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House placement vexes zoning hearing panel

Photo submitted to Times Observer This house on Chapman Dam Road in Mead Township was discussed this week by the Warren County Zoning Hearing Board.

By BRIAN FERRY

bferry@timesobserver.com

There are rules about where structures can be placed on properties.

Owners can plead their cases before the county zoning hearing board if they would like to be allowed to bend those rules.

A property owner addressed the board this week, hoping to be allowed to build porches on a house, simply to let people get in and out.

The board discovered that the house on Chapman Dam Road itself violates setback rules because the house, which was built off-site, was put in a position that does not match the location allowed in the building permit.

The Warren-Forest Economic Opportunities Council (EOC) acquired the property for $1 from Habitat for Humanity. At the time of that acquisition, the unfinished house — which was built in sections by students at the Warren County Career Center — was already on the property.

“It was three-quarters built when we accepted it,” Executive Director Bob Raible said. “We’re completing it.”

He said costs are already thousands over projections and that the entity would likely sell the property when it is complete because the location is not especially appropriate to a low-income family.

EOC officials were notified that building porches, even small ones, would violate setback limits.

So, they set up a hearing with the ZHB to get things straightened out.

“We’re asking for means of egress on both sides,” Raible said. “We understand they are not meeting setback requirements. We need some way of getting in and out of the building.

“When the original permit was issued, the front yard setback was 64 feet,” County Zoning Officer Michael Lyon said.

The allowable setback is 40 feet for a front yard on a state road.

As it stands now, the house is already in violation. With the proposed porch, the structure would only have an 8-foot front setback.

A neighbor, James Depto, addressed the board. He described the situation as a “fiasco” that he has been “dealing with for the last three years.”

He said he did not object to a variance to the setback on his side, as long as a fence is built to prevent anyone from driving around the porch and onto his property to get to the back of the lot. “I want to protect my property,” he said. “Something just so you aren’t able to drive a vehicle there.”

Raible suggested that a solution other than a fence would be cheaper and more amenable.

Solicitor Tim Bevevino said the board would be within its powers to approve a variance contingent on the construction of a fence or other barrier. “The board has put conditions on the granting of a variance before,” he said.

He also told the members he had concerns about the request and recommended that they delay action. “I have a substantive concern,” he said. “You can grant a variance if there are unique problems” related to the size or shape of the lot, the topography, or other physical conditions that create unnecessary hardship.

The hardship in this case had a different cause. “A contractor screwed up and put a house where it shouldn’t be,” Bevevino said.

The board voted unanimously to table the matter.

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