In his July 23rd Facebook Live video, Patrick McClusky read and answered a question about the proposed downtown zoning plan, which was tabled by the Planning Commission on Feb 4, 2020 and dropped from the City Council agenda on Mar 9, 2020. He says that the ordinance should be re-introduced, and that the city should communicate more effectively with the public, but, he said, “the process was done right the first time. That’s why it is where it sits now.” So, one could logically assume he is still OK with the plan.
But his answer did not address major flaws in the zoning plan that the City Council, of which he is a member, created. The Council thought they were ready for a final vote until they met with fierce resistance from downtown merchants, property owners, and citizens at a Public Hearing on December 9, 2019.
As you read this, remember that the entire City Council participated in this plan, and none of them ever publicly spoke out against any of it. Meanwhile, the Mayor, who was conspicuously absent during the December deliberations, never expressed any displeasure with it, either.
Here are just a few of the unanswered questions:
• Why did the Council want to pass an ordinance that would have put the 18th Street Shopping District in peril of being replaced by 4-story mixed use buildings all along the street? Yielding to intense, last minute public pressure, they changed the height of a few blocks on 18th Street and 29th Avenue to 2 stories instead of 4 and disallowed residential use.
• Why is the 18th Street Shopping District not protected with its own unique zone? Code simplification is a weak reason for exposing such a valuable community asset.
• Why did the Council not actively support the establishment of a design review board (prior to this massive rezoning effort) for the 18th Street Shopping District, to protect the character of the district?
• Why does the plan, “where it sits now”, allow for the entire area between 18th Street South and Red Mountain Expressway, and from Rosedale Drive to Oxmoor Road to be built out with 4 and 5 story buildings? They say any limit below 4 could result in lawsuits— they have not substantiated that position.
• Did the Council members not realize that well over 20 acres of 4 and 5 story buildings would totally destroy the feel of the valley in which downtown sits?
• The original zoning plan did not require developers to meet a proper number of parking spaces for their new construction. Downtown merchants and property owners overwhelmingly objected and asked for a minimum of 5 spaces per 1,000 square feet of building area. Why did the Council agree to only 2-3 spaces per 1,000 feet, depending on use?
• Did the Council and their consultants not care what the citizens asked for in a 2018 Visual Preference Survey? The citizens were asked to rate their preferences for building heights in downtown, on a 1-5 scale, with 5 being most preferential. They gave 2 stories a 4.5 rating, 3-4 stories a 2.6, and 5+ stories a 0.8? So, why did the city’s master plan and zoning plan fill nearly the entire downtown with 4-5 story buildings?
Many of us want to see our downtown area grow and prosper. To do otherwise would eventually result in decline. We see plenty of potential for downtown revitalization. But we want it to be done carefully and with a true adherence to “protect and preserve.”
There are ways to allow downtown to grow, allowing buildings of various heights, with a design that doesn’t further destroy the view from our valley. Filling most of downtown with 4 and 5 story buildings separated by canyons the width of streets is not the solution. But that was the solution the City Council would have passed last December, had a determined group of citizens not stopped them. These same Council members want you to elect them again!
What this City Council (who parroted their mantra “protect and preserve” over and over) did was not careful, and it did not produce a plan that would protect and preserve. Perhaps most importantly, it did not provide what the Council’s own survey showed that the citizens wanted.
Before you vote, ask them why they did it. Remember that if the incumbents stay in office, they could try to push this plan through, again.
Oliver Goldsmith’s poetic words, “Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain,” have long described another Alabama town known for its quaintness and charm. With the recent Homewood Sidewalk Sale in mind, we could as easily say, “Sweet, Homewood, Loveliest Village of the Valley,” for our city nestled in Shades Valley below Red Mountain, is imbued with its unique quaintness and charm. Crowds flocked to that downtown event – not only from Homewood – but with an amazing number from nearby communities, such as Leeds and Tuscaloosa as well as from other states, (Chattanooga, TN and Houma, LA). In their words, they come for our adorable shops and nostalgic town. With all the travel destinations from which to choose, it is remarkable they choose our city.
Yet, the current Mayor and City Council Members to whom we have entrusted our city would destroy this loveliness. They tried to cram down a big city, “high density” urban re-zoning plan that is totally wrong for Homewood. This plan would have destroyed 18th Street. It would have permitted 4 and 5 story buildings from Central Avenue to Red Mountain Expressway and from Oxmoor Road to Rosedale Drive. And these leaders paid hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars for this “plan” to an urban planning firm located out of state, aided by the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham, that has a regional focus and not a “Homewood Focus.”
The City Council – perhaps with a strategy to push the plan through while citizens were distracted with the holiday season late last fall – rushed the plan for a December meeting vote. But when several hundred residents marched into Council meetings, vigorously protesting the new re-zoning plan, it was finally paused for “further consideration.”
That further consideration was not a citizen-wide reconsideration, but was meetings with “selected groups” that had specific concerns. These meetings were not publicly announced. As a result of those private meetings, “nine amendments” were proposed by the out-of-state planner at the next Planning Commission meeting.
These amendments appeared to be a hasty effort to build support for the plan in the face of the widespread opposition. The amendments did not address the basic, fundamental flaws in the re-zoning proposal. The inference is they were like backroom deals to curry favor for the plan. When these amendments were presented to the Planning Commission as part of the request for approval for submission of the re-zoning plan to the Council, some of the members of the Planning Commission acted with integrity. Expressing deep reservations about the re-zoning plan as a whole, the Planning Commission tabled the plan with a 5-4 vote, effectively preventing its reconsideration by the Council.
This saving grace occurred – not through the thoughtful governance of the Mayor and City Council – but through the vigilance of hundreds of citizens working to defeat the zoning plan to protect Homewood and by the brave members on the Planning Commission who listened to those citizens and acted independently of the “Homewood political machine.” We should all commend Jeff Foster (currently running for Council in Ward 5), John Krontiras, James Riddle, Brady Wilson (currently running for Council in Ward 3), and Mark Woods for taking that heroic stand! It should be noted that Britt Thames (currently running for re-election for Council in Ward 1), voted NO on tabling the plan.
Would Homewood remain a “lovely village,” with 4 and 5 story mixed residential and retail buildings peppered from Crescent Avenue to the Red Mountain Expressway? We need only look at the Regions building and the new hotel to glean what downtown would look like. Moreover, it was a plan the majority of Homewood citizens said they did not want! How, then, could an unwanted plan come so close to passing? What does it say about Homewood leadership that it did?
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PAID FOR BY THE COMMITTEE TO ELECT Chris Lane FOR MAYOR.
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HOMEWOOD, AL 35209
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