Old Town neighbors raised eyebrows at a proposed development at 1415 Princess Street that staff said would fit all the zoning requirements, but still puts nearby residents in a tight bind.
Viewed from the street, 1415 Princess Street appears to be a house-sized vacant lot on the largely residential street in the Parker-Gray neighborhood. But the empty space at 1415 Princess Street is actually part of a three lot segment, two of which came forward to the Board of Architectural Review as part of a proposed development that would rub right up against the front doors of neighboring homes.
Steve Davidson, in particular, told the BAR that the new development would be pressed up right against the front door of the house, located on the side of the building.
“If this building is built, it will cover the entire front of the house I am living in,” Davidson said. “That door is my front door. That building, the proposed structure, would be up against the property line which is only four feet two inches from the site of my house.”
Davidson said the proposed development would obliterate light access into the house and would turn the front door into an alley.
“That seems like a bad idea,” Davidson said. “I can’t understand why we’d put three properties in a little narrow strip like that.”
Other residents on the street expressed concerns that the new development could impact other nearby houses.
“These lots were vacant so this was not open to the public or given an opportunity to be discussed,” said Michael Stauber, owner of 1401 Princess Street. “The second this building goes up, zero light goes into 1403.”
Stauber described the proposal as “patently unfair” to the current residents. Allan Russell, the resident of 1403 Princess Street, said the elimination of sunlight into the building would exacerbate the mental health problems created by COVID-19 isolation.
Members of the BAR were sympathetic to the concerns raised by neighbors, but were unsure of their legal authority to force changes to the property when it fit the required criteria. Staff noted that the project had been reviewed by all zoning bodies and met the legal requirements for the site.
“It’s not clear what sort of design change can be done to alleviate [the issue],” said BAR Member Christine Roberts. “[We] don’t have the ability to tell someone to take three lots and turn them into two, that’s well outside of our authority. That’s a zoning issue and a property rights issue. We can’t tell someone not to build on lots that they own.”
BAR member Christine Sennott agreed.
“I like the design, and that’s what we’re here to talk about,” Sennott said. “I don’t know that we have purview over how it affects neighbors.”
BAR members also pointed to the poor design choice years ago to build the front entrance to a home facing an empty lot.
“I agree that it’s very strange that it was built that way,” said Purvi Irwin. “I would never build next to an empty lot with my entrance and all of the windows facing the empty lot, but I can see the POV of the adjacent resident saying ‘what are you going to do to my property?'”
The BAR faced its own strict constructionism-type question over its role in this and similar zoning issues. Irwin argued the BAR does have the capacity that a design could be denied based on the impact on neighbors, even if it met the zoning requirements.
“Part of what we look at is impact of new buildings on neighborhood as a whole,” Irwin said. “If that adversely affects neighboring properties then we definitely need to take that into consideration.”
The applicant agreed with a BAR suggestion to defer the decision to a later date to address other issues related to the property while the BAR worked with staff on the concerns raised regarding the development.
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