and fourth floor with a rooftop use. Currently, the existing building is a two-story commercial property.

The property is located in downtown Birmingham on the south side of West Maple, between Pierce Street and Henrietta Street where The Birmingham Tailor and Bear Hug Foundation are currently located.

Cowan said, according to the plans, the first floor will include three garages and covered parking and the second floor will have additional office space extended to the back of the property of the building. The third and fourth floors will be a residential unit. A rooftop terrace is also included in the plans exclusively for the use of the residential unit.

According to Cowan, the zoning ordinance says that a building in the D4 – Downtown Overlay Zone –may have two floors of office use only if the planning board allows a fifth story. The plans show that no fifth story is proposed so the applicant must adjust the second or third floor use to make sure the ordinance requirements are met.

He said the application was also reviewed by the Historic District Commission and recommended for approval with certain conditions.

Some planning board members, while thinking the design was nice, had a hard time grappling with the applicant’s proposal of the rooftop being considered a fifth floor. Board member Bryan Williams stated that they would need the building official to comment that the proposed rooftop is considered a fifth story or what changes would need to be made for that consideration.

Chris Longe, the architect for the project, said that they would be willing to enclose the rooftop space if it’s necessary to be considered a fifth floor, but the purpose of the rooftop terrace was to offer an open space specifically for the resident in the unit to access.

“I think it’s a beautiful design and a very clever way to get some outdoor space in an urban setting. I’m completely on board with that,” said chair Scott Clein.

“My concern is that if we assume or we justify this particular design as five stories that we’re now going to get a lot of four-story buildings with two floors of office and only one floor of residential when that’s not the intention of the ordinance – in fact, not even the letter of the ordinance,” he continued.

Clein also said he would argue that the drawings show that there are four stories with a rooftop being utilized for outdoor space since the only thing up there is an elevator shaft and a barbeque. Longe and the owner of the building were amenable to the fact that the planning board wants there to be some sort of structural element added to the rooftop for it to be classified as a story.

Ultimately, the board voted unanimously, 7-0, to approve the preliminary site plan subject to certain conditions. They will have to return to the planning board for final site plan and design approval at a later date.

Board member Daniel Share recused himself from discussions as he represents the adjacent property owners. Jason Emerine voted in his place. Board member Robin Boyle was absent from the meeting, and alternate Nasseem Ramin voted in his place.


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