Twice a month, the city of Birmingham’s Design Review Committee convenes to discuss plans to make alterations to structures that fall within one of the city’s many historic and commercial revitalization districts. This column summarizes recent DRC activity, with projects grouped by type and location. This edition of Design Review recaps the DRC meeting from Sept. 24, 2014.
21st Street North
The architect for Lewis Communications (2030 First Avenue North) returned to the committee to present plans for the rooftop pavilion, landscaping, and additional façade and construction details. The parking deck will have a rolling fence gate for automated entry. A courtyard will be added on the north side of the building, which will take up a portion of the existing parking lot. When the courtyard is landscaped, additional trees will be planted in the remaining lot. New windows will be installed on the north façade and will be replacing an existing wall vent. Although the First Avenue entry canopy will remain, the actual entrance will be moved to the 21st Street side of the building.
Status: Approved, with signage to return to the committee.
Birmingham’s chief architect presented plans for demolition of four buildings (401-409 19th Street, Ensley) in downtown Ensley. The property adjacent to Gilmer Drugs is owned by the city and was formerly used by Project Safe. It has been vacant for nearly a decade. The owners of Gilmer Drugs sued the city and the site was found to be damaging the adjacent building. The court ordered the demolition of the building in question and also requested the demolition of the remaining city-owned properties on the block. Committee member expressed concerns about the devastating effects of the demolition on the area. The city only presented the demolition plans and stated the potential sale and new construction is not finalized. Additional questions by the committee centered around the plans for the site – both with a sale and new construction and without. An attorney from the city explained the site would become a green space. However, the city presented no plans regarding what a potential green space would look like. The attorney representing a group in Ensley expressed concerns with the city’s development plans and believes the remaining buildings can be rehabilitated rather than demolished.
Status: Approved the immediate demolition of the building adjacent to Gilmer Drugs and requested to see the site plans prior to ruling on the demolition of the rest of the block.
Five Points South
Plans for an addition to the rear of the Makarios restaurant building (940 29th Street South) were presented to the committee. However, the current signage on the restaurant does not conform to the city’s signage rules and must be compliant before the committee considers the new construction
Status: Carried over until signage is updated.
During construction for Babalu @ 297 (2808 Seventh Avenue South) it was determined a separate café permit was needed for the outdoor space. The project returned to the committee to present the plans for fencing, tables, lighting and planters. Since the project will block off the patio walkway, an additional ramp will be installed for the other ground floor tenants at the 297 building. String lighting will be installed and planters will adorn both sides of the fencing without impeding pedestrians walking along Seventh Avenue.
Status: Approved, with three opposed.
Five Points South
Insomnia Cookies is coming to Five Points South (1919 11th Avenue South). The site, next door to Jimmy John’s, is currently being renovated to fit the new business. This building has historically been treated differently than other multi-tenant sites (although it was not discussed exactly why this is) and does not require a master signage plan, so each tenant has to present signage plans. The committee instructed the signage company to stay within the limestone relief panel above the storefront.
A new dentist has moved into the Lakeview neighborhood (2940 Clairmont Avenue South). The proposed sign will be installed in front of the building. The original design included the business phone number, but that will need to be removed and replaced with a website as the ordinance does not allow phone numbers.
Status: Approved, with three opposed.
Retail & Theatre District
At the previous meeting the committee requested a master signage plan for the Whitmire Lofts (1806 Third Avenue North) building. The new plan states each of the two tenants will be allowed a window graphic and a blade sign. Additionally, the signs will be aligned with the mullions on the building.
Returning from the previous meeting, the railing system for a Highland Park residential project (1022 32nd Street South) was presented again. The committee was concerned by the lack of installation and construction details as well as the railing being inconsistent with the style of the home.
Status: Carried over.
You are preparing for renovations to your home or business and find out you are in a district requiring approval from the Design Review Committee. Whether a historic district or commercial revitalization area, your project needs to be presented to this committee before work can start.
What do you need to do?
First, you need to contact the Urban Design Division of the city’s planning department. The staff’s guidance will be helpful as you proceed through this process. Not only are they responsible for adding your project to the committee’s bi-monthly agendas, the staff is knowledgeable about both the city’s and the committee’s requirements. They will also know if you need to present your project to the neighborhood association for prior approval.
If you have never been to a Design Review Committee meeting, sit in on one before presenting your project. You will see the process firsthand and be prepared for the types of questions the committee members ask of presenters. The meetings are held at 7:30 a.m. on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month at the UAB Facilities Conference Center on Sixth Avenue South.
Once you are on the agenda, what happens next?
The Urban Design staff will provide you with a list of items needed depending on the type of project you are presenting. As a general rule – be sure you have enough copies for each committee member plus staff (12 copies). Your drawings should have sufficient detail for each aspect of your project. Updating a building’s façade? Be sure to have detailed elevation drawings, site plans and material samples. Want to install new signage? A scaled elevation plus installation information will be needed. Adding to a historic residence? Be sure the new design is compatible with the historic themes and scale of the structure.
This meeting will be the first time committee members will have seen your project. While a brief context discussion is often appropriate, the committee may request you forego the site history and location. Distributing the design details allows the members to ask informed questions and speeds along the process.
After some discussion the committee will vote on your project. They may approve it as presented, with conditions, or carry it over to another meeting. Items carried over to the next meeting often have a portion of the project approved so progress can be made. However, a lack of detailed plans is the quickest way to get your project carried over – and therefore delayed another two weeks or more. If yours is one of the items moved to a future meeting, be sure to have all requested documents plus the information previously circulated ready to present to the committee.
Ultimately, committee members care about how the city looks and feels. Areas throughout the city have developed a distinctive sense of place over the years and these architects, planners and attorneys who serve on the committee strive to keep that character in mind.
For more information contact the city’s Planning, Engineering & Permits Department at (205) 254-2336.
Signage master plan
Is your building in a district governed by Design Review? Does your building have multiple tenants? Do each of these tenants need individual signage? If you answered yes to these questions, then you need a Signage Master Plan.
- What is a Signage Master Plan?
A signage master plan is a document created by the building owner, or the owner’s representative, explaining and illustrating where signs may be placed on the exterior of the building.
- Why do I need a Signage Master Plan?
Multitenant buildings in any of the Commercial Revitalization Districts are required to develop a signage master plan before signs can be installed on the building. Once the Design Review Committee approves the plan, the building owner can place or replace signage as needed after the proper permits are issued by the city permit department.
- What are the advantages to having a Signage Master Plan?
A signage master plan saves you time and money. Once it is approved, the Urban Design staff can process sign permits without seeking approval from the Design Review Committee for each individual sign. It maintains consistency for all tenants and also allows new tenants to understand how to best tailor their signage needs to the character of the building.
The Signage Master Plan should address the sign’s location, size, materials, attachment, and how signs fit with the architecture of the building.
This information, plus details on the different categories of signage, is available in the form of a PDF from the Urban Design Department. For more information contact the city’s Planning, Engineering & Permits Department at (205) 254-2336.