A controversial apartment project in Birmingham's Little San Francisco neighborhood won't be moving forward after all — at least for now.
On Monday night, the Birmingham City Commission denied a request to rezone the empty lot at 404 Park St., located at the corner of Oakland and Woodward, from single family residential to general business.
However, city commissioners were clear: this isn't the last time we'll be discussing either this neighborhood, this lot or rezoning.
Plans for the empty lot at 404 Park St. called for the construction of an apartment complex led by the development firm Burton-Katzman. Original plans first introduced to the Planning Board in September 2012 featured 14 rental units.
On Monday night, the final plans called for the construction of six, two-story townhomes facing Oakland, with parking in the back.
However, from the very beginning, the project faced stiff opposition from the neighbors, with the residents of the Little San Francisco neighborhood banding together to petition a development many believe would change the makeup of their neighborhood.
Developer: if the property is rezoned, it would be for residential use only
At the heart of the issue is conditional rezoning. The request to rezone the lot from single family residential to general business came from the developers and the property owner, LPR Properties.
According to Burton-Katzman representative Chuck DiMaggio, if the developers were to try building a multi-family residential complex on the property as it's zoned right now, they would be limited by stringent setback rules — or, rules that dictate how far a building must be from a property's edge.
In reaction to neighbors' fears that the general business designation would attract commercial development, DiMaggio said they're willing to request the zoning change with one important condition: the property would only be used for residential use.
Previous attempts to rezone the property — in 1960 and in 1988 — were denied. The lot has been vacant since 1989 when a home there was razed. The property has been for sale since 2006, with the last asking price set at $379,000.
Commissioners want discussion of conditional rezoning first
Dozens of neighbors from the Little San Francisco neighborhood spoke out against the plan Monday night, as they have several times before when the issue came to the Planning Board in September, November and January.
Earlier this year, the Planning Department also received an official protest petition signed by the adjacent property owners, meaning if the city were to approve the rezoning, they would have to do so by a three-quarters vote.
However, commissioners were troubled by the plans from the very start, noting that the rezoning request was a little like putting the cart before the horse: how can we talk about this property without talking about conditional rezoning first?
Planning Director Jana Ecker said the Planning Board would be discussing conditional rezoning — and whether Birmingham should do it at all — in the upcoming months, a discussion that will eventually make its way back to the City Commission.
Commissioners agreed that while there may not be anything wrong with the proposed development, they should first have the discussion on conditional rezoning as well as what kind of developments are appropriate for the Little San Francisco neighborhood.
"I think we're jumping ahead with a development that happened to come forward before we're able to develop what our standards are in this particular area," Commissioner Stuart Sherman said. "It's legal under state law, but that doesn't mean it's right for Birmingham."
After a two-hour long discussion, commissioners voted to deny the request without prejudice — meaning the developer may return with the same project at any time in the future.