Teran Residence – the approval processes

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Having prepared the conceptual plans for this residence, it was requested that I make a presentation to the client explaining the merits of a LEED for Homes green construction policy. This perhaps was the easiest sell I had ever been involved in during the all the years working in the residential sector. The City of Cincinnati offers tax incentives to commercial and residential projects that achieve LEED certification. A 15 year tax abatement up to $500,000 for any level of certification. Five minutes and it was a done deal. The client agrees to go for the Certified level at an estimated additional construction cost of $5,000 – $8,000.

After several months of revisions to the building program and with construction documents well underway, the client called one evening to inform her builder she wanted the house moved further back on the site. Ouch. OUCH! Informed that doing so not only pushed the structure further above existing grades at the rear, it moved the project outside the approved zoning envelope, which would necessitate going back to zoning for a variance. The client agreed with this and issued instructions to proceed to zoning.

Now the bad news. Zoning ordinances for the hillside overlay district had been revised since the previous approval, with several requirements being stricter. Now for the really bad news. The Art Academy property had been sold to a developer who was in the process of completing a major renovation of the property – new high end condos. We now had residential zoning on both sides. The foundation of the house on the west (left side) was positioned on the property line, while the Art Academy had a 75 foot setback. The Art Academy is situated at an intersection and, consequently, has two front yards, or perhaps one is a side yard and the other a front yard? Or may be no one knew. Zoning would later reveal they never really understood just how to handle the uniqueness of this building and our project. At any rate, construction documents had to be prepared, complete with new envelope studies and submitted to zoning for a lengthy review and variance process.

 

With respect to LEED for Homes projects, preparing site engineering and working drawings at this stage is akin to putting the cart before the horse. As for this project, there is less comfort now that this project will receive zoning approval. All aspects of design and construction are under review and subject to change by zoning officials. Project size, building design including exterior materials are at risk and subject to change. However, having experience building homes in Mt. Adams, as well as having a sound knowledge of LEED, there wasn’t a great deal of concern or gamble. If the project was approved as submitted, adding the necessary LEED content to the final construction documents would be a minimal task.

Our written as well as our oral argument to zoning was singular in focus and intentionally short. Side yard setback requirements are calculated as the average of adjoining properties on either side. In our instance, if current zoning ordinance setback requirements were interpreted and imposed as written, our 23 foot wide parcel would be rendered unbuildable. Averaging the two adjacent side yard setbacks produced a setback larger than the width of the property. Now for good news. After a protracted process, zoning approval was granted and the construction documents were submitted to the city and a building permit issued.

 

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