Local Government Upcoming development could begin new approach to downtown construction | The Cullman Tribune

Local Government

Upcoming development could begin new approach to downtown construction

Architect’s concept drawing of the front of the proposed Turner three-story business/loft apartment development / W.C. Mann

CULLMAN - On Monday evening, the City of Cullman Planning Commission met in a protracted session, voting to recommend to the city council a modification of Cullman’s ordinance governing downtown loft apartments, to allow the development of three-story buildings with businesses on their ground floors and two levels of residences above.

Section 62-517 of the Cullman, AL Code of Ordinances currently reads:

“In all business zoning districts, B-1, B-2, B-3 and CBD, apartments, loft apartments, efficiency apartments and similar residential occupancies may be constructed in new and existing business occupancies as a secondary use. All such uses must be approved by the planning commission under rules established by that board. These occupancies shall also strictly comply with all building and fire protection related codes in their construction. The primary use of all commercial buildings located in the B-1, B-2, B-3 and CBD zoning districts shall be those uses listed as permitted uses and conditional uses in the zoning district in which the property is located. As described in this section, the term ‘primary use’ means at least 50 percent of a development's usable floor area is to be used for business or commercial purposes.

In a change proposed by City Zoning and Planning Director Rick Fulmer, the italicized portion would be removed and replaced with the following text:

“The ground floor of the structure must be used for business or commercial purposes and not residential use.  Spaces above the first floor may be either business or residential use subject to compliance with all adopted codes and ordinances.”

The current version requires that at least half the square footage of a retail/apartment combination must be retail.  According to Fulmer, that arrangement made such development not worth the investment developers would have to make versus the returns. 

He told the commission: “The reason for the request for change, which comes directly from me through my office: I have two developers who’ve looked at this in the past, and they’re interested in doing three-story buildings.  I think to protect the city we should change the ordinance so that anything on the ground floor should be commercial or business; that’s the idea of the downtown district. 

“The issue is that often they can’t make the numbers work with a two-story building, because the second story won’t rent for enough money to justify construction.  That changes with a three-story building.  So there’s a lot of interest in doing three-story buildings, but then your 50-50 rule is prohibitive.”

Fulmer’s requirement of first-floor commercial use stemmed from past instances in which developers located residences on the ground floors of buildings in the downtown business district.  He also added, based on earlier discussion with Commission President Mike Voss, a recommendation that basements, when present, be included in the commercial space. 

What does all that mean?

Based on the discussion and proposed wording change, a three-story building with a basement in the downtown business district would have to commit to commercial/business use of the basement and ground floor (the floor that opens onto street level), with both above floors available for either businesses or apartments.

After lengthy discussion, the commission voted to give a favorable recommendation to the change.  The proposal must next go before the city council for final approval. 

Developer waiting to hear the outcome of the city council’s deliberations

In a coincidence, between his drawing up of the ordinance change and the commission meeting, Fulmer received a preliminary plan for a development that would put the new ordinance to immediate use if passed.

On behalf of property owners Roger and Lori Turner, Kevin Baughn of JMR+H Architecture had sent to the commission a site plan for a three-story building to be located on the south side of Fourth Street Southeast between Second Avenue Southeast and Third Avenue Southeast, with ground-floor business space and two upper floors of loft apartments.  The original plan did not meet the current 50 percent commercial use rule, so Baughn brought to the meeting a revised building plan on which the square footage of the upper floors was restricted so that their total would be 49 percent of the total, with the first-floor commercial space comprising 51 percent. 

The commission approved Baughn’s revised site plan, but he said that he would talk to the owners if the ordinance change passed, and felt confident that they would want to pursue a plan for larger upper floors on a building with the same footprint, which would require the submission of another revised plan.  Approval of the current plan allows site preparation to commence while the developer awaits the city council’s decision.

If the council approves the change to the ordinance, with at least two other developers having looked into similar projects, the Turner retail and loft building could be the first in a series of such multi-story structures in downtown Cullman’s business district.

Other retail and housing developments

The commission approved a site plan submitted by Jim Boyd for parking areas and lumber sheds for the possible development of a Marvin’s building materials and home improvement store at 4933 Alabama Highway 157 NW in the Piggly Wiggly building. 

After lengthy discussion, especially about storm water drainage, a site plan submitted by Dale Bright was also approved for the development of retail centers Cullman Row East and Cullman Row West along either side of Second Avenue Southwest near Kensington Station apartments on lots including the old Dodge dealership and Sticks N Stuff store.

The commission also approved a conditional use request submitted by Terry Mount for the development of a 56-unit apartment complex, “Catoma Center,” on County Road 1402 between Eva Road and Lake Catoma.

Other business

The commission approved subdivision requests from:

  • Paul Bussman for the subdivision of a lot at 1635 Main Ave. SW into four lots
  • Dale Bright for the subdivision of a lot on Second Avenue Southwest between Birmingham Street Southwest and Short Street Southwest
  • Clifford Harris for the subdivision of a lot on Walnut Street and Brantley Avenue for Rusken Packaging

The commission also voted to send favorable recommendations to the city council for four property annexations totaling more than 175 acres:

  • 165 acres off Hwy 278 West, zoned as agricultural
  • 11 acres off Fromhold Road, zoned as agricultural
  • 2 acres off Fromhold Road, zoned as residential
  • 220 County Road 1320, zoned residential

The City of Cullman Planning Commission normally meets at 5:30 p.m. on the first Monday of each month in the auditorium at Cullman City Hall.  The public is invited to attend.

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  • Architect’s concept drawing of the front of the proposed Turner three-story business/loft apartment development
  • State Sen. Paul Bussman requests a subdivision of his property on Main Street Southwest.