Now or Never: Chick-Fil-A and Walgreen’s Updates

It is time to make yourself heard. Public hearings are set for two controversial issues:

The City Council’s Economic Development Committee will discuss the proposal to sell the historic Fire Station No. 22 to Walgreen’s Drugstore on June 7 at 4 PM in the Council conference suite at City Hall. In related news, local developer and Highland Park resident David Carrigan has put together a counter-proposal that fully preserves and restores the Fire Station into a neighborhood gastropub. You can see the website here.  (Full disclosure — the rendering below is by the writer of this blog)

Another path

Second, the Birmingham News reports today that a special panel–set up to hear Chick-Fil-A’s appeal after the unanimous decision of the Design Review Committee to deny their building a stand-alone restaurant and drive-through at the corner of 20th Street and Highland Avenue South in the heart of Five Points South–will hold public hearings June 16, 18, and 21. They will then rule on the matter within 7 days of the last hearing.

This is one particular situation where Form Based Code would be potentially very useful. While Chick-Fil-A argues that this is purely a zoning matter (and indeed drive-throughs and stand-alone restaurants are allowed by zoning on this property), the neighborhood and other advocates (including myself) argue that the Commercial Revitalization and Historic District organizing papers clearly state that new development should be in keeping with the character of the neighborhood. These papers are city ordinance, just like zoning. Instead of one lawyer arguing that an ordinance takes precedence over another, Form Based Code would settle the matter up front, telling any prospective developer that along certain streets, or within certain blocks, there can be no drive-through. Or no building less than a certain height. Or all parking must be hidden at the rear of the lot.

The process of putting together a Form Based Code is typically driven by neighborhood consensus. Highland Park is the first City neighborhood to adopt such a code–just a few weeks ago. In order to protect the urban assets we have, and enhance them with thoughtful, coordinated development, Five Points South and other neighborhoods should consider following Highland Park’s lead.

If you care about the urban environment in Birmingham, please plan to attend any or all of these important meetings.

Stay tuned for reports on the upcoming public hearings in both cases.

11 responses to “Now or Never: Chick-Fil-A and Walgreen’s Updates

  1. (I am assuming that this is not proprietary information): When I worked at KPS Group, we started work on coming up with a form based code for the City. I left before it was complete, so I am not really sure what happened to it, but I believe that the City decided not to pursue it any further.

    • Trip–I do believe you’re correct–the City decided not to pursue this (unlike Montgomery for their downtown, which adopted a Form Based, or Smart Code, in 2007). Instead, Highland Park came up with its own funding, created its own Master Plan, and the City modified it into a Form Based Code for that neighborhood only. My sense is that we need to educate citizens and politicians alike abut the benefits of such Codes before they can gain wider acceptance.

  2. Alison Glascock

    City councilors will take notice of numbers, so it is important for those who feel strongly about this issue to show up for hearings and make your voice heard. If you cannot attend, please send emails or write to the city council and the mayor, even though he has no direct say in most of these issues. On the issue of the city’s form-based code, it hasn’t been permanently set aside, and I believe it is still the plan to try and put it into place at least around the new developments around the Railroad Park. They set aside the plans temporarily in order to develop the new regulations governing Highland Park’s form-based overlay.

  3. What is the purpose of having 4 meetings (June 7 plus the 3 later ones) to decide one issue? I’ll be there, but I’d like to understand what each one is for.

    I went down to Fire Station 22 this afternoon. The city’s lack of attention to maintaining this National Register property is unfortunate, but does not render it unsuitable for rehabilitation. One weight bearing (& outside) wall is completely preserved by virtue of being enclosed by the more recent addition to accommodate the firetrucks. A bit of the back right adjoins the office next door, protecting it. Those exterior walls not protected by other structures are compromised in one tiny section adjacent to a front window, & anyone who has lived in an old house for long has learned to repair that sort of defect or move to the suburbs in favor of a new, maintenance free home. There are cracks in the exterior stucco; it looks similar to my first BHM historic home’s interior plaster in the early 1970s. Those who did not learn to repair the recurring cracks, which happen when a building settles over nearly 100 yrs., paid someone else to repair them. It did not affect the integrity of the structure, merely the cosmetic appearance of the cracked area. Stucco or paint do NOT hold a building up.Take a sledge hammer to the wallboard or plaster inside & you will see the structure of the building. In some old buildings, you can look inside a closet or see what’s behind the wall by walking down to the basement.

    I have lived in this area off & on since 1973, & continuously since 2003. I have been through many a structure around the state which was not on ANY register, weeds growing shoulder high around the property & sky sometimes visible through the roof. We had city firemen using this building daily about 18 months ago. If it is so unfit for rehabilitation now, I don’t want to think about the risk we took to have humans in it 24/7.

    Finally, when I left my personal tour of the property this afternoon, I tried to pull into the street to turn left & go up Clairmont & home. It was impossible. I had to go back toward St. Vincent’s, turn R on 7th Ave, discover that 30th dead ends into 7th, go R to 32nd to wind up back at the intersection in question to turn L towards home. (I was also slightly delayed by coming off 280 at St. Vincent’s. At 2:15 PM, there were 31 cars I could see to count & a further line running back down 280– all this at the intersection where people will have to get off to come into our neighborhood & shop at Walgreens.

    • Mary–first, when owners (or developers) cry “unsalvageable” or “structurally unsound”, 90% of the time it just means “we don’t want to fool with preserving the building”. Just like you’ve dealt with old houses where fixing stucco cracks, repairing rotted sills, etc. is just part of the renovation process–we’ve dealt with both old houses and commercial buildings with similar issues, and environmental problems requiring abatement as well. Guess what–they’ve all been lovingly restored and have new life breathed into them today. Now, the other 10% may have legitimate structural concerns, or other unusual items making restoration prohibitive. We don’t know for a fact about Fire Station 22, but my hunch is–it’s structure is just fine.

      Second, in terms of traffic–another bad corner for a drive-through. A new use that can make use of off-site parking (street and lease lots) makes much more sense to me.

  4. Ryan Puett, AIA

    With micro brew and micro pub laws changing via free the hops, my first thought for this building would be to convert it into a micro pub. Gastro pub sounds like a great idea, but this thing has the room for some micro brew activity as well.

  5. Just to put this out there, I’ve been corresponding with the National Trust about their existing agreement with Walgreen’s not to demolish buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

    The agreement states that Walgreen’s will not demolish building’s listed individually on the NRHP, but explicitly excludes buildings in listed Historic Districts. It’s my feeling that Station #22, which is part of a 9-building “Multiple Property Listing” would have more the status of an individual listing than of a contributing structure in a district. I’m trying to get more clarification and the actual text of the agreement to pass along to the developer, the city, the neighborhood association and other stakeholders.

    For what it’s worth, the people I’ve communicated with at the National Trust strongly urge public participation and seeking coverage from local, regional and national media. When this story is told, we really do want it to be a success story and not another “what a pity about Birmingham” story.

    • David Schneider of the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation has confirmed that the station is an individually-listed structure. That’s the good news. The ambiguous news is that folks at the National Trust aren’t confident that Walgreen’s is living up to its agreement, so we still need to apply the pressure.

      Having a much more sensitive and desirable alternative from a local business owner who is willing to offer more cash to the city than the existing proposal makes this, to me, a no-brainer. Let’s make sure the Council agrees.

  6. Does anyone have a copy of the form based code that was proposed for Highland Park? Although the Walgreens location is in Lakeview, not Highland Park, I would be interested in seeing how that code could affect the future development that will inevitably happen along Clairmont even if the Fire Station remains.

  7. Although Walgreen’s and Connolly Net Lease have now agreed not to demolish the station, they are still likely to demolish the other businesses (Bogue’s, Clairmont Auto Service, and Palmer & Lawrence) and to leave the station building vacant and in disrepair.

    In my opinion, the city should reopen their request for proposals and look for an opportunity to keep those businesses alive while also restoring the station as a vibrant NEW business. It shouldn’t be so hard for Walgreen’s to find another location in the vicinity.

    So if you’re able to make the Economic Development Committee meeting at city hall monday afternoon, there’s still some convincing to do. If not, consider calling the members of the committee (Lashunda Scales, Carole Smitherman and Kim Rafferty) to help them make the best decision for the city.

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