The debacle of the barn “rehab” on Murphy Lane has ended. The city has, for all intents and purposes, thrown in the towel. The settlement requires the owner to make some minor changes. RIP for the original barn. The owner can now build a new three bedroom house on an alley.
Here is the original post.
Briefly, the project should never have been allowed. A split Zoning Board of Appeals decision originally granted the variances sought by the owner, Jean D’Agostino.
To remind the readers of just a few of the issues:
- The lot was a mere 2500 square feet. The minimum lot size for this zoning district is 6,600 feet. So the owner was seeking a variance of a whopping 4100 feet or by percentage 62.1%. There were six other major variances, most of them major.
- The lot faces a narrow lane. Normally the primary houses are supposed to face the street on the other side of the lot and the back of the lot which faces the lane is to have secondary buildings like garages and sheds. The lane is so narrow that it is impossible for two cars to even think of passing by each other. This building will have three bedrooms. One of the variances granted dropped the minimum on site parking spaces required from two to one. What if the people living in this house own more than one car? And where will people visiting this house park?
- In her application Ms. D’Agostino promised to “rehab” the structure on the site. The structure was called a barn but it was much smaller than the carriage houses that are often on alleys.
- In her application she offered that to take down the building would be harmful to the neighborhood. In effect, she was promising the board that the existing structure would not be demolished.
The project was supposed to sit on its existing slab. Once the owner got approval, without submitting new plans to the building inspector, the building was jacked up, the slab was removed, and the owner excavated a full basement. The owner did this without bothering to submit revised plans to the building inspector’s office. Contrary to her application and without again discussing it with the building inspector, the old structure was demolished and work began on a new house. Due to the new basement it exceeded the height of the original structure.
It was only after the neighbors complained that the city issued a stop work order. The order was based on the argument that it now required an additional variance because of the new height. It is important to note that the stop work order was not because the owner, contrary to the application for the variance, had torn down the building.
This is just a taste of the problems of the site. For those of you who are not familiar with this project earlier posts on this site are worth going back to.
Going back to the original approval of the seven variances, the board member opponents to the project were quite articulate in their arguments as to why it should not receive the variances. The opponents pointed out how extreme the variances were. They described them as “massive.” One might legitimately have asked what the point of zoning is if something like this which is out of compliance to the extreme can be approved?
Consistent with the history of the ZBA, only one of the board members who voted for it offered even a word in response to the criticisms. This was board chair William Moore who offered a sentence. He described it as an example of in-filling.
The owner eventually sued the city to vacate the stop work order.
Some months later I had a meeting with Mayor Yepsen, her deputy, Meg Kelly, the two city attorneys, Chris Mathiesen, and a friend who is an attorney. The attorneys were cautiously hopeful that the city would prevail in the suit. They pointed out the central problem which was that the approval for the variances failed to include specific requirements that the promises made in the application had to be adhered to. The attorneys were critical of the ZBA for their failure in this matter. I agreed not to make a public issue of this at the time because I did not want to weaken the city’s case.
Chairman Moore is in the real estate business. It was stunning when Mayor Yepsen reappointed Mr. Moore. This man has been chair for close to a decade. There are some variances that people of good will can disagree about. This project was an egregious abuse of the power vested by the people of this city in Mr. Moore and the other men on the Board who voted with him. It is, unfortunately, not an anomaly.
So the city settled. I respect the city attorney, Vince DeLeonardis. Apparently he felt that there was a good chance that due to the lack of compliance requirements in the variances, the owner was likely to prevail. If they did the city would face the costs of the owner’s legal fees and the costs associated with remediating the weather damage to the partially built structure along with other potential liabilities.
The owner agreed to move the door from facing out on to the alley to the side where the parking space is. The owner agreed to a specific type of siding and to cover the exposed basement area.
The Mayor has the authority to remove board members for cause. In a more just world, the Mayor would use this authority, based on his gross ineptitude, to remove Mr. Moore.