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Apartments in Little San Francisco Neighborhood Shot Down by City Commission

Meanwhile, city commissioners directed city staff and the Planning Board to discuss conditional rezoning and what it means for Birmingham.

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.

GW February 26, 2013 at 12:42 PM
The developer is full of horse manure. The four and five story buildings are all on the other side of a Oakland (a wide street) or Woodward (a very wide street). Every property in close proximity to the property in question is two stories tall. This is all about greed! Build a single family house on this property and nothing else.
Roger Gienapp February 26, 2013 at 01:19 PM
I was on the Planning Board in 1988 and voted for signle family attached residential.....townhouses....on this site. The gutless Commision at the time pandered to the irrational residents of the adjacent neighborhood and voted it down. It has sat empty for 25 years because our Commission is more interested in politics than in planning and it looks like little has changed since then.
ClassAct4 February 26, 2013 at 03:29 PM
Again, I suggest a "pocket park" and a safe Woodward crossing at this strategic site. We have used park bonds to acquire new open space, which in turn, raises property values. Look at this as a planning opportunity.
Trees February 26, 2013 at 03:59 PM
Why was the house razed in 1989? Who owns this property? Why do they let it sit vacant all these years? Has anybody ever proposed a single family house there?
AW February 26, 2013 at 05:59 PM
A park would be a wonderful addition to the neighborhood.
AW February 26, 2013 at 06:01 PM
The house was razed because it became "rundown" and the property owner decided to knock it down instead of referbishing it. It has been vacant because the property owner is trying to get the biggest return on his investment. And there have been offers made to place single family houses here. The property owner would not sell.
Paul Robertson February 27, 2013 at 04:04 AM
This project deserves to be just like the one directly across the street, It is also in a single family neighborhood but also on the corner of two very busy streets. It is no place for a single family house. If it was desirable someone would have built in a long time ago. They are entitled to conditional zoning on this piece.
Advocate March 01, 2013 at 12:31 AM
I have never heard the term Little Sanfrancisco neighborhood in Birmingham... Why is it called that?

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