Input continues in Birmingham master plan development

Plan’s ‘granny flats’ accessory dwellings aim to solve future housing needs

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published October 20, 2020

 Accessory dwelling units like this “Granny Flat” are already allowed in Birmingham and could be promoted in the future as a way to solve the city’s potential housing issues.

Accessory dwelling units like this “Granny Flat” are already allowed in Birmingham and could be promoted in the future as a way to solve the city’s potential housing issues.

Photo taken from the Birmingham Citywide Master Plan 2040

 A recommendation to encourage accessory dwelling units is included in the Birmingham Citywide Master Plan 2040 draft, currently available for resident review online.

A recommendation to encourage accessory dwelling units is included in the Birmingham Citywide Master Plan 2040 draft, currently available for resident review online.

Photo taken from the Birmingham Citywide Master Plan 2040

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BIRMINGHAM — The Birmingham master plan that will guide citywide planning through the next 20 years continues to take shape, but it’s not done quite yet.

With drafts prepared and ideas pitched for projects around the city, administrators are asking residents to review those plans and share their input.

According to Birmingham Planning Director Jana Ecker, residents can review and comment on proposed master plan ideas online at the project’s designated website, thebirminghamplan.com. Recommendations are summarized and organized into “neighborhood packets,” so residents can hone in on the plans that concern their neighborhood.

“Birmingham has a rich history of preparing and implementing community-wide plans. Public feedback is a key component to the development of the Citywide Master Plan,” Ecker said in a prepared statement. “We’ve had great participation to date, but we encourage more people to join us and share their unique thoughts and ideas.”

Residents are invited to submit comments regarding the neighborhood packets by Oct. 23, so the Planning Department can synthesize that information to be presented to the Planning Board during public meetings in December and January.

This isn’t the first time the city has collected feedback on the master plan for 2040, according to Communications Director Marianne Gamboa.

“Throughout the entire process, extensive ongoing public engagement has included community surveys, round-table discussions, a drop-in clinic, expert speakers and charrettes,” Gamboa said in an email. “Recently, in a COVID-19 environment, the community has been encouraged to participate in virtual meetings and submit feedback on the project webpage.”

She said that plan drafts and a calendar of public engagement opportunities have been publicized “extensively,” in the city’s print newsletter, e-newsletter, e-blasts, press releases, public notice signs displayed throughout the city, informational videos and social media.

Resident William Watkinson would argue that point, however. In an email to the Eagle, Watkinson said he was distressed that the master plan was being pushed through without enough community involvement.

One of his concerns about the plan stems from a section on accessory dwelling units, which he said could allow for apartments to be built onto existing homes or above garages, potentially doubling the density of the city, essentially allowing lots to have two dwellings instead of one, without a requirement for additional property.

“I believe this is a bad idea. Birmingham is currently very crowded. The houses are only a few feet apart, and parking on many streets is very difficult. Increasing the housing density will contribute to these problems,” Watkinson said in his email.

Increasing density would put strain on fire, police and school resources, in his opinion, and he argued that many homeowners likely did not purchase their property in anticipation of an apartment building being built next door one day in place of what was once a single-family home.

“These changes are listed on a few pages buried in the middle of a 236-page report. The board has not done much, if anything, to draw attention to these proposed zoning rules,” he added.

The plan states adding provisions for accessory dwelling units is a “low-impact” solution to the city’s anticipated need for additional housing for lower-income individuals or older adults, units sometimes dubbed “granny flats” or “mother-in-law suites.”

The plan recommends a prohibition on two-rental structures on any zoned single-family property.

“Each time residents brought up new housing formats, we asked them where they should go. Allocating housing at an increased intensity will always anger the immediate neighbors, yet the community overall needs this type of housing to maintain diversity and future population. Neighborhood seams,” where neighborhoods meet, “are a reasonable target for new housing types, which preserves the overall character of the neighborhood while allocating change towards its edges. Together, accessory dwelling units and neighborhood seams could easily absorb Birmingham’s growth for the coming decades while helping to control cost and strengthening neighborhood identity,” the plan states.

Gamboa said that, before the plans reach the Planning Board and ultimately the City Commission, residents will have plenty of other chances to share their opinion virtually and possibly in person.

“The city is working hard to ensure residents are not only aware of what is going on, but also know how to participate so they can be actively involved with the process,” she said. “We have repeatedly encouraged residents to view the draft plan and share their ideas, and we will continue to do so as we work toward a plan that will guide Birmingham’s future for the next 20 years.”

To review the entire master plan draft, individual neighborhood packets and other updates in the Citywide Master Plan 2040 process, visit thebirminghamplan.com.

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