A crowd–by Homewood standards–showed up for this meeting to oppose a new house planned on Sutherland Place. Unpopular design features and houses that are out-sized for the neighborhood are familiar objections to variance requests, and this case was no different. The board, which typically approves new house setback variances, especially when they will stay within the footprint of the existing house, denied a similar request at 1403 Sutherland in the face of neighbor complaints about the proposed design. This case and two others ending in denials dragged the meeting to nearly three hours, while the board chairman reminded the crowd that the city has no design review ordinance in place and the BZA rules only on setbacks and height limitations.
Members present: Hope Cannon (leaving mid-meeting), Brian Jarmon, Jeffrey Foster (supernumerary), Lauren Gwaltney, Ross McCain, chairman, and Trey Schaeffer.
Members absent: Valerie Askew (supernumerary).
Staff present: Donna Bridges, board secretary, Greg Cobb and Vanessa McGrath, Building, Engineering and Zoning Department.
Audience attendance: 36
All votes are unanimous unless otherwise noted. FYI, the BZA board comprises two extra, or “supernumerary” members whose job is to vote in place of regular members during absences, as was the case at this meeting.
Approved on a 4-1 split vote: Variances at 1411 Sutherland Place were approved to allow a wall (9-foot variance) and a chimney (1.4-foot variance) to be rebuilt on the original, nonconforming footprint of a house being rebuilt because of fire damage. One person spoke against the demolition, citing the destruction of “beautiful old houses of character” in Homewood. She was informed by the board that there is no design review in Homewood, prohibiting the board from ruling on design issues alone. (However, the council has been entertaining the idea of establishing such a board.) The contractor was questioned in depth about why the chimney had to be torn down, which brought to light that the original fire repairs were inadequate and, while they wanted to preserve the fireplace, it was unsafe to do so.
Voting no: Lauren Gwaltney (who lives
on Sutherland in the neighborhood).
Approved a carport: A 9-foot accessory structure variance for a carport at 516 Yorkshire Drive was approved, with neighbors speaking in favor. The original survey was found to be in error after the carport was located and a re-survey necessitated a variance request. It was approved after a proffer to not totally enclose the structure (the back will have a wall but front and sides will be open.
Approved: A 4.3-foot right side setback variance was approved for a roof and screen to cover an existing deck at 3110 Overton Drive.
Denied a variance: In an unusual case where two lots should have been previously combined but had only been made into a parcel (allowing only one tax notice instead of 2 but still being two lots), the board denied a request at 310 Poinciana Drive to allow a porte-cochere on a new house planned on the boundaries of the existing house. The owners wanted to preserve a large part of the second lot as a yard for their children, but will have to combine the two lots and center the house in order build the new house, as planned.
Denied variances: The board denied variances requested for a house being rebuilt at 1403 Sutherland Place, on the existing footprint (2-foot right side and 1.4-foot left side for a second floor and .4-foot left side variance on the first floor.) The vast majority of the audience was attending to oppose this project, their opposition apparently fueled by the design by Appleseed Workshop. All but three of 13 speakers were against the approval, with the board allowing one speaker to read excerpts from more than a dozen emails objecting to the variances. The comments in opposition all focused on the design as conflicting with the style of the neighborhood. The three who spoke in favor mentioned that 1) Most older Homewood houses are non-conforming to the current setback codes, which requires variances for any remodel or addition, even on the existing footprint; 2) The “character” of Homewood comes from the people, not the buildings; and 3) Denying the variance would only mean the owner would have to shrink the design, not change it.
Once again, the board reminded the audience that there is no design review in Homewood and that the ruling must relate only to the setback variances. Such was the opposition that the homeowner spoke, stating that he and his wife loved the design but would have to “pray over what to do” as the wife would be at home all day with their two small children and wants to feel safe and accepted.
Ms. Cannon left at this point in the meeting and Mr. Foster, as supernumerary, voted in her place on the following cases.
Approved a two-car garage: The board approved a 10-foot front building setback variance and 10-foot right building setback variance for a two-car garage addition at 117 Windsor Drive. The house is on the corner of Windsor and Yorkshire Drive and is currently non-conforming.
Approved a residential addition: A 1-foot right building setback and a 4-foot left building setback for a master bedroom and third bath addition got an approval at 1420 Ardsley Place. The house is non-conforming as to lot placement because a strip of the lot had been sold to a neighbor for a driveway. The owner assured the board and attendees that the addition would be in keeping with the “character” of the neighborhood.
Approved/Denied: A request for two variances at 1601 Manhattan Street was split with one vote approving a 3-foot right setback for a wooden deck and another vote denying a 10-foot right side setback for an arbor. The owner wanted to add the deck and arbor with extensive plantings for more entertaining space. One neighbor to the rear spoke in opposition, saying her house was within two feet of the property line where the decking and arbor would be placed.
The meeting adjourned at 8:45 PM.