Birmingham City Council

Birmingham Sets Out Rules to Promote Historical Building Redevelopment

Birmingham City Council meets 5.10.22 (Source: Council’s Facebook livestream)

Birmingham has changed its zoning ordinance to encourage the reuse of historical structures throughout the city.

The changes, which were approved Tuesday by the City Council, will provide “incentives and exceptions that are intended to foster the reuse of historical properties and further the goal of maintaining historical character within the city,” said Chief Planner Tim Gambrel.

This will promote the conversion of “older, economically distressed, historically significant buildings” into apartments, live-work units or mixed-use developments while excepting them from zoning requirements that would require significant structural changes.

Though the changes set out a geographic overlay district in which they will apply — which includes the city center, historical districts, commercial revitalization districts and opportunity zones — any building that qualifies anywhere in the city will be covered. Eligible buildings are 50 years old or older and deemed historically or architecturally significant based on federal standards.

Exceptions laid out by the ordinance focus on density, off-street parking, loading spaces and building uses. The city’s historical preservation officer will be responsible for enforcement.

Residential redevelopments, for example, might want parking requirements to be waived. “Our regulations typically require parking on site,” Gambrel said. “That becomes a severe limitation for a developer who wants to reuse a historical building that was built lot line to lot line.” The ordinance would allow developers to “deal with parking in some other way,” such as renting part of a pre-existing parking deck or lot.

The resolution also sets out exceptions for residential spaces in industrial-zoned properties. “If you have a historic building and want to do a makerspace and want to have live-work units in there, you can do that based on this ordinance,” Gambrel said.

The ordinance will protect historical structures in the city, Gambrel argued. “Without this, there could potentially be situations where a developer may say, ‘It’s just easier to tear this thing down,’” he said. “Or potentially there could just be intentional neglect that would go on, just to let something fall down to the point where it needs to be replaced. … We want to try to incentivize developers to not do that through this ordinance.”