Warsaw BZA Denies Variance Requests For Housing Development

Jeff Thomas (standing), Oakmont Development, explains the request for the 5-foot setback variance request to the Warsaw Board of Zoning Appeals Monday night. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.

Neighbors – mostly from The Dells subdivision – to a potential 136-lot subdivision along CR 350N cited concerns for traffic, safety and property values in their remonstrance against two petitions for variances before the Warsaw Board of Zoning Appeals Monday night.

The Board, finding no hardship on behalf of the petitioner, Jeff Thomas of Oakmont Development, denied both petitions 4-0.

In presenting the first case, Assistant City Planner Jacob Ihrie said the petition was “for a variance from development standards. The purpose is to allow a 5-foot side yard setbacks in a (Residential)-1 zone. The location is the proposed Greenbriar subdivision. Existing land use is vacant.” The surrounding zoning is unincorporated to the north, south and east and industrial (the airport) to the west. The property is not addressed in the city’s comprehensive plan.

“The petitioner has requested a variance to permit a 5-foot side yard setback instead of the 7-foot setback currently required. This variance would apply to all lots of the proposed development, except corner lots, and where lots are affected by easements,” Ihrie said. “By upholding the setbacks at easements and corner lots, this request will not be injurious to public health or safety in creating obstructions to sightlines, utilities or drainage systems.”

City documents show the property is owned by Chandler and Erin Williams.

Based on the information provided and the previous success of the Belle Augusta subdivision, Ihrie said it is the opinion of the Planning Department that the case could be viewed favorably.

Thomas said the property is already zoned residential and they were requesting the 5-foot setback. “We know that the ordinance says 7. In our building criteria that we’ve set forth and have been working on, the 5-foot works a little better,” he said.

Board member Dan Smith asked if the residents of The Dells were notified by a letter of the variance request. He was told no because only those whose property adjoins with the property in question have to be notified.

Attorney Steve Snyder, representing remonstrators Tony and Mary Nicholas, adjacent property owners, spoke about the second variance request along with his comments on the first variance.

The second petition from Thomas was for a variance from development standards to remove setback requirements from the adjoining side lots with single-family attached housing units (villas) to zero and to remove the minimum lot size requirements from lots with single-family attached housing units.

Snyder said R-1 is the “district of least density and the variances requested increase the density in this zone. My own personal opinion is, if this is the type of development that is desired, the first step would be to rezone the property to an R-2 classification rather than an R-1 because this is essentially an R-2 standard attempting to be applied to an R-1 district.”

He talked about the wetland on the property, how The Dells properties are all large lots with single families and the heavy traffic on CR 350N. He mentioned the concern about emergency vehicles getting through the area with dense housing.

“But I think what’s most important is to look at the requirements that your zoning ordinance imposes on the R-1 district,” Snyder said. “What we’re dealing with is a significant reduction in your own requirements. Lot width of 70 feet, and what we have are lots of 40, 50 and maybe 60 feet, which are much smaller than everything you require in an R-1 district.”

He said the Greenbriar subdivision would more likely suit an R-2 zoning district.

He said then there are the restrictions on the Board’s actions, which are essentially the findings the Board is required to make in order to approve requested variances.

“Section 6.7.1 prohibits the approval of a variance if it’s contrary to the public interest and only in the event if there are special conditions concerning this real estate, which result in an unnecessary hardship if your R-1 standards are applied,” Snyder reminded the Board.

He said the variance approval can’t be based on inconvenience or economic hardship. There has to be a hardship resulting from the practical use of the property, which results from the terms of the zoning ordinance, Snyder said.

In denying both variance requests, the Board later agreed there was no hardship as Snyder pointed out.

Snyder said they weren’t trying to stop an R-1 district development, but were trying to say the development needs to be consistent with the R-1 standards and the standards that already exist in the adjacent properties.

David Letsch, who owns 78 acres in the area, said he was concerned about the number of lots that would be out his bedroom window. He also was concerned about the development’s affect on his property values.

Matthew Graham, a Dells resident, said, “I think if you were to actually speak to someone who lives in The Dells, you would find the traffic is not as it may seem on paper,” he said, noting that there is a train stopped on the tracks three to four times a week between 3 and 6 p.m.

Jeremy Corson complained he didn’t get a letter notifying him of the variance petition.

Nick Poe said the traffic issue on the road is bad and the real issue is how property values would be affected, especially with the Greenbriar subdivision packing the homes in. “I’ve seen sardine cans with more breathing room,” he said.

His father, Brian Poe, also listed the issues of traffic, safety and property values as his concerns, but also said privacy would be lost.

Several other people echoed what everyone else before them said about traffic, safety and property values.

In his rebuttal, Thomas said going from 7 to 5 feet setback doesn’t affect their layout from the standpoint of their streets, connecting to CR 350N or “anything like that.” Whatever the city asks of them as far as traffic and streets, he said they would follow. “We address those things, certainly with staff and everything, just like we do with drainage.”

Without approval of the 5-foot setback variance, Thomas said they’d lost only two lots on the whole project. He said they and the city has done other projects with 5-foot setbacks and they’ve been “very viable and economical.”

As for property values, he said the starter homes would be around $250,000; the attached Villas would start around $270,000 for each side; and probably average $300,000 to $340,000 on the houses. In the last year, homes in The Dells sold for $280,000.

Rick Keeven, Board vice president, asked Thomas what his “unnecessary hardship” was. Thomas said, “From our design and how we do this, this piece is a little rectangle. It’s very narrow going from The Dells to 350. So, for us and our layout, it worked out better for us in being able to contemplate best and highest use for this property if we had 5-foot setbacks.”

Board member Jeff Johnson made the motion to deny the first variance request because he didn’t see a hardship, and his motion was approved unanimously.

After more discussion about the second variance for the 0-foot setbacks for the villas, Board member Dan Smith made a motion to deny with Board member Tammy Dalton providing the second. It was unanimously denied because the Board didn’t think there was a hardship.