Variance granted for Chapman Dam Road building

The Warren County Zoning Hearing Board has agreed to approve a variance for a Chapman Dam Road residence placed on a foundation that wasn’t where the approved permit said it would be.

The variance request was brought by the Warren-Forest Counties Economic Opportunities Council, which was 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 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.

The board met last month to discuss the property but tabled further discussions to a session held on Wednesday morning.

EOC Executive Director Bob Raible said that the EOC would be willing to install a fence for the adjacent property owner, James Depto, if the variances were approved.

Depto — who called the entire situation a “fiasco” at the first board meeting — and the EOC appeared to be in agreement on the fence.

That left the board with a decision to make.

Zoning Officer Michael Lyon made it clear that the issue with the setbacks wasn’t discovered until after the EOC acquired the property.

The board’s attorney, Tim Benevino, said this is a “difficult case.” He explained that the provisions for granting such a variance require that the property “can’t be developed any other way” due to unique physical characteristics of a given parcel.

“Technically, that provision has not been satisfied,” he said, but he told the board that it could grant the variance subject to the condition of the fence installation. He said the board has imposed such conditions in other cases in the past.

Bevevino said the situation is “not the fault” of the EOC, which “inherited these problems. The structure was built in the wrong location. There is nothing unique about the physical circumstances on the ground… It could have been done properly and it just wasn’t.”

Board member Dennis Johnson asked what the alternatives are if the variance is not granted.

“Technically, you’ve got a non-conforming structure that would have to be moved” to comply, Bevevino said. The contractor “just didn’t build this structure in conformance with the zoning ordinance.”

“The unfortunate part is they inherited the problem,” Lyon reiterated. “It’s extremely unfortunate in this case that no one knew.”

Johnson asked if the building contractor bears any responsibility and Bevevino said they probably would but that such issues would be between the contractor and the EOC.

“In spite of the fact that it’s a little bit closer to the roadway than it should be, I think the house fits the neighborhood,” Lyon said, noting, though, that many of the other structures that are fairly close to the road pre-exist zoning regulations.

“This was a problem project from the beginning,” he said.

“(There is) certainly undue hardship here,” Bevevino said. “The only problem is the undue hardship is not due to any unique physical circumstances of the property. The contractor put the foundation in the wrong place,” calling it a “unique case.”

Board member Ed Atwood highlighted the resolution on the fence issue and suggested approving the variance.

“Let’s move on for everybody,” he said. “We could have hearings forever and not resolve anything.”

Ultimately, the board decided to approve the variances for the structure and the porches — setting the size at 5×5 feet — and gave the EOC 120 days to install the fence.

“If everybody’s happy, that’s the way to do it,” Atwood said.

The motion to approve passed 3-1 with Johnson voting in opposition.


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