Planning Commission, Oct. 4, 2016

planning & zoning(1)Judging from tonight’s performance, attorney John McElheny is not used to losing cases. But this property line dispute is certain to go down to some degree of defeat for the Cobb Street homeowner. McElheny was slapped with a stop-work order in July for building a shed up against a sidewalk and neighbor’s fence against zoning regulations. Refusing to back down during a 25-minute stand-off over a setback dispute, McElheny agrees to carry the matter over to November.

Members present: Billy Higginbotham, chair, Jeffrey Foster, arriving after the first vote, James Riddle, Mark Woods, and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.

Members absent: Mike Brandt and Fred Hawkins; Foster arriving after the vote on the first case.

Vacancy: Jamie Ponseti resigned following the November meeting. Mr. Ponseti filled the “mayor’s designee” spot on the commission. The mayor or a new designee can be named to fill the vacancy.

Staff attendance: Donna Bridges, commission secretary, Fred Goodwin, planner, Vanessa McGrath and Greg Cobb, city Building, Engineering and Zoning Department.

Audience attendance:  6


The house and property purchased to expand the Montessori campus is to the west (left) of this picture, behind the present gym. A school representative said the house (pictured below) would be razed and then the lot planned for a final use, which might be a playground or outdoor learning center.

Recommended rezoning a residential property for use by Creative Montessori School: The board voted in favor of a request to rezone a single house zoned (oddly enough) R-5–attached dwelling unit–to an Institutional use to extend the school’s campus. A representative for the case was noncommittal on the final use, saying the property would be converted to some sort of outdoor learning center or recreational area. The private school has been in an expansion and rebuilding mode for 18 months or so that

The Montessori school has asked to rezone the property it purchased behind its present day gym.

The Montessori school has asked to rezone the property it purchased behind its present day gym.

was spelled out in a July 7, 2015 meeting, where two members voted against the plans, citing poorly thought out parking. The school is still under construction, but recently celebrated an opening and ribbon cutting attended by the mayor and council.

The favorable recommendation goes to the council, which will vote yes or no following a separate public hearing.


A disputed shed will remain for at least another month in a heated case that was carried over to avoid a denial.

Carried over a request to alter a development plan to allow a shed already partly built on a Cobb Street house: The property at 820 Cobb is on the left of three new houses built about two years ago across the street from Hall Kent Elementary on a shallow parcel that was the remnant of an older subdivision zoned Planned Residential District. The PRD zoning classification is governed by different, but equivalent, regulations to most Homewood houses, and are written into a development plan overseen by the Planning Commission alone. Tonight’s case revolved around the details of that plan, which had established minimal 8-foot setbacks from the property lines for any structure,  a distance that was further reduced to 5 feet for two of the other houses, but due to an oversight, not for 820 Cobb. Mr. McElheny, the homeowner at that address, said he was led to believe he didn’t have any setbacks to worry about, and was angry when slapped with a stop-work order for building a shed less than a foot from a sidewalk and his neighbor’s back fence.

The property was developed by Twin Construction and originally slated for four houses, which drew strong opposition from the neighborhood and elementary school. It was later reduced to three lots, and Mr. Woods argued in favor of Mr. McElheny’s situation, that placement of the sanitary sewer encroached further on the lot size after buyers had entered purchase agreements. Nevertheless,  commissioners agreed that McElheny knew the lot dimensions and regulations when he bought the house.

In a heated discussion, commission members made clear they would probably alter the development plan’s setback to 5 feet, but Mr. McElheny said he wasn’t likely to budge at all. He said he had placed the shed to allow his children the best use of the back yard and would just remove it if it couldn’t remain. Pointing to the audience, he said twice his neighbors had no objections to the shed but didn’t show up to support him. Pointing to the zoning staff, he said he had purchased the house to improve the neighborhood and they had led him to believe there was an agreement about the use of his backyard. His materials were already ruined by standing unfinished since July, he said.

Mr. McElheny rejected commission claims that the shed posed any safety and maintenance issues where it stood and demanded to know what other reasons the commission had to deny the request. With no move toward a compromise forthcoming, ccommissioners suggested postponing a decision to November to avoid voting a denial, which several said was likely conclusion.

Allowed a boundary to be shifted between two lots to accommodate a house on Ridge: The commission approved moving a property line between 112 and 114 Ridge Road to create two lots of equal width for two-story new houses planned by Homewood Builders LLC. One neighbor spoke, not to object, but to ask what was planned.


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