Overlay ordinance to define property’s waterfront as backyard

San Marco residents living on the St. Johns River have been seeking an answer to whether the river is considered a front yard or backyard when it comes to property improvements.

River Road residents with homes on waterfront lots between River Oaks Road and Landon Avenue will finally get clarity on this issue thanks to Ordinance 2015-834, which District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer submitted to City Council in December.

The ordinance will go before the Planning Commission Thursday, Jan. 7, followed by a hearing before the Land Use and Zoning Commission Wednesday, Jan. 20. Two public hearings on the new law will be heard during City Council meetings Tuesday, Jan. 12 and 26.

The ordinance seeks to amend yard setback requirements for riverfront lots and structure height measurements as well to amend the section of the zoning code that allows deviations in certain rear yards.

The intention of the ordinance is to clarify what is a front yard and what is a rear yard and what can be done on the riverfront side so that neighbors won’t build something to block another’s view, said Boyer.

The proposed ordinance clearly states “For lots fronting on a navigable waterway, except for the Riviera Plat…the frontage on the waterway shall be deemed a rear yard, and specifically not a ‘yard, front’ as defined in Section 656.1601, Ordinance Code.”

The underlying purpose behind the new rule is to alleviate problems with permitting, particularly about what accessories, such as pools and cabanas, are acceptable, how close to the river they can be built, and what size they should be, Boyer said.

“The city generally interprets riverfront property with two front yards,” Boyer said, noting both the river and the street are considered to be front yards. “Our overlay did not make it clear what we want. Generally the rule is that you can’t have accessory use, like a pool or a cabana, in the front yard. But everybody in San Marco uses the river as a backyard. If people put in a pool, they put it in the rear yard,” she continued. “It’s an interpretation, but not part of the ordinance. We need to get legislation to make it clear.”

San Marco Preservation Society President Andrew Dickson said he agrees with the ordinance. “It’s good to have the overlay for San Marco so there is clarity,” he said. “What’s important is that we settle confusion. For those that live on the river, it will maintain the historic area and what’s already been built, giving homeowners the same opportunities other homeowners have had up to now so that everybody has a fair shake. It’s for what is best for the river and the neighborhood and their neighbors. We want to make sure no one blocks another’s view, and that people don’t build so close to the river that things are washed away.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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