September 27, 2012It seems that it's better to ask forgiveness than permission when arguing a case before the Greensboro Board of Adjustment.
At its Monday, Sept. 24 meeting, the board denied a request for 2 feet of variance for a proposed historic building relocation. However, the board later granted a variance for a two-story structure that encroaches 7 feet into its 10-foot side setback and 3.2 into the 10-foot rear setback.
Ann Roberts requested the 2 feet of variance, which would have allowed her to relocate a 100-year-old home to a vacant lot at 225 North Spring St. for office space. Roberts was represented by Tom Terrell of Smith Moore Leatherwood LLP.
Opposing the variance request were the property owners on either side of Roberts' lot on North Spring Street; Carruthers & Roth P.A. represented by Patrick Haywood, and Office Biz Spring LLC represented by Patrick Blaire. The opposition cross-examined Roberts and other witnesses, including Ginia Zenke, the current owner of the house, which had to be moved because of the construction of the new jail.
In opening remarks Terrell pointed out that the lot's small width of 50 feet was a holdover from the 19th century, and that holding it to 21st century zoning standards made infill and reinvestment extremely difficult in some areas of Greensboro. However, he said that the spirit of the regulations encouraged the kind of development Roberts was pursuing.
Roberts testified that the small size of her lot limited what she could do with it, and that she felt that saving an historic house from the landfill would match the character of the surrounding area. She read several sections of the Land Development Ordinance and Connections 2025 Comprehensive Plan that she said she felt supported her case.
Haywood said that there are other ways for Roberts to make reasonable use of her property that did not require a variance.
During cross examination Haywood presented Roberts with site plans that showed buildings with the same area as the proposed home that didn't encroach into setbacks. When asked if she had considered other uses for her property, Roberts replied that she had, but that she had never gone so far as to develop a site plan.
Terrell said that it was unreasonable to expect Roberts to raise and dismiss every possible use for her property before determining if she could make reasonable use of it under the current ordinances or not.
Board member Frank Forde expressed concern that the eves of the house might also be too wide, although Zenke assured the board that the eves could be retracted during the relocation process if required.
Forde commented that although he thought it was a good project, he felt that Roberts "hasn't done a great deal of study" regarding her property and that he did not feel comfortable granting the variance.
Board member Patti Eckard said she didn't think the house was a good fit for the lot. "To try to squish it into the lot or cut of the eves or stretch it, it takes away from the beauty of the house," she said
The board voted 5 to 0 to deny the request with acting board Chair Cheryl Huffman and board members Eckard, Forde, Jeff Nimmer and Cyndy Hayworth voting against the variance. Board Chair Frankie Jones was recused from the case because of a conflict of interest.
The next item on the agenda was a request by Refugio Acosta, represented by Mark Isaacson, for a more drastic variance for an existing building. That request was granted unanimously.
Acosta requested a variance for a "two-story detached accessory building" for use as a storage shed. The variance would allow the building to remain two-stories high while encroaching 7 feet into a 10-foot side setback and 3.2 feet into a 10-foot rear setback.
The existing building is 12 feet by 22 feet, even though the permit obtained in 2003, which expired in 2009, was for a building 12 feet by 12 feet.
In 2011, when Acosta added a second story to the building, it triggered a setback requirement, requiring the variance he was requesting Monday.
Isaacson said that Acosta's family needed the building since his household includes several children and a mother-in-law and they need the extra space to store their things.
Isaacson also said that the building, which includes a two-story deck, adds aesthetic value to the neighborhood. A neighbor was also present to speak in favor of the variance and attest to the quality of care with which Acosta maintained his property.
Isaacson presented affidavits of support from surrounding neighbors. No one spoke in opposition.
Huffman brought up the concern that the building may be used as a second residence on the property. Huffman said that "part of the reason why these rules exist" is to prevent the construction of "mother-in-law suites."
After several members complimented Acosta on his landscaping, the board agreed to adopt a condition that no water or electricity be run out to the building to address Huffman's concern.
The variance request was then granted 7 to 0, with Board Chair Jones and board members Huffman, Nimmer, Hayworth, Eckard, Forde and Joseph Hampton, who joined the meeting late, voting in favor of the request.