Everyone sympathized with restaurant owner Ashley Ramirez after the board denied the Edgewood Station a variance needed for her specialty bakery. The Homewood location was to be the second for the husband-and-wife team, who opened the first Mason Dixon Bakery/Bistro in Huntsville. Unfortunately, not enough members were swayed by financial arguments that the only way to make enough money to pay the rent was to have a pre-fab walk-in cooler placed outside the building. Ms. Ramirez said her investment was lost; Possibly the development will make needed changes, or they will find another nearby location.
Members present: Matt Foley, Lauren Gwaltney, chair, Ty Cole, Brian Jarmon, and Jeffrey Foster (S), vice chair.
Members absent: Stuart Roberts (S), Beverly LeBoeuf, and Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.
Staff present: Greg Cobb and Vanessa McGrath of the Building, Engineering and Zoning Department; Planning and zoning clerk Donna Bridges.
Audience attendance: 17
*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 supernumerary members (S) to sit in and vote if needed. Variances expire in 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained.
Approved a left setback variance for a garden shed on Woodland: The owner at 305 Woodland Drive originally asked for two 2.6-foot setback variances on the rear and left side for an accessory structure to sit close to the property line in order to preserve a large tree in the back yard. Supporting the variance to preserve what he called one of the city’s “most beautiful trees,” was left-side neighbor John Kappes. In discussion, the owner was persuaded by a board member to shift the shed forward so that only a side variance was needed, which was eventually granted, but not without questions. Mr. Cole pointed out that the house was a rebuild after a complete tear down of the former house–if starting from scratch, he asked, why wasn’t the the accessory structure planned within the setbacks? The homeowner said he wanted to preserve as much yard as possible (after the house) and also save the tree. Again, a concern was raised for placing the shed so close to an alley running across the back property. The owner accepted the advice to shift the building forward, and the the board approved the reduced variance.
Approved a 5-foot variance for a new carport on Lakewood: The homeowners plan to build a carport at 1605 Lakewood Drive because the existing carport isn’t big enough. The original request for a 6 foot variance on the left side was reduced by 1 foot, and granted.
Carried over a case for substantial setback variances for a new carport on Wingate Circle: The architect for the homeowners at 808 Wingate Circle agreed to carry over his request and consider moving a planned new carport to a different location and avoid building so far into setbacks. The existing carport and garage are already occupying the setback practically on the left property line, with the cinder block garage directly behind the aluminum carport. The plan was to tear down the carport and rebuild in the same location but connected to the corner of the house (pictured), with new siding and a pitched roof added to the garage. That plan would require variances to build 9.5-feet into the left building setback and 12.4-feet into the rear setback. The architect said he wanted to leave the carport at the edge of the property to create more open yard space.
The architect offered to leave the garage detached, which reduces the setback requirements from 10 feet, as for a house, to 5 feet for an accessory structure, while leaving the buildings unchanged. However, Mr. Cole suggested moving the structures to the rear and leaving it connected. Such a move would retain the regulation 10-foot side setbacks. The architect, who needed time to consider the change with the owners, asked for a postponement and the case was carried over to May.
Approved a right setback variance for a screened porch on Ridge: The homeowners at 126 Ridge Road want to convert a ground floor deck into a two-story screened porch and get rid of two nonfunctioning dormer windows on the second floor that leak. The deck is already built into the setback by 1.5 feet, so they asked that the variance be continued. The request was granted on condition that railings wouldn’t be built outside the current deck line and that the porch would not be permanently enclosed.
Approved a left building setback variance for a porch and door cover on Wingate: Twin Construction is converting a deck at the rear of 805 Wingate Circle into a screened in porch, and roofing a brick stoop on a side door to protect it from the sun. With the proffer that neither the porch nor the roofed stoop would be enclosed, the variances of 2.3 feet for the stoop and 6 feet for the porch were granted.
Carried over a request for a substantial sign height, width and area variance at Hatfield Auto Parts & Service: 190 Oxmoor Road; Trent Hatfield requesting. 25 feet height variance, 16 square foot area variance and 4-foot width variance.
Allowed a building setback variance to remain for an addition on Kenilworth: The homeowner’s exhaustive argument in favor of a 3.7-foot right side variance at 330 Kenilworth Drive was granted with little questioning. The owner said he had been granted a 2.7 foot variance in 2004 but was unable to execute it. Since that time, setback regulations for his lot size have been increased by one foot, and likewise his variance request. He listed as hardships a floodplain crossing the property and a joint driveway that couldn’t be changed to gain space. He said the finished addition would add only 52 square feet to the house, which he said was the smallest house on the largest lot on Kenilworth. The board, which was waiting to hear a much more ambitious plan to follow the presentation, had few questions, and granted the variance.
Rejected a rear setback variance for a free-standing walk-in cooler on an Oxmoor Road retail development: An architect and contractor for the proposed second location of a Mason-Dixon Bakery planned in the Edgewood Station development at Suite 111, 1017 Oxmoor Road, offered only a financial justification for placing a 12′ X 8′ walk-in cooler in the back of the development. Architect Erik Hendon repeatedly explained the hardship in financial terms, saying the business needed more interior space for sufficient customer seating to pay the rent. The board can’t use a financial argument to justify granting a zoning variance.
This was to be the second such specialty bakery owned by the husband-and-wife team; the first is in Huntsville. In questioning the plan, the board noted the extremely tight space behind the building, which is a converted auto repair shop (the bakery was to occupy the former office space). Ms. McGrath explained that Dawson church had built its parking deck onto the public alley behind the development, which the city corrected by vacating the alley and transferring the property to the church. Ms. Gwaltney said traffic driving into the deck would pass dangerously close to the cooler and Mr. Cole said he was concerned the structure would be “junking-up” the back of the property. The architect and contractor suggested various ways to shield the cooler from traffic or fence it in, and the business co-owner Ashley Ramirez said the cooler was the smallest she could work with. There was no flexibility in rearranging the interior because of the restrooms, oven and vented hood, and having a kitchen capacity to handle at least 9 employees, she said.
In moving to approve, there was a long delay before the motion was seconded. At roll call, the vote failed 3-2 in favor: A variance requires at least four of the members voting yes.
Voting no: Ty Cole and Matt Foley