MINUTES OF THE MEETING OF THE ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS,

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 24, 2013

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

MIDLAND, MICHIGAN

 

1.      ROLL CALL

PRESENT:         Board Members - Holthof, Lichtenwald, Siemer and Steele

ABSENT:            Board Member – Green, Higgins, Pnacek (alternate)

OTHERS PRESENT:  Cindy Winland, Consulting Planner, Jeff Burdick, Community Development Planner and four others.

 

2.    APPROVAL OF MINUTES

It was moved by Siemer and supported by Lichtenwald to approve the minutes of the February 19, 2013 meeting.  The motion was approved unanimously 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 decision criteria in the Zoning Ordinance. The variance is legally recorded with the property and is not transferrable to another parcel. 

 

a.      No. 13-05 – Stacey Trapani for a use variance to permit construction of an accessory building to be located 5’ from the rear property line in the Office Service zoning district.  Article 26, Section 26.02, Schedule of Regulations and Section 3.03, D. Accessory Buildings and Structures, of the City of Midland Zoning Ordinance, establishes that detached accessory buildings shall have a 25’ setback from the rear lot line.  The application is for a 20’ variance to the setback requirements.  The property is zoned Office Service and is located at 108 Dartmouth Drive.

 

Background: 

 

Cindy Winland provided an overview of this variance request.  She explained that the applicant wishes to tear down the existing garage and replace it with a larger garage that will be five feet from the rear property line.  The applicant is constructing an addition that would be next to the existing garage, and, thus, make the rear of the property unusable unless the existing garage is relocated further to the rear.  The applicant also noted that the properties to the rear fronting on Princeton Drive are multi-family and have garages and accessory structures that are five feet from the rear property line.  Winland went through the applicant’s responses to the criteria for justifying the variance, as well as the staff comments regarding each of these criteria.   

 

(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?

Mark Sirrine, representing the petitioner, stated that strict compliance with setback restrictions will unreasonably prevent the owner from full use of their property.  The intent is to remove the existing garage and rebuild it at the rear of the property, 5ft. off the rear lot line.  This will allow for a longer driveway for the employees who work at this office as well as the occasional guest.

 

(2)  Staff comments:  The property is currently being used as an office, a permitted use.  The full physical use of the property is impeded by the setback restrictions but compliance with the ordinance may not be burdensome unless there is no alternative for parking cars during business hours.

 

 

 

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

Sirrine stated that a variance will allow the applicant to have office space, storage and the driveway space they need.  Other property owners will benefit by the fact that employees or occasional guests will no longer need to find parking along the street.  It will allow for more property for neighboring properties if the garage is further back.

                                                                                                                                                                                      

Staff Comments:  The rear property line abuts property zoned RB, multiple family.  The nearest structure on the abutting lot appears to be approximately 3’ from the rear property line.  Dartmouth is a street that was once residential and now houses office uses due to a zoning change.  The configuration of the structures, houses and in some cases detached garages is not conducive to typical office use new construction and therefore does not accommodate parking well in this case.

 

(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.

                Sirrine stated that the neighbor to the rear has an outbuilding set back the same amount as the applicant is requesting.  The accessory buildings will be close to being back to back and will open up the rest of the yard. 

 

Staff Comments:   The applicant is also planning on putting an addition on the structure for more interior office space.  The request for a garage placed further south on the property and closer to the fence will allow that addition without essentially losing the entire back yard.  If the addition is constructed with the garage in the present location, the effect will be to create a wall of structures, 25 feet from the rear lot line.  Moving the garage to the requested location is the minimum distance necessary to permit the use of the drive for parking and access to the rear yard.

 

(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.

Sirrine noted that the property is zoned Office Service, which requires a 25’ setback. The property adjoins residentially zoned properties which has a 3’ setback.  If approved, the project will match the neighboring properties.

 

Staff Comments:  Dartmouth is a street that was once residential and now houses office uses due to a zoning change.  The configuration of the structures, houses and in some cases detached garages, is not conducive to typical office use new construction and therefore does not accommodate parking well in this case.   Permitting a decreased setback will allow for additional parking and is unlikely to impact neighboring structures due to the current setback of their detached garages.

         

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

Sirrine asserted that strict compliance has created this problem.  Office Service requires a 25’ setback and we are requesting a 5’ setback.

 

Staff Comments:  The situation has been at least in part, created by the change in zoning.  Single Family residential units and associated garages are not configured for office uses.  In several cases where this zoning change has occurred in the City there has been a need to expand the office use structure, impacting the ability to park, given the location of the accessory structure. 

       

Discussion: 

 

Hank Holthof noted that the site plan presented to the Board appears to show that the proposed garage would be located three feet from the rear property line, not the five feet that is proposed in the application.  He also inquired as to how much parking would be required.  Winland replied that office use requires one parking space per 300 square feet of floor area.  The proposed addition would thus require five parking spaces.  Tim Lichtenwald asked if this parking would have to comply with the required dimensions of a parking space.  Winland replied that it would and that the required dimension of new parking spaces is 9’ x 18’. Winland also noted that one person wrote a letter stating that he did not object to this variance request. 

 

Mark Sirrine, who was hired by the applicant to do the design work for the project, stated that in considering the addition, it was determined that the existing garage is in rough shape and in the way of the addition.  The garage is used for equipment storage.  He clarified that the proposed garage would be 5 feet from the rear property line and would not be in a Consumers easement.  He also noted that the addition will take place regardless of whether the garage will be constructed.  He feels that moving the garage would actually provide more privacy to the rear neighbors, and stated that some of the other office uses on Dartmouth have blacktop parking lots in the rear of their structures, which are less residential in nature than a garage. 

 

Lichtenwald asked Sirrine about the length of the current driveway.   Sirrine stated that it is approximately 70 feet in length and roughly 16 feet in width.  Jon Steele asked if the size of the garage is the minimum necessary to meet the business’ needs.  Sirrine replied that he would have to ask the applicant this question, but that this applicant might consider decreasing the size of the garage, but probably not less than 20’ x 20’.  Steele asked about the location of handicapped access to the principal building.  Sirrine replied that it would be located in the rear of the building and would stay there even if the garage cannot be moved to the proposed location. 

 

Lichtenwald stated that the proposed accessory structure can accommodate storage and still meet the requirements of the zoning ordinance and that the size of the proposed garage appears to have been randomly selected by the applicant.  It will lead to a situation where the need for a variance is self-created.  Holthof stated that the property currently meets all the criteria for Office Service.   Richard Siemer stated that the OS zoned properties on Dartmouth are being held to a higher standard than the residential property to the rear.  However, he is not of the opinion that all of the criteria for a variance are being met, most notably criteria A.  Steele stated he is concerned about the parking situation on Dartmouth and that this request would reduce parking.  He added that he is leaning towards approving this request in order to alleviate the wall effect that would be created with the addition and the existing garage.  Steele asked if the ZBA could grant a lesser variance in this circumstance.  Winland stated this would be permitted.  Lichtenwald suggested that storage could be accommodated within the addition to the building, thus not requiring a need for a larger garage.    

 

No one spoke in opposition to this request.

 

 

 

 

Findings of Fact:

1.       Property is located at 108 Dartmouth Drive.

2.       The property is zoned OS.

3.       The addition to the existing building is proposed to be 24’ x 20’.

4.       The property meets all the requirements of the OS District.

5.       The property was previously residential before becoming OS zoned and used for an office.

6.       The proposed garage would be 5-feet from the rear property line.

7.       The applicant proposed demolishing the existing garage on the site. 

 

It was moved by Lichtenwald and supported by Siemer to approve Petition No. 13-05 based on the findings of fact for an area/dimension variance at 108 Dartmouth Drive to permit construction of an accessory building to be located 5’ from the rear property line in the Office Service zoning district. 

 

Steele made a friendly amendment to this motion, reducing the variance of 5 feet from the rear property line, by allowing the new garage to be no closer than 15 feet from the rear property line.  Lichtenwald and Siemer, the maker and seconder of the previous motion, respectively motioned and seconded this friendly amendment.    

 

Vote on the motion: 

Holthof:               Yes

Lichtenwald:     No

Siemer:                                Yes

Steele:                  Yes

 

        The motion to approve Petition 13-05 was approved by a vote of 3-1. 

 

b.      No. 13-06 – SSP Associates for a dimensional variance to permit reducing the building frontage from 40% to 37% and increase the front yard setback from 10’ to 23’.  Article 21.03.C.7., Area, Height, Bulk and Placement Regulations of the City of Midland Zoning Ordinance require a minimum building frontage of 40% of the total lot frontage and a maximum front yard setback of 10’.  The application is for a 3% variance to the minimum building frontage and a 13’ variance to the front yard setback maximum.  The property is zoned Office Service and Downtown.  All of the property is subject to the Downtown Northside Overlay regulations.  The property is located on the entire block and bounded by Ashman, Buttles, Gordon and Indian Streets.

 

Background: 

 

Winland provided a summary of the applicant’s variance requests.  She noted that the property is within the Downtown Northside Overlay District (DNO).  She explained that while the underlying zoning’s uses dictate the use on the property, any regulations that the overlay district speaks to take precedence over the underlying district.  Winland stated that the applicant is requesting two variances.  The first variance results from the proposed development having two front yards because it is located on an entire city block.  The maximum front yard setback in the DNO District is 10 feet.  The applicant is asking for a variance to allow the front yard setback along the Ashman Street front yard to be 23 feet.  The second variance request would reduce the required street frontage of the structure in the district from 40% to 37%. 

 

(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?

Nicholas Seehafer, the architect for the project, explained that complying with the front yard setbacks will impact the aesthetics of the project.  The DNO district is intended to promote an old downtown feel by requiring placement of buildings on the property line.  Seehafer stated that this development is complying with this by placing the building along the entire frontage of Buttles.  The variance request is for the second front yard on Ashman.  Complying with the 10’ front yard requirement would not permit enough room for landscaping.

 

Staff comments:  This parcel has two front yards, one on Buttles and one on Ashman.  Meeting both front yard setback requirements could be considered burdensome, however, the form based code is intended to create a look and feel that includes all faces of structures located within 10’ of the road.  Landscaping requirements will be harder to meet with the smaller front yard.

 

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

Seehafer stated that a larger front yard setback will permit a more attractive building and create space for landscaping.

 

Staff Comments:  The surrounding property owners will not be impacted by an increase in the front yard on the shorter side of the building on Ashman.  Other property owners will benefit from the presence of the building, regardless of its location or size.

 

(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.

        Seehafer noted that this is the maximum increase in setback necessary to permit the building to be centered between the two streets.  It does not impact the creation of a downtown feel.

 

Staff Commentary:   The minimum variance necessary to center the building on the lot is determined by the size of the chosen building so there is no measure of the actual minimum needed.  The downtown feel is unlikely to be impacted by the variance due to the bulk of the structure that will be at the 10’ setback line on the major frontage of Buttles. 

 

(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.

Seehafer stated that the intent of the DNO is to create a downtown feel with buildings that are close together along the street with little or no parking. These standards are not easily applied to one building that occupies an entire city block.  It is difficult to provide required frontage, comply with setback for front yards and provide parking to support a building.  This is due to the ratio coverage requirements when there are four sides of frontage totaling 960’ of linear frontage as opposed to a typical 60’ wide internal lot.

 

Staff Response:  The form based code DNO regulations do not specifically address the configuration of one structure on an entire block.  They are written for individual structures on individual lots and as such, this is a situation that is peculiar to the property and the structure.

         

 

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

        Seehafer reiterated that these regulations were not written for this situation.  A large building on an entire block requires a large amount of parking that is difficult to provide due to parking coverage restrictions.

 

Staff Comments:  The DNO regulations were not written for this situation.  It could be argued that the regulations were written to encourage individual buildings on 60’ wide lots or to encourage larger buildings to be shallower and placed at the maximum setback line to create the same effect. In this case, zoning is not intended to require specific types of structure configuration or size.  The problem is self created due to the nature of the tenants and the need for a variance is due to strict compliance with the ordinance.  

 

Discussion: 

Hank Holthof stated that parking would be an issue for this development, as on street parking is not permitted along Indian or Buttles.  Winland replied that the purpose of not requiring parking within the downtown overlay districts is to encourage the use of the downtown parking garages and to encourage pedestrian activity in the downtown. She noted that the Planning Department received one letter in favor of this proposal and one letter in opposition. The letter in opposition is due to the lack of downtown parking available.

 

Nicholas Seehafer, the architect for the project, provided a brief presentation regarding the proposal.  He stated that the overall building size was selected to allow for two leasable spaces on the first floor and one leasable space on the second floor.  He noted that the two 6,500 square foot leasable spaces on the first floor are the ideal size for office use.  Requiring the building to increase in size in order to meet the maximum front setback along Ashman would create a situation where there would be three leasable spaces on the first floor.  The middle leasable space would be undesirable to tenants because it would be lacking in windows.  Seehafer also stated that the layout of the site allows for only 79 parking spaces.  Increasing the building by 4,800 square feet in order to accommodate the requirements of the zoning ordinance would create a need for 116 parking spaces on site considering the general requirement of one parking space per 300 square feet of office space.  He also noted that shifting the building to eliminate the increased setback on Ashman Street would not create a building that is centered on the block and would not meet the design standards of the DNO overlay district.  The current design, which center the building on the block and includes landscaping and decorative fencing within the setbacks along Gordon and Ashman, meets the design intent of the DNO overlay district. 

 

Tim Lichtenwald asked the applicants if increasing the building footprint in order to eliminate the need for a variance would create more leasable office space, thus offsetting the cost of constructing a larger building.  Peter Shaheen, from SSP Associates, reiterated the fact that 6,500 square feet of leasable spaces has been found to be the optimal amount of space for office development and that increasing the size of the building would either result in a third leasable space on the first floor, or much larger leasable spaces on the first floor, both of which are undesirable from a marketing and leasing standpoint. 

No one spoke in opposition to this request.

 

Findings of Fact:

1.       The site between Ashman, Indian, Buttles and Gordon currently consists of eight parcels.

2.       The petition stated that the proposed size of the building is the most conducive to a split building arrangement from a marketing standpoint.

3.       Due to the requirements of the Downtown Northside Overlay District, this proposal would be subject to three building faces, those being along Gordon, Ashman and Buttles Streets.

4.       The speed limit on Ashman Street is 30 mph, and the speed limit along both Indian and Buttles Streets is 35 mph. 

5.       The required front yard setback in the DNO district is a maximum of 10 feet.

6.       The Planning staff received one letter in favor of this proposal and one letter in opposition of this proposal.

7.       This is the first time that a proposal in which a developer plans to build within an entire city block in the DNO District has come before the Planning Commission

8.       The petitioner has made to decision to center the building along the Buttles Street frontage and not move it either further west or east in order to avoid the variance to the maximum street yard setback. 

 

Holthof stated that he believes the applicant has done a good job of responding to the design criteria of the DNO district and that he does not believe these variances are self-created.  He noted that the downtown overlay district not intended for development that takes up an entire city block.  Richard Siemer agreed with Holthof’s statement.   He added that centering the building along Buttles is meeting an important aesthetic standard and that it is not pleasant to the human eye to see a building that is off-center.  Lichtenwald stated that he feels the variance request is self-created.  Holthof stated that centering the building allows for attractive landscaping and creates a better built environment for downtown.

 

It was moved by Siemer and supported by Lichtenwald to approve Petition No. 13-06 based on the findings of fact for an area/dimension variance at 415 Ashman Street, 409 Ashman Street, 102 W. Buttles Street, 108 W. Buttles Street, 110 W. Buttles Street, 114 W. Buttles Street, 416 Gordon Street and 113 W. Indian Street to permit reducing the building frontage from 40% to 37%.   

 

Vote on the motion: 

Holthof:               Yes

Lichtenwald:     Yes

Siemer                 Yes

Steele:                  Yes

 

The motion to approve Petition 13-06, allowing a reduction of building frontage from 40% to 37% was approved by a vote of 4-0. 

 

It was moved by Holthof and supported by Siemer to approve Petition No. 13-06 based on the findings of fact for an area/dimension variance at 415 Ashman Street, 409 Ashman Street, 102 W. Buttles Street, 108 W. Buttles Street, 110 W. Buttles Street, 114 W. Buttles Street, 416 Gordon Street and 113 W. Indian Street to increase the front yard setback from 10’ to 23’. 

 

Vote on the motion: 

Holthof:               Yes

Lichtenwald:     No

Siemer                 Yes

Steele:                  Yes

 

        The motion to approve Petition 13-06, allowing the increase of the front yard setback from 10’ to 23’ was approved by a vote of 3-1. 

 

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

John Popp, residing at 2741 E. Ashby Road, Midland, MI, stated that he feels the audience cannot hear the board members and that the meetings should be run so that audience members can see and hear the order of business.    

 

5.    OLD BUSINESS

        None

 

6.    NEW BUSINESS

        Cindy Winland stated that, currently, there are no items on the agenda for the May 21, 2013 meeting.  She also noted that Jeff Burdick would be leaving the city of Midland to begin employment in the Lansing area and thanked him for his great work during his short tenure.  

 

7.   DECISION SHEET SIGNATURES

      a. 13-02 Review Findings of Fact

      b. 13-04 Review Findings of Fact

      c. 13-01 Recorded

 

8.   ADJOURNMENT

      Hearing no further business, the Chairman adjourned the meeting at 8:43 p.m.

 

Respectfully submitted,

Cynthia E. Winland, AICP

Consulting Planner