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BoA fails to get past cinder block wall

Thursday, November 5, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Fences might make for good neighbors, but apparently 9-foot-tall cinder block walls are another matter entirely.

At their last meeting, Board of Adjustment members considered a variance for a wall that has already been constructed along Speedway at 101 W. 32nd St., which is on the corner of West 32nd Street and Speedway. The homeowner, David Biven, explained that there was a 4-foot drop from the corner to the southernmost point of his property. He told the board that he constructed the wall without knowing that city code restricted the height of fences to 6 feet. At its highest point, the wall is just under 9 feet tall.

He was seeking two variances to retain the wall and back fence as is, but board members voted unanimously to postpone to allow neighbors and Biven to reach a compromise once and for all. Although the board seemed close to coming up with its own compromise, which would limit the maximum height of the wall and back fence to 7 feet, Board Member Melissa Neslund moved for the postponement instead. Board Member Michael Von Ohlen was absent.

“Quite frankly, I would be more inclined to deny it tonight altogether, because I think you should meet code. I think it’s really obnoxious,” said Neslund. “But … I would support a postponement with the understanding we would vote one way or another at the next meeting.”

Though Biven has support from four neighbors and the neighborhood association opted not to oppose the variance, not everyone is happy with his request. North University Neighborhood Association member Mary Ingle spoke in opposition to the variance.

“This is not a fence. … It is a solid cinder block wall. And it’s too tall, regardless of the topography,” said Ingle, who showed a picture of herself standing in front of the wall, which she said showed that the wall was more than 9 feet in height.

“To me, this sets a very bad precedent in our neighborhood. It’s like a gated community effect. It’s not good massing and scale when you are walking down the street next to it,” said Ingle. “I think this neighbor is a very good person and a good neighbor, but I’m sorry, I don’t like your wall.”

Ingle suggested that the situation could be rectified by bringing the wall into code.

Biven explained that the wall was necessary for privacy and to cut down on the noise of vehicular traffic and to stop foot traffic from cutting through his yard. This justification didn’t impress Board Member Melissa Hawthorne.

“I mean, I have neighbors. I see them. I have these things called curtains,” said Hawthorne.

In addition to not knowing about the height restriction, Biven was not aware that cinder block walls over 6 feet tall must be engineered and permitted. He told the board that he was in the process of getting a permit.

“So, it also may not be constructed properly, for all we know,” said Board Member Brooke Bailey.

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