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RDCC panel OKs one attic expansion but postpones other request

Wednesday, November 9, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

The Residential Design and Compatibility Commission approved one attic expansion and delayed another, with some commissioners rebuking city staff for failing to provide sufficient materials in the commission’s agenda backup.


The case that passed the commission, just barely, was to increase the floor-to-area ratio in a Hyde Park house from 40 percent to 50 percent, with the intention of adding a two-part addition over two one-car garages. That would allow an additional 625 square feet on a house that already had 2,500 square feet.


Owner David Peña acknowledged he already had one strike against him: buying one of the infamous Lee Homes, new construction that placed big homes on small Hyde Park lots. Still, Peña and his wife Jayne were hopeful they could have workspace over their garage since both telecommute for work.


“When we purchased the property, we specifically purchased it to build a second story above the garage, and we confirmed that with the builder at the time,” Peña said. “Everything above the garage will be compliant with single family use, rather than multi-family use.”


In other words, the addition was not intended to house college students. Commissioner Karen McGraw, however, was skeptical of that claim and said the house could easily be sold as student housing sometime in the future.


In fact, McGraw, a Hyde Park resident who had seen the plans at the Design Review Committee, was far from enthusiastic about the prospect of the addition, which she said added bulk on the back side of the lot. Peña testified that 27 out of 30 neighbors had supported the project, but McGraw argued that was only because they were not fully aware of the implications of the McMansion ordinance.


“I’m pretty nervous about it,” McGraw told her colleagues when the vote was called. “I think the people who objected had very good arguments.”


The Peñas did their best to diffuse McGraw’s concerns. McGraw’s comments expressed at the Design Review Commission, Pena said, were valuable input and gave the couple a greater understanding into what it took to fit in to the fabric of the Hyde Park neighborhood.


In the end, Peña squeaked by with the four required votes for his addition, mainly because Chair William Burkhardt said he could find no valid objection to the project, given the context of the neighborhood and the fact that the new space was not a new dwelling unit. McGraw’s substitute motion to cut the project in half failed to gain traction. In the end, Commissioners McGraw and Mary Ingle voted no when the final vote on the case was tallied.


The second case, in the 700 block of Baylor Street, also added some additional floor-to-area ratio in the conversion of an attic. Commissioners, however, found the drawings confusing and incomplete. That led to Burkhardt to ask that an item be put on next month’s RDCC agenda that would discuss the completeness of documentation presented to the commission in various cases.


As to the specific case, owner Edward Gordon insisted that the work being done in the house was intended to take existing unpermitted additions and bring them into compliance. The construction would not change the footprint of the house, he said. Instead, the roofline of the house would be changed, which would adjust the square footage that already existed within the house.


With rather vague drawings and limited information, the commission was left to flounder on the case. McGraw called the documentation “fuzzy,” saying the drawings in the backup did not provide sufficient distinction between what existed and what was being added to the structure.


McGraw also was agitated that the case went to the Historic Landmark Commission for a certificate of appropriateness before it went to the RDCC. Protocol is that the cases now go the RDCC first for approval. The Historic Landmark Commission was not aware of the RDCC parameters and requirements, making their earlier decision somewhat moot, McGraw said.


Gordon, however, insisted that he had followed the steps outlined by city staff and that the delay was costing him money. The commission, however, voted unanimously to postpone his case to the next meeting, with discussion of a special meeting to get a quicker decision getting little traction. The decision to delay was unanimous, with Keith Jackson absent.

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