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Sunday, January 11, 2015

New Building's Plan Sparks Downtown Debate

Fairhope, Alabama

TOO MUCH RESIDENTIAL?
New building on right side

The Planning Commission's recent site plan approval (at its Dec. meeting) of a new building proposed for 152 N. Section has  raised questions about the ratio of commercial vs. residential property that should be allowed in the central business district (CBD).

Joan and Robert Moore of Two Moore Llc. are  proposing a 7,528 sq. ft mixed-use building on the vacant lot south of the old Bicycle Shop building next door, which they also own and still plan to restore/renovate (That site plan was approved last August, with the bottom floor as retail space -- click.)

Old Bicycle Shop
Originally they had planned to reside in the upper floor of the existing Bike Shop building (with new construction in the back); but had a "change of heart" and now want to construct an entirely new residence next door, with a small amount of commercial space upstairs to satisfy zoning
requirements.

A range of figures were mentioned, but their architect said approximately 5,000 sq. ft. will be residential with only 700 as commercial "office space" above a garage located between the two larger main buildings.

Planning Chairman Turner said that since the plan met all current city specifications -- the commission could only consider the applicant's request to allow a sidewalk all the way out to the curb (without the usual "greenspace") to comply with the 8' sidewalk width required downtown.

Robert and Joan Moore
The changes requested would allow for the front of the new building to align properly -- and be even with the adjacent existing building.

After the applicant agreed to use brick pavers and preserve the oak tree along the street, the commission approved the site plan; the city council must give final approval.

(The 3 existing older oak trees on the property are to be preserved or replaced at the discretion of the city horticulturist.)


NEW STUDY COMMITTEE TO BE FORMED

Commissioner Burrell said he had heard from citizens worried about excessive residential space in the CBD; and that under current laws a "mansion" like this one could be approved even on Fairhope Ave. crowding out potential commercial space.

(He cited the current Fairhope Hardware store site as a potential spot for another mansion.)

Burrell thought downtown's future may be in jeopardy: "Allowing too many residences ... is eating up prime commercial property ... downtown."

Citing the review of the city's comprehensive plan now underway, Chairman Turner agreed there may be a problem and thought changes may be in order to require ground floor "storefronts" to be retail/commercial.

Planning Director Smith said presently residential use is only encouraged (about 30%),  but not required for new construction in the CBD.

Article V, Section B(4)(d)(3) of the Zoning Ordinance: Residential and office is encouraged on the upper floors; lower floors are encouraged to be retail or business.

Mayor Kant thought that encouraging people to live downtown is important, helps preserve neighborhood-oriented stores like Greers and Fairhope pharmacy; and cautioned against rushing to change a sound planning policy "40 years in the making."

'Objects' building
Kant said some adjustments to the CBD may be needed though:
The current B-2 zoning along N. Church St.l even allows "gas stations" there -- and Fairhope Ave. in the vicinity of the post office ought to be included in central district as well.

Other commissioners cited the Church Mouse and new Objects building as indicators current policy is working well (retail on ground floor).

After a lengthy discussion (at its January meeting),  the commission decided to allow Turner to appoint a new subcommittee to study zoning issues in the Central Business District -- possibly with Commissioner Burrell as its chairman.


HISTORY OF CONFLICT DOWNTOWN

In recent history, a conflict has often arisen between downtown residents and some nearby restaurants/pubs over loud music ("noise") and boisterous customers on streets late into the night -- causing calls for city council to strengthen the noise ordinance from some, and to weaken it from others.

In 2009 the debate became so intense that city council had to suspend noise and alcohol restrictions for a time -- click.

Downtown events such as New Years Eve fireworks have been a concern at times for those living in/near downtown as well.




6 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is plenty of land on N. Greeno Road that could be used for business instead of residential. I'd be more concerned about that area and forcing people to live on a busy 4 lane highway.

Dick said...

The city needs to be buying / building retail....What the city wants to do has never really worked in small townns

Anonymous said...

I think the all of new commercial business along Greeno road and Highwy 181 is harming the olde downtown more than anything else. Too much competition.

Anonymous said...

Just let them put the new Home Depot downtown insted of next to the huge Wal Mart. Problem soved! ;)

appleblossom822 said...

1) why is this new place going to be able to exclude green space? I'd like to know more about that. If we are truly an example of "Tree City USA" then we should make sure not to pull down all the trees. 2) Maybe it's not feasible, but I really think it's difficult to have a historic downtown when most of the historic buildings are torn down and replaced with fancy new townhomes.

appleblossom822 said...

1) why is this new place going to be able to exclude green space? I'd like to know more about that. If we are truly an example of "Tree City USA" then we should make sure not to pull down all the trees. 2) Maybe it's not feasible, but I really think it's difficult to have a historic downtown when most of the historic buildings are torn down and replaced with fancy new townhomes.