The Birmingham City Council has paved the way for a new restaurant to open in Highland Park, despite residential concerns over traffic and parking capacity.
The council approved Tuesday a request to rezone the vacant property at 2614 Highland Ave. to allow for George’s, a new “city tavern” that developers said would hearken back to the nostalgic age of dining. The property previously had been designated as a Qualified Office and Institutional District; councilors voted Tuesday to turn it into a Qualified Mixed-Use Medium District.
But some councilors and residents expressed doubts about the neighborhood’s capacity for a full-service restaurant that on any given evening would hold 25 employees and up to 100 guests. City ordinance would require the property to have 35 parking spaces; the property currently has just four.
Kathleen Rose-Byington, who said she’d lived in an adjacent building for 32 years, told councilors she was concerned that the restaurant would reduce the area’s already-scarce street parking. The development, she argued, would require “residential parking permits and a robust public transportation system. Birmingham has neither of those things.”
Developer and celebrity photographer Miller Mobley told councilors that the restaurant would get around this parking shortage via a partnership with a neighboring property owner, who would allow them to use his 60 parking spaces for valet parking. They would also incentivize employees to use ridesharing services instead of driving their own cars, and they were working on technology to make valet parking more efficient.
Even so, District 3 Councilor Valerie Abbott remained skeptical, asking Mayor Randall Woodfin about the status of a promised residential parking program. Woodfin responded that the Department of Transportation is “working hard and working fast” on such a program but would not give even a rough estimate of when it would be brought before the council.
District 5 Councilor Darrell O’Quinn, who heads the council’s transportation committee, lauded Mobley and engineer Clark Bailey for their investment in the neighborhood, adding that he “regretted” that “the conversation around this project has largely been dominated by the use of privately owned vehicles and where to park them and how to drive them around in a neighborhood.”
“Highland Park is one of the most wonderfully dense and diverse neighborhoods in the city of Birmingham,” he said. “We as a city of Birmingham have to have a bigger vision for our community than just what we do with our privately owned automobiles and where to store them.”
Abbott was the only vote against the rezoning.