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Commission approves resubdivision, with questions

Tuesday, October 20, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Despite commissoners’ reservations, an unorthodox east side resubdivision made it through the Planning Commission last week. But the case raised enough eyebrows that commissioners have vowed to take a look at the code that allowed it, with an eye toward tightening any loopholes that may exist.

Developer and owner MX3 Homes LLC is proposing to divide the existing lot at 1710 Maple Ave. into three “cottage” lots. Steve Hopkins, who is in the city’s Development Services Department, explained that the subdivision met the requirements for approval.

The Chestnut Neighborhood Contact Team wasn’t so sure. Though it had supported the demolition on the lot, it strongly opposed the plan to subdivide the lot into such small parcels, despite reassurances that the lots met the cottage lot requirement laid out in the city code.

At issue was a “leg” on one of the proposed subdivisions that allowed the developer to skirt compatibility standards that would otherwise require a larger lot. The largest proposed lot is more than 3,500 square feet, which is large enough to be adjacent to a single-family lot under code. However, the other two would not be compatible were it not for the buffer.

When asked whether this plan avoided the spirit, if not the letter, of the code, Hopkins responded, “From my position, the code is black and white. It is not adjacent, therefore these further regulations do not apply.”

Commissioner Nuria Zaragoza was blunt.

“Someone has worked a loophole, and it’s not admirable,” said Zaragoza. “I hate to see that, because it’s obviously attempting something to negate a protection that was placed in our Land Development Code.”

Zaragoza questioned whether the commission could take into account the “spirit” of the code in its approval. Typically, there is little wiggle room in subdivision approvals, and commissions are obligated to approve them if they meet all the requirements of the code.

Given these constraints, Assistant City Attorney Brent Lloyd advised the commission to accept staff’s recommendation to approve the subdivision. He further explained that, while commissioners could disapprove a resubdivision, they should be able to state what requirement they felt was not met.

Commissioner Fayez Kazi said that he didn’t think the developer was trying to take advantage of a loophole but was just dividing the lot in a way that worked, given the fact that the developer was “just shy” of being able to subdivide the 10,200-square-foot lot into three lots outright.

After some debate, commissioners voted 10-2 to approve the subdivision, with Commissioners Trinity White and Zaragoza voting in opposition.

Though she didn’t vote against the resubdivision, Commissioner Patricia Seeger requested a review of the strategy in the Planning Commission’s Codes and Ordinances Committee. The matter will be discussed there in the future.

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