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Board of Adjustment postponement puts sale of property on hold

Monday, March 19, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

The buyers of a property at 813 East 13th Street will have to return to the Board of Adjustment next month, after narrowly failing to receive the votes they needed for a variance that would allow them to build.


The property was once home to two buildings. One built in 1909 was demolished last year, while one built in 1930 is scheduled to be demolished this year. The 1930 house has a zero foot front setback; the 1909 home has an 8-foot setback.


Jim Wittliff, of Land Answers Inc., represented both the current and potential owners. He asked the board to grant the variance that would change the setback from 25 to eight feet, noting that it was “in character with prior established use”


The future owners hope to build two residences on the property in the footprints of the old buildings, which accommodate a 49-inch diameter heritage tree in the center of the lot. Wittliff told the board that without the variance, they will not purchase the property.


“Understandably, you are trying to lock in as many development rights as you can before it sells. I’m uncomfortable with that,” said Board Member Heidi Goebel. “To me, it seems as if we aren’t talking about something real. We’re talking about something that might happen… If somebody actually bought this, we could start actually talking about what they were going to build and what sorts of push and pull we could do to make this happen.”


Wittliff disagreed, saying that though the purchase of the property was contingent on the granting of the variance, the potential buyer’s brother lived next door, and it was where they intended to retire.


“We’re not asking for something speculative,” said Wittliff. “Why would somebody buy a piece of property that they can’t build what they want to build on? Of course what they want to build looks an awful lot like the footprint of what’s been there for a hundred years.”


The current property owner rezoned the property from LR to SF-3 just months ago. Under LR, the front building setback was required to be zero feet, according to commercial design standards.


“We voluntarily rezoned this to SF-3, and we took a huge leap of faith in doing so,” said Wittliff. “I filed the Board of Adjustment variance the next day, after the zoning was approved.”


“It seems to me, it’s the desire to have the two-family use that’s presenting your hardship… It looks like there is plenty of room to build a lovely, beautiful house behind this tree… On your sketch, your concept is insisting on that two-family use, which then pushes the house to the front, and all of this other stuff,” said Goebel


Alternate Stuart Hampton disagreed, saying that the larger issue was the neighborhood support and the neighborhood plan. Twenty-seven neighbors signed a letter of support for the project, which also received a unanimous vote of support from the Swede Hill Neighborhood Association.


The board voted 5-1 in favor of the variance, but six affirmative votes were required to approve it, so it was denied. However, Board of Adjustment rules state that in the case that the outcome of a case could have been changed by one vote, it automatically comes back to the board.


Ultimately, Goebel cast the only dissenting vote. Hampton was sitting in for absent Board Members Bryan King and Nora Salinas, and Alternate Will Schnier recused himself from the case. The case will be heard again at the board’s next meeting.

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