MINUTES OF THE MEETING OF THE ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS,

TUESDAY, AUGUST 21, 2012

6:30 P.M., IN COUNCIL CHAMBERS, CITY HALL,

MIDLAND, MICHIGAN

 

1.      ROLL CALL

PRESENT:      Board Members - Green, Higgins, Lichtenwald and Steele

ABSENT:         Board Members – Siemer

OTHERS PRESENT:       Cindy Winland, Consulting Planner, Cheri King, Community Development Specialist and 5 others.

 

2.   APPROVAL OF MINUTES

It was moved by Higgins and supported by Lichtenwald to approve the minutes of the July 17, 2012 meeting.  Motion was unanimously approved as presented.

 

3.           PUBLIC HEARINGS

The Chairman explained the public hearing procedures and how the Board decides if the variance request is approved based on the five Board of Appeals criteria in the Zoning Ordinance. The variance is legally recorded with the property and is not transferrable, despite the ownership of the property.  The petitioners were offered the opportunity to move forward tonight with a Board of four members or wait until next month when we may have five members.  Approval of the petition will still require three affirmative votes of the Board. 

 

a.      No. 12-07 – Kevin Battjes for a variance to the required rear yard setback.  The applicant is asking for a variance of 15’ to the required 30’ rear yard setback to permit construction of an attached garage.  The property is zoned Single Family Residential A and is located at 501 Columbia Road. 

 

Background: 

 

Ms. Winland presented an aerial photo of the subject property.  The applicant is here requesting a variance to the rear yard setback.  The definition of the front lot line is the narrowest portion of the lot.  The front door faces the side lot line of the property.  The applicant is interested in adding another attached garage to his house, which requires a 30’ setback.  There is a 15’ Consumers Energy easement on the west property line, within which nothing can be built.  The request is for an 18’ x 28’ structure. She reviewed the criteria for granting a variance:

 

(1)   Will strict compliance with restrictions governing area, setback, frontage, height, bulk, density or other non-use matters unreasonably prevent the owner from using the property for a permitted purpose or render conformity unnecessarily burdensome?

 

Petitioner:  The lot in question is a corner lot, thereby changing what is effectively a side yard to a back yard, by the corner lot definition.  The result is a greatly increased setback requirement for an attached structure, changing it from 8’ to 30’.  The initial construction of the property placed the house facing the long direction of the lot, resulting in the driveway/garage placed in the back yard, by definition.  The 30’ setback severely restricts any attached structure.  In addition, a Consumer’s Energy right-of-way along the “back” property line restricts the construction of a detached structure in the defined back yard.

 

Staff:  The property is able to be used as zoned, as it is currently has an occupied dwelling unit on it. Can you use the property for a permitted purpose without a variance?  The answer is “yes”.

                       

(2)  The variance will do substantial justice to the applicant as well as to other property owners.

 

      Petitioner:  A variance will permit construction of an attached garage for enclosed housing of a second vehicle.  Enclosed housing is desired for protection of the vehicle, such as snow accumulation during winter and security.  The existing garage, while defined as two-car, is too narrow to park two modern full-size vehicles.  Additionally, indoor storage would be available.  Benefits to other property owners would be to remove the appearance of clutter and excess vehicles by parking them indoors (a desired feature based on requirements of many condominium communities).  The appearance of the garage would be similar to other structures along the street.  (Vehicles parked outdoors are a potential theft/crime attraction.)

 

Staff:  Permitting a detached garage in the proposed location in this instance will not cause the characteristics of the neighborhood to change, given that the rear yard is operating as a side yard and the distance between most houses on the block is similar to that which is being proposed.  The neighbor to the west will not be impacted by an adjacent structure in that his garage is on the abutting property line.

 

(3)  The variance requested is the minimum variance to provide substantial relief to the applicant and/or be consistent with justice to other property owners.

 

      Petitioner:  Yes.  The requested variance would permit the construction of a single-car attached garage.  A lesser variance would not provide beneficial space for the construction.  The resulting separation of the proposed attached garage from the immediate neighboring structure would change from 48’ to approximately 28’ to 30’.  Adjacent properties on Columbia Road are separated from each other by approximately 16’ to 18’.  The variance would not result in separation less than other adjacent properties along Columbia Road.

 

      Staff:  This is not the minimum variance needed for any garage.  The applicant shows an 18’ wide garage and a 36’ wide rear yard.  The actual variance needed is 12’ to the rear yard setback.  This is the minimum variance needed to construct a one and a half car (18’ wide) attached garage.  A narrower attached garage, (12’ – 14’ wide) could be constructed with a lesser variance of 9’.

 

(4)  The need for the variance is due to the unique characteristics of the property not generally applicable in the area or to other properties in the same zoning district.

 

      Petitioner:  The property is a corner lot and as a result, what is functionally a side yard, is defined as a back yard, thereby having greater setback requirements.  In addition, and of significant restricting importance, a Consumers Energy 15’ right-of-way exists in the defined back yard.  The right-of-way restricts construction and prevents the proposed structure from being built as a detached garage of adequate size to allow normal access in-out of both sides of a full size vehicle (door opening).

 

      Staff:  There is a 15’ Consumers Power easement on the west side of the property.  Without the easement the applicant could construct a detached garage 3’ from the rear property line.  The garage could be sized to up to 35% of the rear yard.  However, if the garage is detached, it could be placed 15’ from the rear property line.  If the easement didn’t exist, the applicant and others in similar situations could construct a detached garage 3’ from the rear property line.

 

      The request is to place the garage further from the rear property line, which would have less impact on neighbors, than what the applicant could build without a variance.  We consider this a unique circumstance.

 

(5)  The problem and resulting need for the variance has been created by strict compliance with the Zoning Ordinance and not the applicant.

 

      Petitioner:  Yes.  The corner lot definition of side versus back yard limits the placement of the original structure on the lot, and changes the setback from 8’ to 30’.  If the location was defined as a side yard, as it effectively is, there would be no need for the variance.  The right-of-way restriction alone would not prevent construction.

 

      Staff:  The request to add additional garage space and resulting need for a variance is a self created situation. 

 

Three letters were received in favor of granting this variance and pointed out the location of the authors of the letters with respect to 501 Columbia.

 

Kevin Battjes, 501 Columbia Road, and his wife Joyce, are the petitioners.  He stated he would like to continue with a Board of four members, as there is no guarantee that there will be five members present at the next meeting and he would like to take advantage of the remaining construction season. The applicant showed a rendering where a detached garage could be built and meet the requirements of the ordinance.  If the 15’ Consumer Power easement did not exist, he could build a detached garage 3’ from the property line.  However, since the attached garage is part of the principle structure, it is required to meet the 30’ setback requirement. 

 

The applicant addressed the five criteria:  

·         Criteria A - This issue is regarding the corner lot restrictions and definitions of the front yard and side yard.  If this were a standard lot, there would be no need for a variance.

·         Criteria B - No other nearby structures on the street are built with detached garages.  This could be a critical part of neighborhood design.  Mr. Battjes showed a street view of where they would like to put the garage.  They have had no objections from neighbors.  They have had several letters of support.  There is about 16’ between structures on the street.  He would not be creating any different separation from his house to the others.  Part of the reason for an 18’ wide garage is that there is a chimney on that side of the house.  It protrudes about 2’ from the house and will take up room in the proposed garage.

·         Criteria C - Without the easement, they could essentially build a 22’ wide garage and a 33’ or 34’ wide garage at the back of the property.

·         Criteria D - The uniqueness is the right-of-way for the Consumers Energy easement. 

·         Criteria E - It is a self-created situation , but it is out of a desire to improve his property.  He has larger vehicles that he would like to store in the garage, along with various yard appliances and this was sufficient space when his house was built.

 

A detached garage would be an option.  The typical garage is 14’ wide.  To put a 14’ wide garage there would not be sufficient for his needs.  There is a property at 4601 Bristol Court that is a corner lot and is about 8’ from the property line.  This house was built sometime in the general time frame as his house. With a detached garage, there is a very little difference between the two on the impact from neighbors.  Nothing can be built underneath the power line.  The house was built in 1962.  The petitioner has owned it since 1987.  The existing garage has a 15’ opening.  

 

No one else spoke either in favor of or in opposition to this request.

 

                  Findings of Fact:

1.      The property is zoned RA-1.

2.      It is a corner lot.

3.      The house faces the side yard so that the rear yard line is to the west of the structure.

4.      The 15’ Consumers Energy easement is in the rear yard.

5.      There are three letters of support and none in opposition.

6.      The house was built in 1962.

7.      The petitioner has owned the house since 1987.

8.      The detached garage option presented would not require a variance.

9.      The required rear yard setback is 30’.  The applicant is requesting a 12’ encroachment to the required setback.

 

It was moved by Higgins and supported by Green to approve Petition No. 12-07 based on the findings of fact for an area/dimension variance at 501 Columbia Road for a variance of 15’ to the required 30’ rear yard setback to permit construction of an attached garage, provided that the variance is only 12’ feet.

 

Mr. Lichtenwald said he does not think the five criteria are met.  The property is usable for its intended purpose.  The petitioner has offered an option that does not require a variance so they must be willing to construct it.  If there is something that can be done that does not require a variance, he is in favor of that.  The petitioner stated it is self-created.

 

Mr. Higgins agrees with Mr. Lichtenwald on all points. This is not a minimum variance as there was another option presented.

 

Mr. Green stated the house sits in a strange position.  The proposed detached garage could be an alternative.  However, structurally, are we creating a situation for the petitioner that he has six feet of space between the house and the garage that is not usable space. 

 

Mr. Steele stated he agrees with Mr. Green.  An attached garage would provide consistency in the neighborhood.  They are asking for the minimum variance required and the power line adds some challenges.

 

                  Vote on the motion:

      Steele:  Yes

      Lichtenwald:  No

      Green:  Yes

      Higgins:  No

      Siemer:  Absent

      The motion to approve Petition 12-07 failed by a vote of 2-2. 

 

4.   PUBLIC COMMENTS (not related to items on the agenda)

None

 

5.   OLD BUSINESS

      None

 

6.   NEW BUSINESS

Meeting schedule for next year – Motion by Higgins to accept the calendar as presented, seconded by Lichtenwald.  Motion passed unanimously.

 

7.   DECISION SHEET SIGNATURES

      a.  12-06 Review Findings of Fact

      b.  12-05 Recorded

 

8.   ADJOURNMENT

      Hearing no further business, the Chairman adjourned the meeting at 7:29 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Cynthia E. Winland, AICP,  Consulting Planner