The City’s Economic Development Committee this afternoon unanimously voted to recommend the Walgreen’s project on Clairmont Avenue and 32nd Street to the full Council.
Still fighting fires in 1976
Originally Walgreen’s had planned to demolish Fire Station No. 22–and two neighboring long-time businesses, Bogue’s Restaurant and Clairmont Auto Repair–for a new store and parking lot. After an explosion of neighborhood opposition to the demolition, and frustration at the lack of public awareness of the City sale of this property, Walgreen’s amended its proposal. Now, the company promises in writing to preserve the Fire Station and make efforts to move Bogue’s into it, or find another neighborhood tenant. The new drug store would be placed in the middle of the block, leaving the historic corner building in its role as gateway marker to the Highland Park, South Avondale, and Forest Park neighborhoods.
Once Walgreen’s changed their plan to include preservation (the community had reminded the developer, Connolly Net Lease, that Walgreen’s had agreed with the National Trust to not demolish buildings on the National Register some years ago), a lot of opposition died away. While it is true that the current proposal is immensely better than the previous, it is probably important to remain a little skeptical–this large corporation had no initial intent to save the fire station or help displaced businesses. Let’s hope their new spirit of community cooperation is genuine.
Walgreen’s committed to holding a design charrette for the proposal, with public input. They have also engaged David Blackmon of Blackmon Rogers Architects to lead the design process. Here’s hoping for an inspired design for the new building; carefully planned and shielded parking; clear pedestrian emphasis at entry points; a skilled restoration of the fire station; and a commitment from the City to help both Bogue’s and Clairmont Auto find new homes. Oh, and a new policy that whenever the City is selling property–especially property on the National Register–they at least put up a “For Sale” sign, so the community, and not just RFP insiders, is aware and able to make proposals.
A big step in the right direction. Now come the important details. Stay tuned.
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)
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.