HOME BUILDERS WORKING ON TEARDOWNS IN historic Myers Park in Charlotte, N.C., had a tough fight on their hands earlier this year when a neighborhood group brought up an arcane open-space rule that threatened to derail the lucrative teardown business for local custom home builders.
The rule, which was put into effect long before the infill trend and large custom homes in excess of 5,000 square feet were common, requires that 65 percent of a residential property be open space. That means the builder has 35 percent of the property to build on. Many builders are concerned that 35 percent is not enough.
“This is really a rule that hasn't been enforced,” says Collin Brown, an attorney who represents some of the builders involved. “The larger war in Charlotte is whether the 65 percent open space is acceptable,” he says.
This type of battle has been happening all across the country, and some towns have pushed back. Highland Park, Ill., passed a $10,000-per-dwelling-unit teardown tax in May 2002. The tax money is managed by the Highland Park Community Land Trust, a nonprofit group that uses the tax dollars to fund affordable housing projects.
However, teardowns can be a lucrative business. In a typical Myers Park scenario, a builder pays about $500,000 for a lot and puts up a new custom home for about $1.5 million.
BATTLEGROUND The hostilities in Myers Park started during the first part of this year when homeowners complained after builders Joe Dancy and David King paved over the front yard of one of their properties. According to The Charlotte Observer, the builders said they were trying to create a courtyard that would fit in with the charm of the neighborhood. The courtyard had cobblestone pavers and a fountain in the middle. The builders checked the city code and spent $50,000 to hire a professional designer. The home was even featured on the cover of Charlotte Homes magazine.
Despite their efforts, the builders were informed that they violated the city's 65 percent open-space requirement. Dancy and King lost on appeal when the zoning board of adjustment ruled that the courtyard they built did not qualify as open space.
ONGOING FEUD In a move apparently unrelated to the courtyard case, the feud between the local homeowners group and the builders came to a head in September when the Myers Park HOA pointed out to the city's zoning inspector that several of the new teardown homes violated the city's open-space ordinance. The HOA contended that the new homes had too much paved area, thus violating the provision.
Following the complaints of the residents and the need among builders for a clarification, the city ruled that buildings (homes), structures (such as sheds), and driveways used for parking are not considered open space. According to the city, the 65/35 percent ratio stands, but driveways are considered open space only when they aren't used for offstreet parking. Many of the builders could accept that ruling, since they were no longer penalized for portions of the driveway that were not used for parking.
At press time, the city's planning commission was studying how other communities handle open space, and the city planned to hold public hearings.
“What we will do is go back and look at the definition and decide if we need to regulate total impervious cover,” says Keith MacVean, the land development program manager for the city's planning commission.
SOURCE: CITY OF CHARLOTTE & MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C.
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