Tag Archives: Alison Glascock

Playing Chicken

Come unto me, all ye miscreants

Today was the first of 3 public hearings of the special Appeals Board hearing Chick-Fil-A‘s appeal of the Design Review Committee‘s unanimous decision to deny the construction of a stand-alone restaurant and drive-through at the corner of Highland Avenue and 20th Street South in the heart of Five Points South. 3 1/2 hours later, here’s the (longish) report:

1. Attorney Charlie Beavers, representing Chick-Fil-A, reduces the case to a fundamental question: did the DRC have the right to deny this project based on its proposed use? Answer: no, it did not. The use is allowed by current zoning and the DRC overstepped its bounds. He then proceeds to argue that, beyond this simple fact, Chick-Fil-A bent over backwards to modify its design numerous times, resulting in a very urban and appropriate design. At least according to Mr. Beavers.

2. Erwin Reed, Vice-President of Chick-Fil-A in charge of real estate, then states his corporation “doesn’t like to come to neighborhoods where we are not wanted.” He assures the chamber (about 50 people in all) that once it was built, the neighbors would love the place.

3. The opposition now has a chance to state its views. Attorney Alton Parker stands to contend the plan as drawn is suburban both in style and traffic accommodation, and therefore is not in keeping with the character of the neighborhood. “Why does Chick-Fil-A insist on doing something so opposed by the neighborhood?  Why insist on the drive-through?” [Note: both the Commercial Revitalization District and National Register designation papers, which were adopted as city ordinance, call for development in the neighborhood to be complementary and consistent with the historic, pedestrian character of the place; it is on these ordinances which the DRC based their ruling.]

Mike Calvert, president of Operation New Birmingham, states that he has 40 years of experience as an urban planner and expert witness on the topic, and this plan neither conforms to the City Center Master Plan nor to the Five Points South Revitalization Plan, and the DRC ruling should be upheld.

Bob Moody, adjacent property owner for 30 years, asks the board to uphold the ruling.

Frank Stitt, Alabama’s and one of the South’s most famed restaurateurs, states he loves Chick-Fil-A, but a drive-through is not appropriate on this site.

James Little, president of the Five Points South Merchant group, reminds the board that both his group and the Neighborhood Association approved (non-binding) resolutions opposing the current plan. He also states that Chick-Fil-A itself has admitted it needs a more “urban” prototype for pedestrian neighborhoods, and is implementing a pilot program in Chicago. He mentions the long lines at local suburban Chick-Fil-A outlets, and how this tight urban site can’t accommodate such traffic.

Joseph Baker, organizer of I Believe in Birmingham, speaks passionately  about the urban nature of the neighborhood, how we can’t put inappropriate uses into these special areas, and that corporations are not citizens. And if they go against the will of citizens, a boycott will be announced.

Betty Bock speaks about traffic nightmares if the plan were allowed.

Libby Rich says Chick-Fil-A is “a wonderful corporation. But this is our neighborhood. You [Chick-Fil-A] have overstepped your bounds.”

Ron Council points out the plan drawing only shows the property with almost no context, i.e. it leaves out all the historic structures around the intersection. More traffic woes for elderly people who walk or use wheelchairs on the sidewalks and must cross curb cuts.

Alison Glascock, Highland Park Neighborhood president, states she is not anti-corporation, but wants corporations to listen to the neighborhoods in which they locate. She regrets this situation has become “us vs. them.”

A long slog of a hearing

4. Charlie Beavers now stands up for Chick-Fil-A to rebut. He mentions the company’s traffic engineers have studied the site and are satisfied it will be fine. He insists this is indeed an urban design. He again asks the Board to overturn the DRC.

5. Greg Despinakas stands on behalf of the owner (who would lease the land to Chick-Fil-A). This is perhaps the most colorful moment: in a fiery, preacher-like sermon, he declares this project would be a “God-given enhancement to the neighborhood.” Which he then describes as deteriorating, filled with “…miscreants.  And head shops. And tattoo parlors. Broken glass. Piercing shops. Graffiti.” Even…saloons! He then dramatically turns to the audience and says. “Clean it up! Before you tell Chick-Fil-A what to do, clean up your own neighborhood!”

6. It’s now question time from the Board. How many customers will be served?  250-300,000 annually, about 50% of which is drive-through. Why this site? Because it maximizes our investment. Can you survive without a drive-through? We could, but this would not meet our financial expectations. How can you assure us that stacked cars waiting for the drive-through won’t be a nightmare at peak times? Trust us. We are the fastest drive-through in the US and we’ll hire traffic directors at peak times if required.

7. Executive Session. For maybe 30 minutes. Break time. Milling around, some wary hellos between camps, but mainly each sticks to his own.

8. Board returns. They ask the hours of store operation (6AM-10PM M-T; 6AM-11PM F,Sat; closed Sun). They announce the next public hearing is 8:30 AM Friday June 18, Room 215 City Hall. But no more public comments on that date; it’s just deliberation with public observation. One more important item: the board asks City staff to provide updated traffic counts for that intersection by Friday morning. With current budget woes at the City, there are not exactly extra bodies sitting around to count traffic. Here’s wishing staff good luck with this request!

So that’s it for now–stay tuned.

The takeaway? We need a form-based code for this neighborhood (and others)! Pronto. No one wants to sit through this again, trust me.

[thanks to southernpixel for the shot of Frank Fleming’s sculpture at Five Points fountain]

Putting out fires

An open letter to Kathy Okrongley, President of Connolly Net Lease, LLC–the developer of a proposed Walgreen’s drugstore at the site of historic Fire Station No. 22, Bogue’s Restaurant, and Clairmont Auto on Clairmont Avenue South:

Dear Ms. Okrongley:

I read with interest the article in today’s Birmingham News, where you state you want to work with the neighborhood and the Design Review Committee to come up with a proposal acceptable to all. Given the current neighborhood aversion to the project as depicted so far–tearing down the historic Fire Station No. 22 and other small, local businesses including the 70-year-old Bogue’s Restaurant, and replacing them with a generic, boxy Walgreen’s drugstore, asphalt parking lot, and drive-through–I welcome this willingness to explore alternatives. I know the members of the Facebook protest site, as well as the brand-new civic group I Believe in Birmingham, are also cautiously optimistic about your next steps.

A second chance?

First: the excellent points you discuss. You say you’re an architect by training, and have an appreciation for historic structures. You say you’re interested in developing a sustainable design, possibly with LEED certification. You say that you are seriously considering saving all or part of the Fire Station and incorporating it into the design. You also say you will work to find another neighborhood location for Bogue’s, carefully restoring the historic neon sign at a new location.

As Alison Glascock, Highland Park neighborhood president states in the article, a lot of opposition “would end” if the above goals were all achieved.

Second: the note of caution: I’m reading good things, but an actual detailed plan is yet to be presented. I don’t want some clumsy pastiche that makes a few “references” to the historic Spanish-style architecture of the Fire Station. I don’t want Bogue’s and Clairmont Auto to just disappear for a parking lot–I want an earnest effort to relocate them. I know the corporation, Walgreen’s, that you represent has the resources to commit to fine design, neighborhood involvement, and relocation of existing businesses–if the will is truly there.

Ms. Okrongley, there are plenty of local community leaders and neighbors–and designers (this author included)–who’d be delighted to work with you to make this a winning project for everyone. Please understand that if the Walgreen’s effort falls short of your newly stated intentions, I feel the City has an obligation to reopen its RFP process to other developers who stand by committed to preserving the Fire Station and local businesses. I’m eager to see your next step.

Yours sincerely, etc.

Walgreen's CAN do urban, pedestrian, and contextual. And historic neon.

[thanks to acnatta for the Bogue’s shot, and willcrusta for the Walgreen’s in New Orleans]

4-Alarm Shock

An architectural gem

Just when we had our hands full with a proposed drive-through Chick-Fil-A in Five Points, along comes this punch in the jaw at Design Review this morning: the historic Fire Station No. 22, recently vacated, is on the table for demolition. It would be replaced with a Walgreen’s drugstore and parking lot. And a drive-through. On yet another important, gateway corner (Clairmont Avenue and 32nd Street).

Except this time the owner isn’t proposing tearing down a Ruby Tuesday’s built in the 1990s, but a wonderful Spanish-style fire station built in the 1920s. And the owner just happens to be the City of Birmingham, which is perhaps the most shocking part of this. Hasn’t this City learned enough about tearing down historic structures and what that does to a neighborhood fabric? And to a sense of place?

A dismal idea

To their credit, the Design Review Committee refused to approve this conceptual site plan, and insisted Walgreen’s return with exterior elevations suitable for an urban environment, including pedestrian-friendly storefront and sidewalk entries (no exteriors were presented today). Alison Glascock, Highland Park neighborhood president, stood to commend the Committee for its stance.

City of Birmingham–you need to be actively seeking creative redevelopment of the historic fire station, not tearing down another piece of our history to replace with banal, suburban-style architecture! And if you need an architect to help figure that out, I know where to find one.

(thanks to Birmingham Firefighters Local 117 for the historic photo, and to LAI engineering for the Walgreen’s plan)

UPDATE: INSPIRATIONS

Not that there is one right way to go here, but I feel strongly about the historic structure and the accessible nature of its scale.  Just a few pieces of eye candy to get the creative juices flowing here:

Let’s think outdoor seating — bridging Lakeview and Forest Park:

stopping in for pizza...

Love this restaurant concept in an old fire house in LA:

Firehouse themed restaurant!

And this is just for fun but to live in a firehouse!!

note the fire pole hole!

(thanks to Engine Co. No. 28, insidetheperimeter, and designpublic for the above images)

UPDATE #2: BOGUE”S RESTAURANT TO BE DEMOLISHED UNDER THIS PLAN

The Walgreen’s plan would not just take out the neighboring service station, but also Bogue’s Restaurant, an historic fixture on Birmingham’s Southside for many decades.

The end of an era?