The city manager’s next report on the ongoing neighborhood dispute over the 3045 Shattuck Ave. house expansion is expected to address the issue of backyard space, a debate which has pitted two city commissioners against the city’s planning staff.
Project opponents recently succeeded in getting the city to issue a stop work order on the project based on misstatements by property owner Christina Sun on her permit application. However, they are still urging the city to call a public hearing for the project and have not backed down from their claim that Sun’s plans to pave over virtually all of her rear yard, leaving only about 6 inches of space, violate the zoning ordinance’s requirement that there be at least 15 feet of rear yard space. They point out that the definition of yard prohibits obstruction of a yard by parking spaces and say this means Sun should have to obtain a use permit and go through a public hearing before reducing the amount of rear yard with parking space.
In a June 17 memo to the City Council, City Manager Weldon Rucker defended the Planning Department’s decision to allow the parking spaces. Planning staff has argued that the definition of yard to which project opponents refer was inadvertently added to the ordinance when it was amended in 1999. He said city staff has not changed its pre-1999 policy of approving parking spaces in yards.
“Since the 1999 zoning ordinance revision, staff has not altered its long-standing practice of allowing off-street parking in rear and side yards without discretionary permits unless the side yard abuts the street,” Rucker said.
But at least two city officials who were members of the Planning Commission in 1999—commissioner Gene Poschman and Zoning Adjustments Board Chair Laurie Capitelli—say the current language is correct and that it was, in fact, the intent of the city to prohibit parking in rear yards.
In a June 10 memo to Mayor Tom Bates, Capitelli wrote, “The revision of the zoning ordinance was careful, deliberate and precise in precluding the locating of parking in a required rear yard.”
Some councilmembers say they worry the department’s interpretation will lead to unrestricted paving over of parking lots.
“What we need to know is, how much paving of backyards can people do without getting a permit? Even though we’re talking about little backyards all over the city, it would have a cumulative effect on storm drainage,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington.
“If there’s no ground for it to go in then it goes over to the street and causes flooding. There should be a certain percentage you can pave over without a permit. It shouldn’t be unlimited.”