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Property owners have tough time dividing joined lot

Thursday, May 15, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

The case of 810 West Annie and 1715 Bouldin Avenue at the Board of Adjustment last night was like a really bad divorce. The two property owners knew they wanted to be divided, but it as tough time trying to divide the assets.

The fact is the two lots were actually one, one that shared a common garage apartment. When Grand and Erin Hill at 810 West Annie finally chose to add a second-floor addition to their home to accommodate a second child, it required removing the garage across the property and turning one lot into two. That also required a laundry list of just about every variance in the book.

The front street setback was changed. The side street setbacks were changed. The rear yard setback was reduced. Accessory buildings were to be removed. The lot size was reduced. Impervious cover was increased slightly. The adjacent property also had the same type of variances. By the time the discussion was over, the Hills also agreed that they might need a waiver of the floor-to-area ratio. The total square footage of a two-story house in the reduced-size lot was a total of 1,500 square feet.

“In addition, we’re requesting a lot size variance,” Erin Hill said in her introduction of the case. “As I’m sure you know, if we remove our portion of a structure spanning the two lots, then it becomes two separate lots as far as zoning is concerned.”

But as is the situation with many cases before the BOA, an action does not necessarily create a finding of hardship. Chair Frank Fuentes strongly suggested that Hill postpone her case because it simply created no true findings.

“I’ve read the hardship, and what you’re basically saying is that your intent is that you have to do something illegal to bring it up to city code, but you want a variance from the code to make it legal,” Fuentes said. “That’s what you’ve written. That’s not a hardship. You need to speak specifically to the variances you are asking for, and draft those hardships as findings. You can’t say you need to do something illegal to make it legal. Even that one sentence is wrong.”

In addition, next-door neighbor Marvin McCowan also raised objections to the case. With a reduced side yard setback, the second-floor addition to the Hills house would be practically on top of his own lot. In fact, the current house was only 18 inches from the lot line when the accessory shed was included.

“I think it’s asking a little too much,” McCowan said. “It’s going to totally engulf my property by the time they go to a second floor. They do have that right, to some extent, but we do have the neighborhood integrity to consider.”

Also, with the lot line already reduced, the removal of the garage apartment was going to be a health hazard. McCowan said he often spent time in his backyard with his children and his grandchildren and worried about the safety hazards of construction, and especially the deconstruction of the garage apartment.

In her rebuttal, Hill noted that only one window would be built in the second-floor addition, a window that would be in a second-floor nursery.

Commissioner Leane Heldenfels, trying to be helpful, noted that the configuration of the lots and the current placement of the buildings on those lots might be something that could be drawn up as a hardship on the case. She also recommended that Hill meet with her neighbor to find additional common ground.

The case was delayed. Hill said it would take only 30 days to add findings to her variances in order to win the approval of the Board of Adjustment. The case is back on the agenda on June 9.

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