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RDCC to offer changes to McMansions Ordinance

Friday, February 8, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

The Residential Design and Compatibility Commission will offer its own set of recommendations when the McMansions Task Force presents potential changes to the ordinance to Council on Feb. 28.


The task force has been working through a lengthy list related to the nuances of the ordinances, including issues raised by the commission.  At this week’s meeting, however, the RDCC took up a singular type of case: What to do if a homeowner has a historical structure and wants to build an addition that will require a hearing before the commission.


This change is close to Commissioner Karen McGraw’s heart. McGraw, chair of the Hyde Park Planning Team, is involved actively in local preservation issues.


The final language of the amendment is not complete, but the general concept is:


If the house already were a historical landmark or what is defined as a contributing structure within a local historic district, then the case would go to the RDCC first. If the RDCC approves the waiver, then the structure can go to the Historic Landmark Commission for its required certificate of appropriateness.


If the structure were located in a National Historic Register District prior to the completion of a review by the Historic Landmark Commission, then it would go to the Historic Landmark Commission. In this case, any comments made by the Historic Landmark Commission are non-binding. McGraw said it made sense for HLC to offer its comments to the RDCC before consideration of the waiver. Many of the comments of the HLC on an addition would be aspects considered by the RDCC.


The RDCC also reviewed a case that illustrates the complications that can come through the approval of the waivers. In the case in question, a stop order was issued on work in progress on at house at 2309 W. Ninth St. The owner came to RDCC, asking for increased square footage, primarily for unfinished attic space. The commission approved that waiver contingent on the house meeting its required 32-foot height limit.


The developer began construction a second time. The height of the house, however, was measured incorrectly. A neighbor filed an appeal on the square footage waiver after it was approved, sending the appeal to the City Council. The developer could avoid that appeal by simply adjusting the attic space to bring the house into compliance with current standards.


But what about the height issue? City staff issued the permit and allowed the work to continue. A waiver exists for the house. At this point, city staff has not gone out to measure the actual height to the top of the dormer to see if it meets height requirements.


“The error we noticed in the field was that the height had been measured incorrectly,” King said. “We had another situation over on Eighth Street with a similar design, but the construction was far from over. They had not built their roof. We went in and helped them adjust it, so they went forward without them coming in for a waiver.”


Commissioner Jean Stevens asked whether the planner and site inspectors could be brought in to talk to the RDCC, just to determine where the process broke down. The city has foundation inspections and framing inspections, with height being determined during the framing inspection. Chair William Burkhardt noted that waiting that long – if the planner does not catch it –means the developer has put significant money and construction into the project before a stop order is issued.


Even as city staff is sorting out these issues on 2309 W. Ninth, the developer is being allowed to continue construction on the two-story house. If the roof or attic is the issue, the developer can continue to build at the floor level, as long as the construction is in compliance, planner Jessica King told the commission. If Council or the RDCC ends up saying “no,” then the developer is asked, at that point, to adjust plans to bring the building into compliance with the city’s standards.


Last night, the RDCC heard only two cases. King and Maggie Howard-Heretakis agreed that fewer cases were reaching the commission because planners often were working with developers and homeowners to bring their homes into compliance. Homeowners do not want to come before the RDCC, King admitted.


“Good, maybe we can work our way out of a job,” McGraw said.

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