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Thread: Variance and lot-line crossing structures

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Variance and lot-line crossing structures

    Two very similar situations have crossed my desk and I am curious as to how you all feel...

    Okay, first the background. I am the planner for a small town...we are a perfectly gridded town about 12 blocks wide and 7 blocks high (imagine a map on the wall). each block has 24 lots, 12 above and 12 below and alley. each lot is 25'x100' with street frontage and an alley at the rear.

    our zoning ordinance requires a minimum of 5000 square feet for residential uses and 2500 sq. feet for most business uses. that is, any residence needs two lots or more and a business can generally get by with one (provided they are in the right district).

    citizen A is interested in selling his property. he owns two lots. one of the lots has a Bed&Brkfst that sits about 5 feet over the lot line onto his second lot. the building footprint is maybe 1500 square feet overall with 250 square feet on the second lot. he is wondering if he can do anything with his second lot. with the rez requirement at 5000 sq. feet, that is out of the question. but could an independent business be built there and the lot sold independently with an easement granted to the owner of the building that sits on the other lot? my gut says 'no,' but they would have 2500 square feet of land, even if a chunk of it were encumbered. but would this not open up the possibility of someone selling a lot with maybe 10 feet of usable frontage with an easement granted to the building owner next door?

    how would your codes deal with this situation?

    the second situation is three lots, who citizen (group) B is looking to sell. again, every lot in Town is 25'x100'. this time a nice but run-down 1890s historic structure sits on two of the lots plus 5' of the third lot with a total frontage of 55'. after a lot line adjustment, the third lot would be 45'x100' or 4500 square feet and then not big enough for a SF house. i'm planning on recommending granting a variance to allow this lot to be sold and built on the condition that the historic structure next door be refurbished and not torn down. that structure will cost about $850k to be rebuilt and the sale of a $100k lot could help them out. or, the same easement procedure mentioned above could be used.

    so, on the surface these two situations seem similar but I am leaning towards recommending a variance for Citizen B's but not Citizen A's.

    for those of you working places with much more sophisticated codes and processes...how would this be handled?

    thanks!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    When a structure spans across a lot line, you have but one zoning lot; but if you get $100k for a substandard lot...I feel the pressure. Change your regs. There are no solid grounds for a variance.

  3. #3
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Scenario A: We would treat it as one zoning lot and both lots would always be tied to the structure occupying it. The sale and easement would not be allowed, and as a purchaser I would be very wary of such a situation.

    Scenario B: see above response to Scenario B.

    And I agree with mike...you need to amend you regulations to possibly revise the minimum lot area per use(s).

    I assume much of your city was built prior to zoning? So, you have many of non-conforming structures/lots?
    Last edited by mendelman; 25 Sep 2007 at 4:57 PM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

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  4. #4
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I don't think any of the communities I have worked with would permit this. We had a similar situation where the owner of a lot with 195 feet of frontage bought the house with the intent of dividing the lot and building a second house. The lot with the house would have 100 feet of frontage, which is the minimum, and the second lot would have 95 feet of frontage. No deal. As the undivided property could be used for its intended purpose, no variance.

    As mendelman suggests, the best way to approach this might be to amend the regulations.
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  5. #5
    In my 'burg, once the two 25'x100' lots are created for the dwelling, that lot line goes away forever for all practical planning purposes. Thus the question becomes does a new split conform with your subdivision ordinance?

    As to the second scenario, are the precedents for 45' lots elsewhere in the community? If yes, then I think you can make a case for it, but if not, then I'd have to think it can't be supported.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    It doesn't seem that in either case are there grounds for variances. I very much appreciate wanting to accommodate your customers but sometimes, customer service means saying no. In both cases, you could be creating future problems for your town and more particularly, you. Also, I would be very careful about tying the rehab of the old structure to allowing the other lot to be sold. How will this encumber the buyer of the sold lot? Will he know about it or even agree to it? I don't see much nexus here and enforcing it could be problematic for you.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    thank you all for the responses! to answer mendelman, yes, most of our town was built before zoning and there are non-conforming and bizarre lots and structures all over the place. it seems like everything that crosses my desk is an exception here or there.

    what i hate to see is the loss of a historic structure to accommodate modern regulations, but i do see the cans of worms being opened in either case. i see the logistical and enforcement problems from tying the rehabbing to the selling of the other lot. essentially, the rehabbing would have to be done before any variance was granted to the other lot. in either case, it isn't really a case for a variance since it is all self-created hardship it seems.

  8. #8
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by progmac View post
    thank you all for the responses! to answer mendelman, yes, most of our town was built before zoning and there are non-conforming and bizarre lots and structures all over the place. it seems like everything that crosses my desk is an exception here or there.
    In that case, perhaps it is time to rethink your zoning code. You may need to create separate zoning for the old part of town that could more easily accommodate the various non-conformities present.

    Good luck!
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Before you say no, does your code allow you to create lots that have an irregular shape (or, more to the point, does it prohibit them)? If they are allowed, could a lot line adjustment be formulated that transfers enough of the lot with most of the building on it (from, say, the back yard area) to the other lot so that the minimum square footage requirement is met, while still allowing the buildings to meet any required setbacks? I've seen it done, and it seems to leave everyone happy while complying with the letter of the law. We even had one where the portion transfered was under water, but the lot areas were to code.

    Anyway, an easement is not the answer, and unless your ordinance is unusual, a variance wouldn't work either.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Otis View post
    Before you say no, does your code allow you to create lots that have an irregular shape (or, more to the point, does it prohibit them)? If they are allowed, could a lot line adjustment be formulated that transfers enough of the lot with most of the building on it (from, say, the back yard area) to the other lot so that the minimum square footage requirement is met, while still allowing the buildings to meet any required setbacks? I've seen it done, and it seems to leave everyone happy while complying with the letter of the law. We even had one where the portion transfered was under water, but the lot areas were to code.

    Anyway, an easement is not the answer, and unless your ordinance is unusual, a variance wouldn't work either.
    I thought about this too. Some gerrymandering could create two lots of 2500 square feet. However, our code separately specifies a minimum lot width of 25', which would prohibit such a move.

    My position with citizen A is simply that the 'extra' area can only be used for accessory uses or an expansion of the existing structure and that without physically reducing the bulk of the building on the parcel, nothing else can be done.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Otis's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by progmac View post
    However, our code separately specifies a minimum lot width of 25', which would prohibit such a move.
    Is it minimum width or minimum average width? That's how I am able to gerrymander some weird lots into existence.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian vagaplanner's avatar
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    Actually, I think there may be a variance case for the lots containing the historic structure. But in both cases, these are probably non-conforming lots and in my community, as soon as two or more non-conforming lots come under a single-ownership, they lose their non-conforming status and, therefore, cannot be sold separately as a 25' wide lot (or anything less than what the ordinance requires) for development. In the urban cores - even in small cities - it's unfortunate to lose those small lots, especially if the ordinance requires lots wider than 50' where you would then have to have at least three of the 25' wide lots to build on them.
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  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Otis View post
    Is it minimum width or minimum average width? That's how I am able to gerrymander some weird lots into existence.
    All it says now is minimum lot width: 50 ft (rez) or minimum lot width: 25 ft (some biz)

    In the past this has been interpreted as an "at the narrowest point," and I am not looking to cause waves there.

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