Barton Hills Village, Michigan

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October 16, 2006




October 16, 2006

The meeting of the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) was called to order by President ProTem MacKrell at 6:05 PM at the Village Hall.

ROLL CALL Present: Trustees Al-Awar, Bogat, Butterwick, Laporte, Lindstrom, MacKrell, Perry and Wilkes. Absent: Trustee Boddie.

Others attending: Atty. Reading, Asst. Treas. Redies, Supt. Esch, BHMC President Bultman, residents John & Olabisi Boyle, Amy Conger, Marta Dapena-Baron, Bert Haas, Karen Izenberg and architect Betsy William, Judy Jones, Lois Kane, Donna Kelly, Libby Langford and Linda Pickl, landscape architect Russell Graham and Champion Pools representative John Rice.


Public Hearing Zoning and Planning Administrator (ZPA) Perry referred to the application submitted by Mr. Zaki Alawi, represented by architect Charles Bultman, requesting variance from Section 5.03(c) of the BHV Zoning Ordinance to build in the front set back at 320 Juniper Lane. Mr. Perry noted that under the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act of 2006 the standard for review is practical difficulty. He added that along with the drawing the Trustees had already received, the application included a set of photographs and a larger drawing. (Ms. Laporte arrived and assumed chair of the meeting.) Mr. Bultman displayed a drawing indicating the location of the current house, explaining that the owner is requesting variance to demolish the existing house and build a new house with the front wall at the same location, which is 23' from the lot line rather than the 35' required by the BHV Zoning Ordinance. Mr. Bultman showed photographs verifying that all but one of the homes on Juniper Lane are similarly close to the lot lines, since the neighborhood was established years before the ordinance was written, and indicating that the house next door is actually closer than the distance being requested. He also stated that the lot is about 1/3 of an acre and that about 1/3½ (Amended 11/13/06) of that is unbuildable due to the steep slope to Barton Pond. Locating the house within the required set back would disrupt the character of the lane and significantly impact the design of the new home.

Public comment:

--Karen Izenberg, 312 Juniper Lane, stated that she had no objection to the variance as such, but was concerned about the demolition of the existing house. She wondered what the replacement house would look like, since she couldn't determine the meaning of "in keeping with the existing neighborhood." Mr. Bultman responded that the house plans haven't been drawn yet, since the owner was reluctant to invest in architectural services for a specific design if denial of the variance request would mean having to draw a different design. He added that the house is intended to be a cottage in keeping with the character of Juniper Lane.

--Amy Conger, 321 Juniper Lane, asked if more information could be provided about the footprint relative to the side lot lines, since new construction could significantly impact the view of Barton Pond from her home. Mr. Bultman responded that the owner had explored renovation of the existing home, including a design that would add about a 20 foot square on the south side and would more than adequately fulfill the owner's wishes. However renovation would be less efficient due to deteriorating infrastructure of the home and having to work around the current floor plan. He added that if the footprint were enlarged, it would be towards the south side since there is no room elsewhere. There are two large oak trees and the septic field on the south side that will not be removed.

--Betsy Williams, architect for 312 Juniper Lane, asked about the front façade and the height of the replacement house, noting that most of the homes on the lane are 1 1/2 stories at most. Mr. Bultman responded that the owner had no desire to build higher than 1 1/2 stories and planned to include details such as a one-story porch that would keep the cottage look.

--Ms. Conger expressed concern over the possible addition of 20’ to the south and asked what consideration would be given to neighbors' concerns. Donna Kelly responded on behalf of Barton Hills Maintenance Corporation (owners of a lot on Juniper Lane), saying that BHMC will involve the neighbors as part of its architectural review under the Deed Restrictions when a construction plan is submitted. She added that BHMC has no objection to the variance request because it makes sense to build the new home at the same distance from the lot line rather than farther back at the full set back line or closer to the road.

--John and Olabisi Boyle, 239 Barton Shore Drive, thought the variance request was reasonable, and expressed concern for the new owner just coming into the village and facing the objections of neighbors.

Hearing no further public comment, Ms. Laporte closed the public hearing and began BZA discussion by noting that the Board could approve or deny the application, or approve with conditions, but that aesthetic review of the home was the responsibility of BHMC. In response to Board questions, Mr. Bultman stated that the new foundation couldn’t vary much from the existing due to a pine tree that will be protected, so the front wall would not be sited any closer to the road/lot line than the existing front wall. The current house is 2 rooms wide (about 35'), and the estimated 20’ may not all be needed to accommodate the owner's wishes in the new design. Other Trustee comments included:

--There is concern that in granting the variance request the Board is not sure what the three-dimensional impact of the new home will be. This is like signing a blank check and more information is needed before deciding.

--It is not the function of the BZA to assess the impact or appearance of the house; it is the Board's role to make sure the project adheres to the zoning requirements.

--The house already violates the current zoning requirements so restrictions should be attached to make sure it doesn't adversely impact the neighbors.

--All the homes in BHV will eventually be torn down, with probably 80% replaced by something bigger. The Board should not attach restrictions that will tie the hands of BHMC in their architectural review

--Restrictions can be attached by the BZA as long as they are not arbitrary or capricious. Mr. Reading arrived

--More information has been requested for other projects that aren't as big as this one.

--This is considered a non-conforming structure on a non-conforming lot, and is fine until the structure is changed. Tearing down the existing house removes the grandfathering aspect and subjects the project to current zoning requirements.

--It seems the owner has met the standard of practical difficulty. It wouldn't be good to move the house closer to the street, and the topography of the lot doesn't offer much in the way of options. The Zoning Ordinance doesn't address the neighbors' concerns about the mass of the replacement house.

--Is the owner aware of the neighbors' concerns and willing to work with them? Mr. Bultman replied absolutely, but that this project is the responsibility of his client, not a client-neighbors committee.

--It is true that BHMC has the major say on appearance of the home, but the BZA needs good reason to grant the variance.

--The legal requirement is practical difficulty--there is no legal basis for decision based on appearance.

--Is financial concern considered part of practical difficulty? Atty. Reading responded yes.

--It appears that the width and height of the new house is of more concern than the front set back.

--If the front set back variance is denied, then the house design would have to be wider and higher.

--If more information is desired, the BZA needs to give the applicant clear direction on what it is looking for--full blown plans, a sketch, or whatever.

It was suggested that in lieu of the BZA imposing restrictions on the variance request, the applicant might like to return with more information and essentially make the decisions about what limitations would be respected. Mr. Bultman responded that it is difficult to move forward in the design process without knowing what the front set back would be; further that all of the other requirements set forth in the Zoning Ordinance relative to height, set backs and so on would be met. The owner is reluctant to invest money in designs that cannot be built and must be replaced at additional cost.

Motion Mr. Wilkes moved to postpone consideration of the application for variance submitted by Mr. Zaki Alawi until the November 13, 2006 meeting of the Board of Zoning Appeals; further to request that the applicant submit additional information as to the appearance of the new construction and the impact of the project on neighbors. Mr. Lindstrom seconded; the motion carried with Ms. Laporte and Mr. Perry voting no.


Public Hearing ZPA Perry displayed plans submitted by Marta Dapena-Baron and Christie Nordhielm for a swimming pool and retaining walls at their home at 180 Underdown Road. The applicants are requesting a variance to construct in the set back of their lot on the northeastern side where it abuts the property of 140 Underdown Road. The stone retaining wall is proposed to project 4' into the set back. Landscape architect Russell Graham showed an additional drawing which indicated the location of the pool had been moved by 10' to allow for more landscape screening along Underdown Road. He added that permits relevant to the soil and creek had been obtained.

Public Comment:

--Charles Bultman, speaking on behalf of BHMC, stated that the Directors of BHMC had reviewed this project at their September 28, 2006 meeting and were in full support of the project. He added that the rock walls would follow the contours of the lot and would help with erosion control on the steep banks.

Hearing no further public comment, Ms. Laporte closed the public hearing and asked for comment from the BZA:

--Will the large trucks hauling in dirt and stone cause damage to BHV roads?

--Similar trucks have been used on other construction projects, including BHV projects, without bonding or other conditions.

--It is very helpful to see the response of the applicant to the concerns voiced by the Trustees when the project was discussed at the September 18, 2006 meeting.

Motion Mr. Wilkes moved that the variance from Section 5.03(c) of the Barton Hills Village Zoning Ordinance requested by Marta Dapena-Baron and Christie Nordhielm of 180 Underdown Road to construct a retaining wall in the set back be approved. Mr. Al-Awar seconded; the motion carried.

The meeting of the Board of Zoning Appeals was adjourned at 7:02 PM.

Jan Esch, Assistant Clerk

Approved 11/13/06