Dispute between neighbors sparks new proposed zoning legislation

Dispute between neighbors sparks new proposed zoning legislation

A dispute between Miramar neighbors is the impetus behind District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer’s desire to draft new legislation to govern the size and positioning of garages on through lots in Jacksonville.

Because there are very few rules addressing through lots – lots that straddle two roads –  in the city zoning regulations, a new ordinance, which has not yet been numbered and is currently being drawn up by the city’s Office of General Counsel, would require two things: 1) Homeowners building houses on through lots would not be allowed to build garages wider than 19 feet – the average width of a double door – if the garage faces the street opposite from the front door of the home; and 2) the regulations would be modified so that through-lot owners would no longer be required to have their driveways access the road with the lower traffic volume as is currently specified in Section 654.115(e) of the Code of Subdivision Regulations.

However, the proposed ordinance will also specify, if the street is a “high volume,” such as a “collector” or an “arterial” road, the existing rule of having the driveway egress access the lower volume road will still apply.

Currently in the city code, there are no specific zoning regulations regarding the size or position of garages on through lots. Boyer’s proposed bill does not entirely prevent homeowners from building larger garages with three or more bays; such structures would be permitted provided the garage is positioned sideways on the lot so that the doors aren’t facing the rear street, she said.

Within the proposed ordinance, homeowners are also permitted to build more than two garage bays on their through lot if the garage doors will face the same direction as the front door, she said.

Boyer said she felt it necessary to add clarity to the city’s zoning code when a majority of Rio Lindo homeowners loudly expressed concern that their road was becoming a de facto “alley” due to the construction of two homes on Alhambra Drive, but with driveways accessing Rio Lindo.

Trees, it’s all about trees

In February 2014, the lot at 1015 Alhambra Drive North, owned by Ed and Juliette Vaughn, was subdivided and the Vaughns sold its adjacent lot at 1007 Alhambra Drive North to Scott Soltau and his wife, Amanda Marie, according to property appraiser information.

In the eyes of the Rio Lindo residents, there was no problem until the heavily wooded lots were suddenly cleared of all vegetation so that two new homes could be built.

Not only were the residents stunned to see the shady vegetation that had long been a buffer between their homes and the older Granada neighborhood removed all in one day, but several were shocked when the Soltaus put in a large concrete foundation and began to build a four-car garage in the rear of their property with a driveway that would access Rio Lindo Drive.

“We have pictures of oaks and other protected trees lining Rio Lindo, and we believe the land was cleared before the permits were filed,” said Sid Roberson, who lives across the street from the Soltaus property. “It is our understanding that any tree on city property is protected.”

Roberson has been seeking to find out from the city if the trees were taken down without a permit because the city only required three crepe myrtle trees to be replaced on the city-owned right of way after the tree mitigation survey was complete. “I think the city should try to get the developers to agree to obscure the backs of their houses,” Roberson said. “Putting in three crepe myrtles is just not going to work.”

Also concerned the Soltaus’ driveway might be illegal or set a precedent other Alhambra homeowners might follow if it were permitted, the residents, led by Roberson, hired a lawyer and complained to the city, contacting Planning and Development Department Director William Killingsworth, Chief of the Development Services Division Mike Sands and Tom Goldsbury, chief of the city’s building inspection division, in addition to Boyer.

“The issue really is the de-gentrification of the neighborhood,” Roberson said, noting that the majority of Granada homeowners have driveways that face the same street as their front door.

“By doing this they are changing the look and feel of the neighborhood. We have a lot of nice oaked lots. The houses are not all cookie cutter,” he said. “When you allow a house that size to be built you have changed the character of the neighborhood.”

Although drainage problems have delayed construction on the Vaughns’ lot, the couple said they intend to build a three-car garage facing Rio Lindo Drive and expect to have building permits in hand by the end of March and to be grandfathered in since the legislation has not yet been taken up by the City Council, said Juliette Vaughn.

Roberson said he has not approached the Soltaus or the Vaughns with his concerns. The Resident was unable to reach Scott Soltau. Juliette Vaughn said she and her husband have “no comment” about the situation having only heard about it “through the grapevine” and have never been contacted by any aggrieved Rio Lindo residents.

City says no illegal actions

took place

After meeting with the residents and after much back and forth by email, Killingsworth analyzed the situation and determined, in accordance with the existing zoning code, the Soltaus’ project was legal, in compliance with Section 656.1601 of the existing zoning codes, and had received all necessary permits.

“I have determined the development at 1007 Alhambra Drive North is consistent with the City’s Ordinances and legal,” Killingsworth wrote in a January 4, 2016 email to Roberson. “I apologize for your disappointment and displeasure regarding the outcome.”

Because permitting for both properties was completed before the new legislation was taken up by the City Council, the new rules will not affect the two Alhambra Drive North properties, said Boyer.

“This does nothing for the Robersons,” Boyer said. “Once a permit is pulled, we can’t do anything. The Soltaus can rely on what was in place at the time. It can’t be made retroactive,” she continued. “This doesn’t prevent the Vaughns from putting a driveway on Rio Lindo, but it does give them the option of putting it on Alhambra Drive North.”

In an effort to try to appease the Rio Lindo residents’ concerns about the removal of the trees from the city’s public right of way facing the Roberson’s property, Boyer said she met with the city forester. She said he is consulting with a city landscape architect and will draw up a plan to replant more trees on the 13-foot right of way abutting the Alhambra Drive North lots.

“My goal is to get a plan in place as soon as possible so the residents can know what has been proposed,” Boyer said. “Of course, we won’t install anything until the construction is done,” she said. “The bottom line from my perspective is to try to help the residents get as much landscaping as we can in that city right of way.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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