Commission votes again not to rezone 404 Park

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published July 13, 2016

File photo by Donna Agusti

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BIRMINGHAM — Last fall, the Birmingham City Commission was split on whether to rezone the 14,000-square-foot parcel at 404 Park St. from single-family home use to multifamily residences.

On June 27, though, the vote was decidedly less undecided as the commission voted 5-2 to deny the rezoning request of 404 Park from R2, a single-family residential designation, to TZ1, which would allow for attached single-family or multifamily dwellings.

Mayor Rackeline Hoff and Commissioner Patricia Bordman voted against the denial, since during the evening’s discussion, commissioners suggested deferring back to the Planning Board to see how else the parcel and the surrounding Little San Francisco District can better be developed. They said that move was just delaying a final decision and leaving residents in limbo.

A six-vote supermajority would have been required to approve the rezoning, according to city ordinance, since a petition was submitted from nearby homeowners protesting the change.

And residents, it seemed, were the driving force behind the commission’s decision. Just like in September, when the rezoning of 404 Park was last on the agenda, homeowners in the area showed up to share their concerns with the commission about what they felt was a move toward invasive commercial encroachment into the neighborhood.

“I respectfully disagree with the Planning Board, (which has suggested) the developer has lived up to the guidelines you’ve thoughtfully laid out for them,” said Katherine Gaines, a resident on Ferndale Avenue. “They’ve never said (rezoning) won’t be detrimental to property owners. They’ve only said that it will enhance their usage of the property that they own.”

Paul Gillin, an owner of two properties on Euclid, said he’s only heard opposition from residents about the rezoning.

Gillin also expressed that the owner of the property, Burton-Katzman Development Co., bought the property knowing it was zoned for a single-family home, in hopes that it could be rezoned. The property has spent the majority of its 55-year history vacant, since no buyers wanted to build or live in a home so close to the downtown commercial area.

“I can put my house up for sale for $1 million or $2 million and let it sit there for six years,” he said. “I can’t let anyone be responsible for that but me. I cannot purchase with the hope and the promise that perhaps they’ll rezone it to the use that can maximize my value and, when that doesn’t happen, keep demanding that the rules change to accommodate my desires. That’s not correct.”

Commissioner Stuart Sherman agreed, and said that to rezone 404 Park specifically would be more for the property owner than the benefit of the neighborhood.

“When I first got on the commission, I remember there was someone who came forward and he wanted his driveway to come in from a different direction. And to make sure he could get that, he tore out his old driveway and put permanent obstructions where that driveway was so that we would give it to him,” Sherman shared with the crowd during the meeting. “And I remember (City Attorney Tim) Currier saying ‘It’s not your job to fix a self-created or previously known problem.’ And that’s what I see here.”

He suggested reviewing transitional zoning plans for the entire area of Oakland Avenue from Old Woodward to Woodward Avenue.

Planning Director Jana Ecker explained that the Planning Board had brought on LSL Planning to study the neighborhood that includes 404 Park, which led to the board’s recommendation to rezone the parcel as TZ1.

Commissioner Pierre Boutros also suggested further review, since he would like to eventually see something done with the vacant parcel.

But Hoff and Bordman said that sending the matter again back to the Planning Board instead of simply denying the rezoning and closing the matter would be a cop-out.

“No action is prolonging this,” Hoff said. “As commissioners, it’s our responsibility to make a decision.”

After the rezoning was denied, the commission did direct staff and the Planning Board to gather information on how to further go about studying the neighborhood to determine the best use of the property. 

The property owner could return to request a rezoning one year from now. Sherman added that after multiple denials, he expects Burton-Katzman to file suit.

Neither a representative from Burton-Katzman nor their attorney, Richard Rattner, could be reached for comment before press time.

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