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Small variance request draws major opposition at Board of Adjustment

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

Even a request for a small variance can engender fierce opposition, as demonstrated at the Board of Adjustment last week. The board granted two minor variances for the property at 1514 Hether Street near Barton Hills, but that will not be the end of the conversation.


The variances may have been small but faced strong opposition from the property’s closest neighbor.


The board voted 6-0 to approve the variances, with a stipulation that the new owners and their neighbors work out drainage issues.


“We’re going to put a lot of faith in you, as the owner of that new property, to fix this situation,” said Board of Adjustment Chair Jeff Jack.


The property is currently under escrow, with the future owners unable to close on the house until the issues are resolved.


The current owner, Guillermo Sanchez, was seeking variances that would allow residential family use for the property, which has a larger house in back, and a smaller house in front, and a side yard setback encroachment of 3.12 inches. The variances were opposed by the property’s closest neighbor to the west, Anthony Lore.


Lore told the board that because the property was not properly permitted, it was built on a drainage easement. This has resulted in flooding on his property. Though the easement was for a storm sewer underground, Lore felt it affected natural surface flow as well.


“I would implore the board to not grant these variances for the structure, because it wasn’t properly permitted, it wasn’t properly designed or documented. There are also these additional drainage problems that will continue if this structure is allowed to remain there. So I would say not only should the variances not be granted, but the structure should be reconfigured to get out of the setback and out of the drainage way,” said Lore.


“Just to be clear, if we didn’t grant the variance with regard to the side yard setback, the fact of the matter is the reconfiguration that would result is shaving off only .2 feet. It doesn’t take the building down,” said Jack. “Even if we didn’t approve the variances, it’s not going to move the house. It’s not going to change the house.”


Jim Wittliff, of Land Solutions Inc., told the board that the area is pretty flat, and he saw no evidence of natural surface drainage problems. He speculated that Lore’s property could just be in a low spot.


Lore also told the board that the only permit he could find was from 2002, and it “pertains to remodeling the structure, replacing the exterior structure and doing some other repairs to the structure to bring it into compliance.”


“Unfortunately what happened was you get this really, really large structure that gets built. As you can see it’s considerably larger than what was there. There’s no evidence of any architectural site plan, there’s no evidence of any architectural drawings or specifications of any kind. That is why there is a number of code issues with associated with this building, because there wasn’t the necessary scrutiny done, there wasn’t the research done on this property to determine where precisely the building footprint needed to be,” said Lore.


Wittliff presented a permit, reviewed by the city. “They felt like it was a legitimate permit,” said Wittliff, who explained that the Watershed Protection Department agreed to enter into an easement modification with the owner, which acknowledged the city had some culpability about where the structure was built.


He noted that in the agreement the owner agreed to donate property in the rear if the pipe needs to be relocated, and the owner would hold the city harmless if the pipe were ever to collapse and damage the house. “But it’s a pretty strong structure,” said Wittliff.


Wittliff acknowledged that the property had an extensive history with the city.


“Until this past year, the city recognized it as an amnesty property with three residential units in an SF-3 zoning district. This year, meetings that I’ve had with city building officials and assistant city managers, it was determined that there was an error, and that the amnesty CO should not have been approved, and it was withdrawn by the city. And that happened just a couple of weeks back,” said Wittliff.


To bring this property into code, the owner had to turn the back structure into a single-family structure “The front property just happens to be under 850 square feet in size, the rear property is 1,640 square feet. “We qualify for two-family residential, but we’re flip flopped. The front property, instead of being the main larger house, with the granny flat in the back, we’ve got, because of circumstances, the small house in the front and the big house in the back.”

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