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Planning Commission won’t amend NCCD to fix permit mistake

Thursday, March 13, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Planning Commission has shot down a city staff scheme to fix a mistake that left a neighborhood business in limbo.


Though the request was solely to initiate an amendment to the Hyde Park Neighborhood Conservation Combining District (NCCD,) the Planning Commission declined to wade into those waters at all. The commission voted unanimously to oppose the initiation.


In January, Adams House Bed and Breakfast owners Liz Lock, Sidney Lock and Eric Hughes circulated a letter asking for neighborhood support. It explained that after a year of working with the city to build a second story addition to their main house they ran into trouble.


The letter explains that after speaking with neighborhood associations, the Historic Landmark Commission, and reviews from the city, they were granted a building permit in September for an addition they intended to use as Innkeeper living space. Two months after starting construction – following demolition and the beginning of framing – a complaint was filed by a neighbor. The city then suspended the building permit.


As a solution, Senior Planner Heather Chaffin explained that the city was requesting to amend the NCCD in order to address the mistaken approval of a building permit. As it turns out, the building was already over its allowed floor-to-area ratio. Prior to the permit being issued, the FAR was 0.49 to1, and that was set to increase to 0.578 to 1. The allowable maximum for the 4300 Avenue G Property is 0.4 to 1.


But the quick fix hit a dead end at the Planning Commission, where commissioners worried about the possible precedent the workaround could set. Commissioner Danette Chimenti pointed out that a change to an NCCD was a “pretty severe” zoning change.


“From speaking to folks in the neighborhood (I understand) this is a bed-and-breakfast that is very well-loved in the neighborhood, so I have a feeling there would be support for this business. But I don’t like the idea of setting precedent where staff just comes and says, ‘well, we are going to amend the NCCD because we made a mistake.’ I think that would be a mistake,” said Chimenti.


Chimenti noted that the change is something that would normally go before the Residential Design Compatibility Commission and, potentially, the Board of Adjustment.


“Here we are seeking a change to an NCCD – which is really a major thing – and to do it for something like this, to me, seems very extreme,” said Chimenti. “You have other recourse.”


Chaffin said that the city had done this before in similar cases, such as Franklin Barbeque. She pointed out that the change would not be to the entire NCCD, but just a rezoning within it, on a single parcel.


Assistant Director of Planning and Development Review Don Birkner explained that the city had mistakenly granted the property a site plan exemption. That’s something it would have qualified for if it were not a bed-and-breakfast. Bed and breakfasts are specifically excluded from that site plan exemption. Birkner said that after discussions with the owner “it was determined that this was ultimately a political issue best determined by the City Council.”


Ex-officio member Jeff Jack joined Chimenti in her concern.


“We often have issues with mistakes happening in permitting. And if we use this technique to solve them, we’ll have a real problem,” said Jack. “Because everyone out there… they are going to call it a political problem and go through this process of changing the code for one particular lot.”

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