THIS MONDAY EVENING – MAY 23 – ZONING BOARD – “DOWNTON WALK” – LIKELY FINAL VOTE.
EVERY COMMENT IS CRUCIAL
Hang in there, and please come to the next (and possibly final) meeting. We need you!
Thanks to all who attended the last ZBA meeting.
The zoning board will vote on our appeal (and, we fear from their comments at the last meeting, not in our favor). They will then go right back, the same night, to considering the “Downton Walk” proposal, and may vote, then and there, to approve the whole project. This could be a done deal in one shot, so we need to get as many people in the room to make a quick comment. John Witt will have supporters in the room. Without as many of us as possible attending and speaking, we will lose.
Again, this is about more than just this particular proposal. If it is approved, it will set a disastrous precedent for this city.
The two items are “#2887 DOWNTON WALK APPEAL” and “#2759.1 ANW HOLDINGS RESIDENTIAL DEVELOPMENT”
While we don’t want to overwhelm with detail, there are two sets of crucial points below (“A COUPLE OF IMPORTANT POINTS TO STRESS” and “THE 5 CRITERIA THE BOARD CONSIDERS”) that will be helpful to forming our comments to the board and in how they will make their decision. Below that is complete background info on the project.
Please feel free to contact:
Sam Brewton (206 Lake Ave)
A COUPLE OF IMPORTANT POINTS TO STRESS:
*In 2013, Mr. Witt was granted the same variances he is re-applying for now (the variances lapsed, so he has to re-apply). He and the board have leaned heavily into “well, we passed this before, so let’s do it again”. However, in 2013 we were dumbstruck when the board granted approval. We feel they made a bad decision. Today is a new day, a new application, and a chance for the board to look more closely at the massive variances Mr. Witt is asking for.
*We do not oppose Mr. Witt per se, or that he should build on this parcel. We are opposed to the mass and scale of the proposal and want our zoning laws to be enforced.
*We agree the old building should be replaced, but that is not reason to grant these massive variances and allow this project to depart radically from zoning. A reasonable project would still accomplish the goal of replacing the old building.
*We are NOT at odds with the few neighbors who have supported this project based on their desire to see the old building gone. We just want it to be replaced by something reasonable. The developer is counting on our fear of “getting nothing” if we don’t allow “everything”.
*Witt has stated that he will sell these homes for $700,000 to $1,500,000. He has also stated that in order to make a profit he has to build and sell seven. We believe that a reasonable proposal of five homes could certainly still be profitable for him.
*Our aim is to make the Zoning Board require Mr. Witt to come back with a more reasonable proposal, more in line with the zoning laws that were intended to protect us from projects like this.
THE 5 CRITERIA THE BOARD CONSIDERS (and some of our possible answers):
1. WHETHER THE BENEFITS SOUGHT BY THE APPLICANT CAN BE ACHIEVED BY ANY OTHER MEANS.
The core benefit to the city and neighborhood is eliminating the current structure. This can be accomplished by building fewer homes and requiring minimal area variances. Whether or not this is as economically advantageous to Mr. Witt is not a zoning issue.
2. WHETHER GRANTING THE VARIANCES WILL PRODUCE AN UNDESIRABLE CHANGE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OR A DETRIMENT TO NEARBY PROPERTIES.
These huge, tightly packed-in homes are out of character with this historic neighborhood. The square footage of the proposed homes is clearly greater than the existing surrounding homes, in some cases double and triple. Rather than creating privacy as claimed, this proposal produces a walled environment, which separates the new homes from less expensive housing next door.
3. WHETHER THE VARIANCE IS SUBSTANTIAL.
It is blatantly inaccurate to describe this project as minimal. All the variances being requested (variances listed below) by the applicant are very substantial.
4. WHETHER THE VARIANCE WILL HAVE ADVERSE PHYSICAL OR ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS ON NEIGHBORHOOD OR DISTRICT
5. WHETHER THE ALLEGED DIFFICULTY WAS SELF-CREATED.
The difficulty was self-created by the developer by asking for too much.
. . . For those who want more background, read on:
OVERVIEW – IN A NUTSHELL
-One home is allowed on this lot, or five, if the property is subdivided. But space would be needed to accommodate an access road, so four homes seem more likely if the proper route, in line with zoning, were taken.
-Witt is asking to NOT subdivide yet be allowed seven buildings instead of one (a massive departure from zoning).
-He is calling them “individual condominiums”. He needs the land to be commonly owned, since, if not subdivided, who would own the property?
-Each home will be selling for between $700,000 and $1.5 million
-Our zoning allows 30% of the parcel to be covered by buildings. He wants to be allowed to cover 46% (a 52% increase from what is allowed).
-By not being required to subdivide and calling these “condominiums” he relieves himself of the setback and maximum coverage requirements of our zoning laws and can arrange the seven buildings any way he wants, tightly packing them in.
-On the north side of the parcel he is required by zoning to leave 25 feet between the backs of his buildings and the adjoining properties. He wants to be allowed to reduce that requirement to only six feet. The backs of these 32 foot high buildings would be virtually on, and towering over, the property line, with no room for buffer or trees. All existing trees would be cut down.
-These buildings will be large (see below), and out of character with the neighborhood.
-As of yet, Mr. Witt has not made any concessions or compromises to his plans. He has stated that if he is not allowed the full extent of what he is asking, this project would not be profitable enough for him. We feel this is a false claim – that he could certainly make a profit with a more reasonable project, more in line with zoning.
Our appeal challenges Mr. Witt’s claim that he needs only AREA variances (listed below) to build these seven “individual condominiums” on this one lot. We believe that a USE variance is required, since he is not subdividing the parcel and wants his seven buildings (instead of the ONE legally allowed) to reside on one commonly owned property in “multi-family” fashion. But multi-family, by definition, is not allowed in our zoning district (UR-3). We oppose the scale of the AREA variances as well; but, in filing this appeal, we want the board to address our belief that a USE variance is needed for a condominium development of this sort. It is important to understand that a USE variance requires a very different approval process in our city.
SIZE OF THE PROPOSED HOMES
So far there are no actual measurements per unit, only Witt’s very generalized predictions.
The (rounded) square footage (reflecting all living space – not just footprint) of some of the existing houses on Jumel are: 1400, 900, 1200, 1300, 1500, 1200, 1500, 1900, 1600, 2000.
Witt’s footprints (footprint=first floor only) are: 2,449, 1357, 1472, 2099, 2739, 2340, 2070. A guess-timate of second stories would lead us to predict Witt’s proposed homes to be clearly larger — and possibly double or more — than most of the other existing houses on the street. Even his footprints alone are larger than the full square footage of a good number of the surrounding homes. From his rendering of the facades it looks as if the homes will also have a third story (see attached pdf).
“AREA” VARIANCES WITT IS REQUESTING
1) The maximum building coverage allowed on this lot is 30%. The applicant is asking to be allowed to cover 46%, or 52% more than what is allowed. Granting this request would be a massive increase from what is allowed by zoning.
2) The applicant is asking for maximum principal buildings on one lot to be increased from one to seven, a 600% increase. Only five single-family units are allowed by law on this property — BUT ONLY after the property is subdivided. Why is this property not being subdivided? To go from one to seven houses is a massive increase.
3) The rear yard setback required for each unit is 25 feet. The applicant is asking that this requirement be eliminated by 100% for five units, going from the 25 feet required to zero (0) feet. For the remaining two units he is asking for a 76% reduction in the rear yard setback from 25 feet to 6 feet.
4) The front yard setback required for the two front units is 10 feet. The applicant is asking for only a one (1) foot setback, a 90% reduction in the front yard. The applicant claims that this is so “our (2) front porches [can] be placed on the unit.” However, his drawings show that he is not proposing porches, only overhangs.
5) The fence height allowed in this UR-3 residential area is six feet. The applicant is asking for an eight-foot fence, a 33% increase in height over what is allowed. Why is this necessary only for this development? Is the applicant trying to exclude the rest of the neighborhood? A fence this high would create an exclusive walled enclave shutting out the existing neighborhood.
-We do not oppose Mr. Witt per se, or that he should develop this property.
-We all agree that the existing building is an eyesore and should be replaced
-But, first and foremost, we contend that this multi-family proposal (he is asking to build 7 homes as “condominiums” on one non-divided lot) requires a USE variance, as multi-family is not allowed in our zoning district (UR-3)
-And, at the same time, we are opposed to the massive scale of the AREA variances he is requesting and of the project as currently designed.
-We feel that the current design and density of the proposal and the number and size of the proposed homes are out of character with this historic neighborhood.
-We want a revised more reasonable proposal MORE IN LINE WITH OUR ZONING LAWS.