Design Review: Temporary bookstores, antennas and elephants in the room

06.13.2013 by André Natta · → Leave a comment

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Birmingham’s Design Review Committee got a hot start to the first month of summer with some signage, residential renovation projects for the city’s east side, and a touch of controversy involving Chick-Fil-A.

Forest Park /Avondale Residential

The committee reviewed two residential projects this week. The first was a siding and roof replacement in Forest Park. The owner of the house presented updated plans for the restoration. Due to an issue with his contractor, he was unaware about the approval processes prior to the installation of the windows. Unfortunately, the windows cannot be adjusted to add faux glazing bars. The owner also brought samples for the potential roof replacement. His roofing manufacturer recommended a cupped concrete tile, but the committee was concerned that the style of roof would not go with the style of the home. The committee retroactively approved the windows and asked the owner to return with a flatter tile roof sample.

The other residential project was a previously approved restoration in Avondale. The owner decided to replace the previously approved vinyl siding with a hardy board product in a similar color. The committee approved the change.

Downtown West

David Brandt of Fravert Services presented plans for signage to be placed on the Young & Vann Building. The Birmingham History Center currently does not have exterior signage on the building and the board has contracted with Fravert to install a bracketed banner on the 1st Ave. N. façade. The committee approved the signage with the caveat that the banner bit between the brick bands that visually separate the floors.

Retail & Theatre District

KRUSEFACADE5Mike Gibson of Appleseed Workshop presented updated plans for a proposed loft building on 3rd Ave. N. Some of the more artistic portions of the original design have been reduced due to budget constraints and suggestions made by the committee have been incorporated. Some of the windows on the east /19th St. façade have been eliminated. A decorative steel design has been updated. In addition, the building name has been changed from K Lofts to Whitmire Lofts in honor of Alabama Theatre’s restoration leader, the late Cecil Whitmire. Construction is expected to start on July 1. The committee approved.


Due to the upcoming demolition and replacement of Hill University Center later this year, UAB finds it necessary to provide the university bookstore operated by Barnes & Noble since 2010 a new home until construction is complete. Plans for the exterior treatments were presented to the committee by Sheila Chaffin, the university’s executive director of campus planning. In addition to paint treatments, the University plans to add vinyl banner signs reflecting the new UAB branding campaign. The proposed design showed two internally-lit Barnes & Noble signs as well as text within one of the green painted bands denoting the differences from a regular Barnes & Noble location. The committee approved the plans with the exception of the green band treatment, citing product advertising restrictions.

Birmingham Green

For Mike Gibson’s second appearance before the committee, he presented plans for an update to the exterior of the Paramount building. The frozen yogurt shop occupying the ground floor closed earlier this year and a new tenant will be taking over the space. The site will turn into a bar instead, maintaining the Paramount name in honor of the building’s original tenant. Glass roll up doors will be installed in one of the existing front windows along 20th Street. The corner sign will also remain. The committee approved the plans.


Square Feet Studio, a design firm based in Atlanta, will be working with the owners of a sports bar to open in the Uptown entertainment district adjacent to the Westin hotel. Architect Ashley McClure presented updated plans for the penthouse addition. Based on design requirements from the BJCC, the previously approved stucco wall will now be a pine wall reminiscent of ship’s lath. This was said to be done to match current renovations already approved by BJCC officials. The committee requested the wood be stained a color that will be complementary to the charcoal grey finishes in the design. Color samples can be submitted and approved by staff instead of returning to the committee.

The committee also briefly discussed that the BJCC should be contacted and submit an overall plan for design requirements to the committee as soon as possible.

Five Points South

Verizon Wireless is upgrading the local network and will need to replace three of the 12 antennas currently installed on the roof of the  Hotel Highland. The new antennas will be the same size and painted the same color as the current installation. The committee approved.

The elephant in the room was the discussion of Chick-fil-A on Five Points South. Concerned citizen and local attorney Alton Parker addressed the committee with a request for them to review photographs of a number of violations. Many readers may remember the controversy when Chick-fil-A first presented plans to move onto the former Ruby Tuesday site on 20th St. S. and Highland Avenue. The main contention between the city and the company was the existence of a drive-thru. Chick-fil-A acquiesced and did not install a driveway. Now, apparently, the franchise has opted to offer “curbside service” to its customers. This new service is not only a de facto drive-thru service, but the signage installed is also in violation. Additional concerns were expressed about traffic issues. Based on the complaints and the photographs, the committee referred the issue to executive session to discuss potential litigation.

Twice a month, the city’s Design Review Committee convenes at Auburn University’s Urban Studio to discuss and approve – hopefully – plans to make alterations to the city’s structures that fall within one of the many historic and commercial revitalization districts. During this week’s meeting, committee members discussed the advantages, disadvantages, and aesthetics of seven different proposals throughout the city.

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