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Avondale Estates denies variance request for an accessory unit

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Avondale Estates denies variance request for an accessory unit

The homeowners of 14 Dartmouth Ave. in Avondale Estates are seeking to build an accessory dwelling unit. Photo obtained via Google Maps.

Avondale Estates, GA — The Avondale Estates City Commission, during its meeting on June 28, did not approve a variance request for an accessory unit at 14 Dartmouth Ave. The commissioners agreed that there was no hardship that would require a variance.

The homeowners were seeking to demolish an existing detached garage and rebuild a one-story accessory structure that would function as an office, storage space, and additional entertainment space.

The studio would have had an upper loft and be in the rear yard of the home. It was proposed to be built on the existing foundation of the garage, but the current garage is nonconforming to the city’s zoning code. The garage currently has a side setback of 1.7 feet and the required setback is 12 feet.

“This would have been built before the previous zoning. It did not meet the previous zoning, and it does not meet this zoning code,” Assistant City Manager Shannon Powell previously said. “The applicant is asking to take it down and rebuild and add to the nonconformity. They want to build in the same location but build higher.”

The proposed accessory structure would be about four feet taller. The height would increase from about 12 feet to about 16.5 feet within the nonconforming side yard setback.

“The increase in height is an expansion of a nonconforming structure which is not permitted by the zoning ordinance,” the review from city staff says.

Commissioner Lisa Shortell said that her understanding and interpretation of the city’s zoning code is that a nonconforming structure cannot be increased in a way that is also nonconforming.

“To me, there is no hardship here according to the criteria that is outlined for us in the zoning code,” Shortell said. “I agree with some of the other residents who spoke that it is unfair to other property owners who have already had similar situations and have worked with staff and been told no and then have had to adapt and change their plans.”

The review and approval criteria include considering if there are extraordinary and exceptional conditions related to size, shape, topography and trees; if the particular piece of property would create an unnecessary hardship; and if relief would not cause detriment to the public good nor impair the purposes or intent of the zoning code.

The review from city staff found that there were no extraordinary or exceptional conditions or hardship. The review also says there would be no detriment to the public good, but the variance would be in conflict with the intent of the zoning code.

Shortell added that the homeowners have other choices for their projects. Their choices would be to comply with the setback or rebuild, as long as the new structure is the same footprint and dimensions as the garage.

Mayor Jonathan Elmore agreed that there was no hardship preventing the homeowners from placing the accessory unit inside the setback or somewhere else in their backyard.

Commissioner Dee Merriam added that the city went through a lot of effort to rewrite its zoning code and take resident feedback into account. She said there were concerns about buildings being too close to property lines.

“The bottom line here is we went through a lot of effort,” Merriam said. “There are a lot of community good reasons why we want to have setbacks from the property line, particularly since we greatly expanded the ability for our residents to do accessory dwellings and uses of those accessory dwellings. I think that further emphasizes the need to have that setback from adjacent property lines.”

Carla and Eddie Fahy have lived in their home for 21 years. Carla said she interpreted hardship differently. She said there’s an exceptional condition because they have a narrow lot.

“As far as not having a hardship, if we move this structure, we’ll have to tear up the existing foundation, move it over [and] tear up part of the existing driveway,” Carla said. “[We’ll have to] move our fire pit and stonewall that’s built around it…Remove part of our fence, the garden gate, a 20-year-old Japanese maple will have to be removed, and essentially, it would sit behind our back porch.”

She added that the structure would have been a focal point at the end of her driveway that would add to the character of the city, add to her curb appeal, and offset the neighboring accessory dwelling unit.

Eddie added that he and Carla thought they were being mindful of the zoning code. He was thrown off by the height being an issue.

“When we had a conversation with the attorney and staff, the height was, frankly, something that I wasn’t aware of,” Eddie said.

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