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Setback Variance request of Terry Wolf and Martha Winkler re 515 13th Street


Hearing Examiner #: HE-14-PL-023
Planning #:VAR2014-00013
Incident #:
Filing Date:05/23/2014
City Contact:Lindsay Kershner
Hearing Date: 06/11/2014
Description: Setback Variance request of Terry Wolf and Martha Winkler re 515 13th Street
Decision Date: 06/23/2014
Decision Summary:Approved with conditions

This matter came before the Bellingham Hearing Examiner for hearing on the 11th day of June 2014 on the application filed by Simi Jain on behalf of Terry Wolff and Martha Winkler for a variance from setback requirements for property located at 515 13th Street in Bellingham.
Testimony was received from Lindsay Kershner, Bellingham Planning and Community Development Department; Simi Jain, Zender Thurston, P.S., Applicants' Representative; George Thomas, 512 14th Street; Mike McMullen, 513 13th Street; Teresa Dalton, 519 13th Street; and Gregory Robinson, Applicants' Architect.
In addition to the Bellingham Municipal Code and Comprehensive Plan, the following documents were considered as part of the record: See Exhibit List.
I. FINDINGS OF FACT
1. Simi Jain, on behalf of Terry Wolff and Martha Winkler, applied for a variance from side yard setback requirements to construct a second-story on an existing residence located at 515 13th Street.
2. The subject property is located on 13th Street north of Adams Avenue in Area 4A of the South Hill Neighborhood. It is designated Residential Single, Detached, 7,200 square feet minimum detached lot size. A special condition for this area is view.
3. The property is legally described as the north of Lot 4 and Lot 5, Block 27, Town of Bellingham.
4. The property contains an existing single-family residence with approximately 960 square feet of finished floor area and a detached accessory building. The existing house was constructed in 1927, prior to the adoption of the City's land use regulations.
5. Single-family residences are located on each side of the subject property, to the north and south, and to the east, uphill and across the alley between 13th and 14th Streets.
6. The subject site contains approximately 5,062 square feet. It is 37.5 feet in width and 135 feet in depth. It slopes downhill from the alley to a retaining wall in the front portion of the property. There is a 13-foot drop from the retaining wall to the sidewalk on 13th Street.
7. The existing residence is located three feet, eight inches from the northern property line. The roof eave on the north side is located one-foot, two inches from the property line.
8. Current setback requirements of the Bellingham Municipal Code provide that structures must be setback at least five feet from the property line in an interior side yard. The existing structure is about one-foot, four inches deficient in setback from the northerly property line. Eaves are required to be at least three feet from the property line. The existing eaves encroach approximately one-foot, nine inches into the setback area.
9. The Applicants propose to construct a second-story onto the existing one-story house, within the same footprint as the existing residence. The exterior walls would be extended up approximately 10 feet and the roof raised to the second-story level. The eave extension into the interior side yard would remain at one-foot, two inches from the property line. The height of the structure to the peak of the roof would be raised approximately 10.5 feet. The existing elevation at the roof peak is 145 feet and the proposed peak elevation would be 155.5 feet.
10. The Applicants state that they learned that a new structure, taller than the existing house, would be located across 13th Street from their home and it would likely impact their existing view of Bellingham Bay. They want to maintain their view and provide additional room for guests with a second-story addition.
11. Other residences in the area, including all of the houses on the same side of 13th Street within a block of the property, and all of the houses across the alley on the east side of the 500 block of 14th Street are at least two-stories tall. Three properties within the 500 block of 13th and 14th Streets constructed second-story additions within the last 10 years. The average size of the residences in the 500 block of 13th Street is approximately 1,767 square feet.
12. Variance criteria are set forth in BMC 20.18.020. The section provides that a variance may be granted if there are special circumstances applicable to the property, not the result of the owner's action, such as size, shape, topography, location or surroundings, which cause the application of the regulations to the property to deprive it of rights and privileges enjoyed by other property in the area, provided that granting the variance will not be unduly detrimental to other property or improvements in the area and the property cannot be reasonably used without a variance.
13. City staff has recommended approval of the variance subject to conditions set forth in the Staff Report. Recommended conditions include no encroachment closer than the existing structure, architectural consistency with the existing residence, and conformance with submitted plans and code requirements.
14. Public comments were received for this proposal. The neighbors to the north of the property, adjacent to the setback encroachment, support the proposal, stating that the proposal will add value to the neighborhood and won't negatively impact their property. Other neighbors of the property oppose the project. Their comments state that the proposed second-story addition will obstruct views of Bellingham Bay from the properties on 14th Street to the east of the site. Other comments stated that granting variances to enlarge existing homes would not further the City's goal of infilling and would limit the diversity of housing available in South Hill, that the character of South Hill needs the City's protection, that setbacks are necessary to preserve light and airspace for adjacent properties, and expressed concerns for fire safety with the houses so close together. Concern was also expressed regarding a row of trees along the south property line of the subject property, which is the subject of a current enforcement action. One of the comments expressed concerns that parking and traffic congestion would result from construction work and materials delivery. It suggested that safety signage and orange cones be placed to caution drivers.
15. Construction of the new second-floor addition will require that the existing wall, as well as new wall for the second-story, must be upgraded/constructed in accordance with current fire and building code requirements.
16. Photographic and graphic renderings showing the projected roofline of the proposed addition in relation to other residences in the area shows that the proposed second-story addition will obscure a portion of the view from at least two residences located to the east of the subject property on 14th Street. The proposed roofline would obscure a modest portion of the view (from the main floor decks of the houses at 512 and 516 14th Street) of the water at the level of the existing powerline and top of the power pole/transformer. Views from these residences of the islands, horizon, and the water outside of the triangular section of the new roofline would not be impacted. These residences do not currently have views of the shoreline. Existing views are also impacted by existing houses on either side and in front of the subject property and tall trees.
17. The area of additional view impact resulting from a second-story encroachment into the northern setback area is quite small. Without the requested variance a structure, or second-story addition, could be constructed on the subject property that would be taller and wider, obstructing a larger portion of the views from properties to the east. A structure could be built on the subject property 10 feet, six inches taller than the proposed addition. The area affected by the proposed variance is the one-foot, four inches of structure, and the lower portion of the eave, on the north side of the proposed addition. Without a variance a second story-addition would leave a slightly wider view corridor between the subject property and the property to the north at the existing eave level. However, a taller structure, or different roofline orientation for a new structure on the property could substantially reduce the view corridors from what is currently proposed.
18. The requested variance would allow extension of the existing walls, maintenance of the existing footprint, and preservation of the character of the existing residence, and provide the property owners with a residence with a total of 1,886 square feet of habitable space, including three bedrooms and two bathrooms, as well as a second-story water view over what is anticipated to be a taller residence across 13th Street from the subject property.
19. The City's Comprehensive Plan encourages the maintenance of older homes and the preservation of neighborhood character, as well as the protection of views and view corridors.
20. There are special circumstances applicable to the subject property, not the result of the owner's action, that cause application of the setback requirements to deprive the property of rights and privileges enjoyed by other properties in the area. The structure was built prior to the adoption of setback requirements. It was placed three feet, eight inches from the northern property line, with eaves that extend to within one-foot, two inches of the property line. It is also located on a lot that is only 37.5 feet in width. The lot slopes from the alley to the street. A retaining wall with a 13-foot drop to the street level was required to support the existing house. Options for expanding the existing structure, which is quite small by modern standards, are limited due to the size, shape and topography of the lot, as well as the placement of the foundation. In order to maintain the value and character of the existing structure the only feasible option for a second-story addition is an in-line extension of the existing exterior walls. Nearly all of the other properties in the immediate area are at least two stories in height. Several of these homes have constructed second-story additions within the recent past.
21. Granting the variance will not be unduly detrimental to the public welfare nor injurious to the property or improvements in the vicinity. The second-story addition will have a modest impact on the views from properties to the east. However, other options for improving the subject property would have a much greater impact to the same properties. A new residence or a second-story addition that complied with the setback requirement could be taller and wider and impact a larger portion of the view from the properties to the east than the current proposal. It is also less likely that a new home or compliant second-story addition would maintain the existing neighborhood character. The property owners immediately adjacent to the area of encroachment support the proposal.
22. Without the proposed variance the subject property would be deprived of a reasonable use, the ability to modernize and expand an older home in line with the existing structure to maintain the value and character of the property, and to provide for accommodations and amenities similar to those enjoyed by the majority of other properties in the neighborhood, and with less impact on views from neighboring properties than would be likely with a compliant structure.
23. Issues regarding the row of trees along the south property line are addressed in the separate enforcement action currently pending before the City. This action is not a part of this proceeding.
II. CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
1. Criteria for variances from side yard setback requirements are set forth in BMC 20.18.020. These include an analysis of detrimental impacts on the public and neighboring properties. The detrimental impacts of a variance on the public or on private property to be considered in determining whether a variance should be granted are those that result from the variance itself, and not those that would result from construction that would be feasible and permitted without a variance. In this case, the view impact from the proposed variance is minimal and limited to the view obstruction within the area of the proposed second-story encroachment within the northerly side yard, and not the entire obstruction resulting from a second-story.
2. Granting a variance to allow the proposed in-line extension of the northerly wall to accommodate a second-story addition will provide an opportunity to limit view impacts to the properties located to the east, consistent with the proposal. Although the proposal will obstruct a portion of the view within the northern side yard corridor it will also limit the height of the structure, maintain the existing footprint, and retain the roof orientation so that the total view impact will be less than would be likely with a new structure or a compliant addition constructed to maximize the living area and view to be enjoyed by the subject property.
3. Subject to the conditions set forth below the proposal satisfies the variance criteria. Without a variance the property would be deprived of privileges enjoyed by other properties in the vicinity due to the size, shape and existing non-conformity of the property, and of reasonable use of the property consistent with the zoning designation and the character of the neighborhood. The variance will not be unduly detrimental to the public or other properties in the area.
4. The proposed variance from the side yard setback requirement should be granted, subject to the conditions set forth below.
5. Any Finding of Fact that should be denominated a Conclusion of Law shall be deemed to be a Conclusion of Law. Any Conclusion of Law that should be denominated a Finding of Fact shall be deemed to be a Finding of Fact.
III. ORDER
A variance is granted for the subject property located at 515 13th Street and described herein, to allow an in-line extension of the northerly exterior wall and eave of the existing structure to construct a second-story addition, subject to the following conditions:
1. The second-story wall shall not be closer to the northern property line than the existing northerly exterior wall of the structure.
2. The eaves shall be setback at least one-foot, two inches from the northern property line.
3. The second-story footprint of the structure shall not be expanded beyond the existing footprint of the structure, except for permitted deck extensions, as proposed.
4. New construction shall substantially conform to the plans, specifications, and other materials submitted in support of the variance application. The height and bulk of the structure shall be no greater than that shown in the materials supporting the application. The orientation and pitch of the roof shall be substantially as shown, provided that they may be modified to reduce view impacts.
5. The addition shall be architecturally consistent with the existing residence, as proposed.
6. New construction shall comply with all other applicable requirements of the Bellingham Municipal Code, including, but not limited to, land use regulations, building and fire codes. Portions of the existing structure that are required to comply with current code requirements as a result of the new construction shall be brought into compliance, as required.
7. Construction activities shall comply with applicable time restrictions and public safety requirements.

ENTERED this 23rd day of June 2014.
Bellingham Hearing Examiner
________________________________
Dawn Sturwold
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