Two cases were denied tonight: a split lot on Lucerne and a return visit by a homeowner on Gran wanting to add a 2-story garage on the rear setback of a new residence. In a not-unexpected development, a party whose case was denied in a special November meeting has appealed the decision to Jefferson County circuit court. In that case, the city had mistakenly issued a building permit for a new house on Oxmoor that was being built 5 feet into the side setback. The footings were already poured when the city stopped work, but for the second time this year, the BZA failed to consider the city’s mistake as an excuse for violating published zoning ordinances. The first case, in September, was a height violation on St. Charles that the contractor revised into compliance. The recent case had been denied 4-1 in November, with Brian Jarmon voting the only yes.
Members present: Matt Foley, Brian Jarmon, Beverly LeBoeuf, Lauren Gwaltney, chair, Ty Cole, Stuart Roberts (S), and Andrew Marlin (S).
Members absent: Battalion Chief Nickolas Hill.
Staff present: Vanessa McGrath of the Building, Engineering and Zoning Department, and planner (part-time) Fred Goodwin, also of BEZ; and 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 provides two supernumerary members (S) to sit in and vote if needed. Variances expire in 180 days if a building permit isn’t obtained.
Carried over for a third time a request for variances for a house addition on Dixon: The case at 109 Dixon Avenue had been carried over twice since November.
Granted a variance allowing the city’s park board to build a facility taller than code: Davis Architecture was approved to build a covered volleyball, basketball and maintenance building at 123 West Oxmoor Road 7 1/2 feet higher than code allows, in part to accommodate internal heights required for the ball games. Volleyball requires a 23 foot clearance, for example. Asked why the outside roof had to be so high, the architect said it was to maintain an “efficient” 2 foot to 12 foot slope from the eaves, which start at 25.6 feet, to the roof ridge, at 42.6. Zoning regulations would have capped the height at 35 feet. The building will be built on the site of the former Mason Corp. building and is part of a $35 million renovation to Park and Rec Board playing fields and facilities that expanded across the newly purchased, 15-acre Mason property. It may also house some city offices. There were no objections to the request.
Granted a variance to allow a carport to be built in front of a house on Lucerne: Spurrier Construction argued that the house at 102 Lucerne Boulevard was positioned just 10 feet off the rear property line, presenting an undeniable hardship to building an accessory structure anywhere but in front of the house. The homeowners already have a pavilion and a one-car carport in front of the house, offset to the left, which predated zoning regulations. The accessory structures sit farther back than the fronts of adjoining houses and are screened from view by a landscaping buffer and the deep setback from the street. Mr. Spurrier said the homeowners plan to enclose the existing carport and build a new 20′ X 22′ two-car carport for vehicles and a storage room. The new carport will not be enclosed and stand almost 134 feet from the road.
There being no objection, the variance was granted unanimously.
Denied variances to allow a lot on Lucerne to be split into two lots smaller and narrower than required by code: A Samford law professor tried but failed to make a convincing case for allowing a split lot at 98 Lucerne Boulevard, his family’s home since 2001 and one which he described repeatedly as an unappealing and poorly constructed structure that had been survived four badly planned and executed additions before he purchased the house. Mr.Smolin and his wife plan to move to a house on Wellington with the last of their 8 children, the youngest who has a serious medical condition; remodeling the current house wasn’t an option, he said. Instead, they proposed dividing and selling the lots for two new houses; a real estate agent and prospective buyer both attended tonight’s hearing.
Under zoning regulations, acceptable lot size is set at no less than 85% of the average of lots in a surrounding defined impact area, which in this instance encompasses 12 addresses. Based on those lots, Ms. McGrath computed the minimum required lot width to be 89 feet and the minimum area 16,168 square feet. Mr. Smolin’s lot, at 151 feet, would produce two lots of ~75 feet, requiring width variances of 13.5 feet per lot and area variances of 1,607 square feet for each.
Two people spoke, one opposing the division and a next door neighbor enthusiastically in favor. Mr. Smolian had collected 5 signatures in favor of the division, including three from adjoining properties.
The poor condition of the current house comprised part of Mr. Smolin’s detailed argument to divide, namely, that two proposed brand new Tudor or Craftsmen-styled houses would be better for the neighborhood than leaving behind one rambling, unattractive, rundown, out-of-date rancher, a choice Mr. Smolin presented as somewhat of a threat when the possibility of his winning the variance seemed to be fading. More convincing was his argument that the current property was a double lot that even divided would be larger than many residential lots elsewhere in Homewood. Further, the divided lots would be wider or just as wide as 4 of 7 surrounding properties on Lucerne, he said. The residents of one of those properties–whose own lot was less than 75 feet wide–had written one of the two letters of opposition: “They want to deny us the right to obtain what they already have for themselves,” he said. The hardship, he went on, was the 85% formula itself, which produced inconsistent/arbitrary size requirements based on where a certain property happened to be. In his case, large corner lots and double lots on Lucerne put his subdivision plan at an unfair disadvantage, he said.
Nevertheless, the board said the formula was designed to maintain consistency within a neighborhood–not within the city as a whole or just one block of it. Mr. Cole asked Mr. Smolin if he could explain what hardship prevented him from building one large house on his large lot? “It’s all about scale, you know?” he asked. “The original lots may have been narrower, but the houses you plan to build there aren’t the same. They will be built from setback to setback.” In response, Mr. Smolin said it wasn’t financial gain, but financial feasibility that motivated his desire to divide the lot. Then, seeing that his case was failing, he asked if any other board members beside Mr. Cole had questions. They did not. A vote was taken and returned a unanimous denial.
Denied a variance to allow a two-story garage built into the required setback on Gran: This case is a return from December, when a request to build a garage inside the 10-foot setback was denied, citing an absence of drawings. In December, the homeowner at 312 Gran Avenue was unable to show a credible hardship for building a large two-story brick facade garage with an attic four feet into the side setback. This time, the homeowner presented drawings of the garage, explaining that two households were
being combined at the new residence and needed storage. As before, he argued that a rear deck and sewer/water lines on the property prevented him from moving the garage to the right. As before, Mr. Cole said that hardship was self-inflicted since the owner himself designed the house and built it anew. Mr. Foley reiterated that the board rarely granted variances on new construction for that reason. Also as before, the homeowner said the original house also had a garage in the rear. This time, Ms. LeBoeuf
pointed out that the lot had been completely cleared of trees, including a buffer between the garage and Shades Cahaba Elementary. Ms. McGrath and Ms. Gwaltney then pointed out building options to avoid putting the garage onto the setback. There being other routes available to comply, the vote was taken and the variance unanimously denied.