An 8-lot subdivision proposed on a wooded parcel on Mecca gets a surprising denial and a sense of victory for construction-weary Ward 1 residents. But the celebration may be temporary. Developers are likely to comply by reducing the number of lots from 8 to 7 and taking their case to the Planning Commission instead.
Members present: Brian Jarmon, Beverly LeBoeuf, Lauren Gwaltney, chair, Ty Cole, and Andrew Marlin (S).
Members absent: Matt Foley, Stuart Roberts (S) and 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: 23
*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 until next month a case at 109 Dixon requesting a setback variance for a house addition.
With one dissent, allowed a 6-inch variance for a new garage on Hambaugh: The homeowner at 600 Hambaugh Avenue, a corner lot, plans to add a three-car garage (34′ X 24′) on the rear of the house, which faces Dixon Avenue. The house is already non-compliant by 6 inches on the left side, and the attached garage addition would have to continue that noncompliance in order to extend the roofline with no interruption. Mr. Cole argued there was no real hardship except the design because the garage could have been moved to avoid building into the setback. The other members disagreed and approved the variance.
3117 Whitehall Road
Allowed a variance to the right setback for a house addition on Whitehall: Homeowners at 3117 Whitehall Road plan to add to the second story, but the requested variance only involves infilling a small notch on the rear right exterior wall, which is a single story. The variance was allowed because the house is already over the setback line and the addition would just be to “square off” the notch, not extend the footprint.
1744 Kensington Road
Granted a continued variance for a house addition on Kensington: The house at 1744 Kensington is already sitting 2 feet into the setback on the left side, usually an acceptable hardship for gaining a code variance. The plan is to partially demolish some walls and rebuild a first and second story, requiring a variance to allow the noncompliance to continue with new construction. The addition includes a gabled wall and the neighbor on the affected side, an architect himself, had no objections, he said. The board asked few questions and approved the variance.
323 Dixon Avenue
Denied a major portion of four variances requested for a house and garage addition into a small back yard: The couple wanting to preserve the looks of a small house at 323 Dixon Avenue by extending the house 17 feet to the rear for a master bedroom suite and laundry, and enlarging an existing detached garage, were thwarted by board objections to reducing the backyard area. NPD rules prohibit building on more than 50% of the entire lot area, and/or over 30% of the back yard, as measured from the back of the house to the property line and side-to-side. In this case, the fatal combination of both additions required a third variance to allow smaller than required back yard area. Mr. Cole said the plan
had buildings “colliding” in the back, with little room between them. Ms. McGrath and some board members were equally concerned about enlarging the garage on the narrow alley and having any turning room to enter it. The husband rejected as “lame” the idea of substituting an uncovered parking pad in the back, which wouldn’t count against the 30% requirement.
The request, therefore, included four variances: 1) A 1-foot left setback for the house addition, and 2) A left setback variance for the garage, 3) A rear setback variance for the garage, and 4) A variance allowing 103.52 square feet less than the 30% calculation allowed by code.
323 Dixon, from the left side
The builder argued that there was no direction to expand except to the rear or up due to the deep front setback of the house. However, as the discussion progressed, objections mounted, and Mr. Cole said the board was only given a sketch of the plan instead of a drawn layout with measurements to judge by. The couple made things worse by saying they had formal plans but didn’t submit them. Ms. Gwaltney warned that she would not ever be in favor of exempting yard area requirements because the code already allowed a generous amount of building. The discussion taking a negative turn, and to possibly salvage some of the variances, the couple decided to split the vote into two requests, one for the house addition and one vote for the garage and yard variances combined. The first vote passed with Mr. Cole voting no. The second vote failed unanimously.
Denied lot width variances (narrower) on each of 8 vacant lots on Mecca: Nearly two dozen people showed up to watch or protest the proposed division of a parcel of vacant wooded land on Mecca into 8 lots of 50′ X 140′ as originally drawn in the early 1900s. According to city regulations, lot sizes must meet 85% of the average of lots in a 250-foot “impact area” that reflects the look of the street. That calculation–which included several nearby large or combined lots occupied by single houses–produced a required minimum width of 53 feet, or a 3-foot variance for each of the 8 lots.
Housing plans are very preliminary and include two-story structures of about 2,800 square feet each, with 60-foot driveways leading to parking pads in the rear. No builder has been selected.
Location of 8 wooded lots
Eight speakers came to the podium. Several asked the developer to build on only 7 lots, which would produce 57-foot widths, compliant with zoning but requiring a resurvey and approval by the Planning Commission. Other speakers objected to concerns about parking (street parking is already prohibited on the east side of the street), stormwater runoff and erosion affecting the city and neighboring properties, tree and buffer destruction, and typical construction nuisances such as debris, noise, and traffic congestion. There was concern about building on steep topography.
A neighbor at 320 Laurel apologized for taking a purely emotional stand against over-building and the loss of trees, bird and animal species. “It’s not our Homewood anymore, it’s the developer’s Homewood,” she said.
More stringent stormwater and erosion control rules coming
Ms. McGrath addressed the erosion and stormwater concerns. She agreed the terrain is challenging to build on and drain, saying there was a 100-foot grade change on the property. However, the state had just issued a new stormwater permit (ms4) under more stringent and detailed rules; Cities in Jefferson County were combining to write a uniform set of regulations to comply, expected by the end of the year. The city will be responsible for providing the stormwater controls and infrastructure to meet the new regulations, she said.
What’s the hardship?
In response to questions, the engineer and real estate agent Guy Bradley argued repeatedly that 50-foot lot widths were routine in Edgewood and the norm even on Mecca. However, Mr. Cole dismissed that argument as a qualifying hardship–the developer could have avoided variances simply by building 7 lots instead of 8: “Why do you have to build eight? What is the hardship? You still haven’t answered that,” he said.
Before the vote, Mr. Cole said lots were drawn 50-feet wide over 100 years ago because the houses were scaled to fit on them. Those small lots weren’t intended to hold multiple cars and two-story houses, he said. “There’s a whole dynamic that isn’t represented in a two-dimension layout,” he said.
The discussion having ended, the vote was taken and the variances denied.
1811 Mayfair Drive
Allowed variances to the front, right and left side setbacks for an addition on Mayfair: The homeowner at 1811 Mayfair plan to extend an already non-conforming second story toward the rear, requiring variances of 3-feet on the right and 2.5-feet on the left for the new construction, and extending the front porch out 8 feet, or 4 feet into the required setback. Other additions, such as a screened porch on the back, are within the setback. Two letters of approval from neighbors on either side were submitted, and the vote was unanimous to award the variances.
1811 Mayfair Drive