By William C. Singleton III
The Homewood City Council recently approved the rezoning of two lots on Oxmoor Road so the Exceptional Foundation can build a youth center.
The council by a 9-1 vote agreed to rezone two lots at 1610 and 1612 Oxmoor Road near the Exceptional Foundation from Neighborhood Preservation District to Institution District. The city’s Planning Commission voted 7-1 earlier this year to pass the issue on to the council without a recommendation.
While approving the rezoning, the council deferred discussion on concerns about possible increased traffic generated by the expansion, saying the vote was to rezone the lots and not to address specifics about the Exceptional Foundation’s expansion plans.
The foundation must reappear before the city’s Planning Commission for approval of its site plans, which would include specific plans for additional parking. Councilman Peter Wright said the council can determine later how to address increased traffic related to the foundation’s proposal.
To accommodate the expansion, the Exceptional Foundation has proposed building another road off Oxmoor Road into its campus. However, Wright said the council holds the ultimate decision whether to limit the direction and flow of traffic into and out of the foundation’s campus.
“We the city–not this project, not the developer, not the Exceptional Foundation–control access to that property,” Wright said. “And to the extent we want to make it a right turn-only entrance to that property, we the city council fully control that.”
Residents have said the additional road off Oxmoor Road would funnel more traffic onto neighborhood streets.
Councilwoman Jenifer Champ Wallis and Wright said based on feedback they’ve received from residents, increased traffic seems to be the chief concern.
Residents are also concerned that the zoning change will invite further institutional zoning in their neighborhood and concerned about their property values. They are also concerned about inadequate natural buffers, like trees, between their homes and the proposed new youth center.
Homewood resident John Stuart Wiggins said while he respects and values the contribution the Exceptional Foundation makes to the community at large, he doesn’t want to see two homes destroyed, more asphalt and an institution intrude into the neighborhood.
“I don’t want a full frontal view of more brick exposure across an asphalt pavement,” Wiggins said during a March 31 public hearing before the council. “I like the ability to glimpse through the park and across my neighbor’s yard.”
Nearly 100 residents attended the March 31 council meeting to express both support and opposition to the rezoning; few attended the April 14 meeting at which the council voted to rezone the lots, and no residents spoke for or against the rezoning.
Residents submitted to the city clerk a petition with more than 90 names of people opposing the rezoning. But Councilman Fred Hawkins noted that the petition didn’t include addresses.
Because the rezoning issue was a first-reading item on the March 31 agenda, it required a unanimous vote from the council to decide it then. But Councilman Michael Hallman abstained from voting, saying he was a neighbor and felt it would be a conflict of interest for him to vote, although City Attorney Mike Kendrick said it wouldn’t be.
Hallman said he was going to abstain again, but Councilman Walter Jones urged all council members to vote. Councilman Patrick McClusky did not attend the April 14 meeting. Hallman was the lone no vote.
“Because I’ve got numerous emails and requests to oppose it, I did it in response to the citizens’ request,” he said.
The council’s favorable vote means the foundation can move forward with plans to purchase the two lots and start a capital campaign to raise money for the youth center, said Tricia Kirk, Exceptional Foundation director. She estimates the foundation will have to raise more than $2 million.
The Exceptional Foundation has served mentally challenged youth and adults from its present facility in Homewood since 1999 and renovated those facilities in 2007. The foundation serves about 130 clients daily, Kirk said. The expansion project is more to accommodate its existing clients than to add new ones, she added.
“It (the proposed new facility) gives us the opportunity not to increase the number of people that we serve,” Kirk said. “It is so we can enhance the programs and maintain the quality that the rest of the nation knows that we’re doing in Homewood.”
The foundation provides programs daily but in the summer serves more clients through its four camps.
“When schools are out, we’re the only place people who are mentally challenged can come,” she said.
The foundation operates a joint lease with the city’s recreation center to share parking spaces. However, the center’s parking area hasn’t been available because the recreation center is being rebuilt into a larger facility. The new recreation center is scheduled to open in May.
The foundation’s proposal is to add about 15 parking spaces, Kirk said. Those spaces will be for the foundation’s vans and staff rather than clients.
“Our members cannot drive. We don’t bring additional cars,” she said.
The new access lane will provide another way into the foundation’s property as well as alleviate traffic into the recreation center. Bridge Lane serves as the only access road into the Exceptional Foundation and the recreation center from Oxmoor Road.