Monday, August 6, 2007

Church or Strip Mall? Sulphur Springs residents face a choice

An Ismaili Muslim congregation that currently meets in Riverchase has applied for a conditional use to build a worship center at the corner of Sulphur Springs Road and Al Seir Road. This property is about four acres and is zoned C-1, which is a neighborhood business district. The Planning Committee is scheduled to consider the application on Aug. 13.

(This property has been zoned for commercial use for quite some time. When we moved to Hoover in 2000 we looked at all the zoning in the community and it was C-1 then.)

Many of the permitted uses (for example, a doctor’s office) could increase traffic at traditional rush hours. Others (laundromat) could operate around the clock. Still others (bank) could attract customers from some distance away. All of these uses are allowed without any special permission or opportunity for neighborhood input.

According to the Hoover Zoning Ordinance, these uses are specifically permitted on this property:
  • Office and technical uses. If floor area is larger than 5,000 square feet, then 15 percent can be used for retail uses except restaurants, if the retail is primarily for the office tenants, visitors or patients. (This is actually part of the C-P zoning which is included in C-1 by reference.)
  • Barber and Beauty Shops, Banks, Convenience Stores, Drug Stores, Dry Cleaning Outlets, Coin-operated laundromats, Day-care nurseries, grocery stores, catering restaurants, food service restaurants, other neighborhood service facilities.
  • Conditional uses which must be approved by the City Council: Churches, schools, clinics, nursing homes, mortuaries, independent living facilities, assisted living facilities, shopping centers, veterinary clinic (no outside kennels), off-premise beer and wine.
  • Prohibited uses: manufacturing, on-premise sale of alcoholic beverages, on- or off-premise sale of liquor, live entertainment.
Any use has to meet the city’s parking requirements, and there is also a 25 foot buffer required if the property is next to a residential area. There are no requirements in the zoning ordinance for hours of operation, but there are requirements limiting outside lighting next to a residential zone. The ordinance has regulations for off-street parking and loading, but there is no specified requirement to address traffic on public streets.

As far as traffic is concerned, let’s do some math:

This property is 4.7 acres, which is 204,732 square feet. Under C-1 zoning, a shopping center (which does require a conditional use approval) on a parcel this size can have a maximum floor area of 25 percent of the property, which in this case is 51,183. The maximum size per store is 4,500 square feet, which means theoretically you could have 11 stores.

According to the Institute of Transportation Engineers, you can estimate Average Daily Trips by multiplying 42.92 per 1,000 square feet of floor area. An 11-store shopping center, which is not unrealistic on nearly five acres, would generate around 2,146 trips per day.

The Ismaili worship center is estimated to produce at its peak attendance time, once per week, at most 1,000 trips (this is assuming attendance of 500, with one trip into the parking lot and one out. Of course, there will probably be more than one person per car, which reduces the number of trips.) This was part of the information conveyed at a community meeting hosted by the congregation at Prince of Peace Catholic Church on July 31.

Previously in the neighborhood...
In the community discussion of the Ismaili congregation's proposal, several commenters have noted that a commercial development would bring in tax revenue and might be preferable to a church. However, in 1999 and 2000, when the City Council was dealing with plans for The Preserve, one of the sticking points with the neighborhood was the proposal for a community business district.

Aug. 29, 2000, Panel Approves Preserve Plans. “USX drew opposition from hundreds of nearby residents last year when it sought to rezone land...but most residents calmed down after the company agreed to remove a community business district from the center of the subdivision....”

Sept. 21, 1999, USX Alters Preserve Plan. “More than 100 people attended Hoover’s Monday night council meeting.... Many residents have vigorously opposed the commercial village planned by USX....”

Aug. 13, 1999, Zoning Officials Won’t Back USX Plan for Hoover Preserve. “Neighbors aren’t fighting residential development as much as the retail office space USX wants to put in the middle of it, [one resident] said.” “Developers.... said the [commercial] village would help build a sense of community, but neighbors said they already have that through schools, churches and the ballpark.”

July 21, 1999, USX Asked to Forego Retail Plan. “‘We have heard loud and clear from residents they don’t want any commercial in there,” said commissioner Allen Pate...” “...a spokeswoman for nearby residents, said ... we call it a shopping center.... people who live in neighborhoods off Al Seir and Patton Chapel roads don’t want to be used as connector streets for [delivery] truck traffic.”

Editor's Comment: In the seven years since the Preserve was discussed, it’s possible that the community attitude toward retail development has changed. The Council did eventually approve a change in The Preserve to allow a neighborhood business development. It’s possible that the residents who opposed it in 1999 are now in favor of it. But it is reasonable to ask why the same folks who didn’t want retail several years ago, now prefer it to a house of worship.

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