Here’s some free advice on following building and zoning codes on that could potentially save homeowners thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars: Do not follow the maxim, “It’s easier to seek forgiveness than to ask for permission.” Easier yes. Cheaper, no. Several cases this year involved construction that was already proceeding or nearly complete when work was stopped by a building inspector and the required variance denied. Two of the three applications heard tonight were denied and involved work that had already begun. In a third case, a developer wanting to divide a lot withdrew his request in the face of opposition and a likely denial.
Members present: Brian Jarmon, Ty Cole, Lauren Gwaltney, Jeffrey Foster, Beverly LeBoeuf.
Members absent: Hope Cannon
Staff present: Vanessa McGrath and Fred Goodwin (substituting for Greg Cobb) of the Building, Engineering and Zoning Department; Planning and zoning clerk Donna Bridges.
Audience attendance: 15
*Note on procedure: By state law, zoning variances granted by the 5-member board require a super majority of 4 members voting in the affirmative. To keep business moving in case of absences, the law also allows two substitutes (S) to sit in and vote if needed. All decisions are made following a public hearing. Variances expire in 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained.
Denied a variance for a covered deck on Clermont: The homeowner at 209 Clermont Avenue had obtained variances in March 2014 in connection with renovating and adding a second story to this house. Tonight, he was back to request a variance to build 15 feet into the rear set-back limit for a roof on a back deck (the deck itself needed no variance because it was less than five feet off the ground; however, a roof required it to meet the same code as the main house). The homeowner, who said he was unaware he needed a variance, had already begun the project when a city inspector stopped the work.
The owner said he wouldn’t build the roof beyond the edge of the deck and two neighbors spoke in support, with the closest neighbor saying the roof would even improve privacy between the two properties. The board nevertheless denied the application, giving no specific explanation but most likely because the deck was extremely close to the property line, the work had been started–and nearly completed–without authorization, and the roof did, in fact, protrude beyond the deck.
Voting yes: LeBoeuf, Jarmon.
Voting no: Cole, Foster, Gwaltney.
Withdrawn–an application to divide a lot on Sutherland that was unlikely to pass: The application to divide a lot at 1400 Sutherland Place and allow a 174-square-foot reduction in the required lot area was ultimately withdrawn by the applicant, builder and developer Frank Craige of Oxford and Company. As a preliminary plan, he proposed dividing the property to have two lots facing Clermont Avenue, and hoped to move the existing house to fit on one of the new lots. However, two neighbors opposed the application, citing overcrowding and the potential loss of many oak trees. The board had also received letters of opposition from two other nearby property owners, including Twin Construction.
When asked what hardship would justify the lot-area variance, Mr. Craige said it wouldn’t make financial sense to buy the property without dividing it. Mr. Cole explained that a financial burden doesn’t count as a qualifying hardship, an answer that signaled a probable denial of the application. With that, and in light of neighborhood opposition, Mr. Craige withdrew his application.
Denied a variance — again — to build a deck into the side setback on Crest Drive: This complex case, which was heard in September, involved three separate variance requests, including the one denied tonight to widen a side yard deck. Tonight, contractor Gary Smith requested a 7-foot right building setback to extend an existing rear deck and wrap it around the side of the house. Mr. Smith said the side deck extension was needed to allow for a quick exit from the house in case of fire, an
explanation that baffled the board until homeowners explained that the existing side door had been blocked in and a new door cut farther back in the same wall. That door, at this point, leads nowhere. However, because of the proximity to the neighboring property, the application was denied.
Board members apparently also considered the change in door position as a self-inflicted hardship.
Voting yes: LeBoeuf, Jarmon.
Voting no: Coe, Foster, Gwaltney.
The meeting ended with an off-agenda discussion of a July 2015 case, in which a house at 302 Clermont Drive was granted a variance based on the homeowner’s promise to retain existing exterior walls, which didn’t happen. The board discussed the status of that variance in light of a city inspector’s finding that the existing walls be replaced.