Variance OK ends Catch-22 situation for local couple

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The protagonist character Yossarian couldn’t solve the “Catch-22” dilemma in the classic Joseph Heller novel of same name, but the Greencastle Board of Zoning Appeals may just have.

In Yossarian’s world, he couldn’t get an Air Force discharge by pretending to be crazy because his superiors saw his desire to get out of flying as a sign of perfect sanity. Say hello to Catch-22, a widely used term to describe an absurd or contradictory choice.

In the BZA version, Janet and Scott Eaton were requesting a development standards variance to allow an accessory structure (essentially a small garage that houses an Eaton vehicle) within the front yard in a Central Business zoning district at 200 N. Indiana St.

Now that’s not a “major, major” deal but an unusual and interesting situation nonetheless.

Problem was, the owners were in violation of the building code by failing to obtain an permit for the accessory structure (which was attached to the main structure) and also were non-compliant with the commercial building code. In order to be in compliance, however, the structure has to be fully detached from the primary structure, which in turn, would make it a violation of the City Zoning Ordinance as an accessory structure.

In other words, a real BZA Catch-22.

City zoning laws require that all accessory structures -- with the exception of gazebos and decks -- be located to the rear of the primary structure, except in the case of corner lots.

Therein lies another issue. The Eaton property is a corner lot (at Columbia and North Indiana streets) with no rear yard, so anywhere they could put the accessory structure would be considered the front yard, City Planner Shannon Norman pointed out. And behind the Eaton residence and adjoining cycle shop is a blacktop lot owned by someone else.

Thus the accessory structure was built running east and west at the northeast corner of the main structure (a legal, non-conforming, grandfathered property). It will now be turned to a north-south orientation.

“The only thing to do,” Norman said, “is to detach the structure and make it a permanent structure in the front yard.”

As a grandfathered structure, she noted, the issue is “how can we make it the most compliant it could be.”

The main reason the Eatons got into the situation, Janet said, was that the owner of the building across Columbia Street to the south needed the space in it for his own purposes. Thus the Eatons had to remove the vehicle they had stored there.

BZA member Andrew Ranck said he “had issues” with the request, noting that the structure was basically for personal use. Had it been for business purposes, it would be a different story, he said.

Ranck also noted that the style does not match the surrounding historic downtown district. “It looks slapped together,” he said.

Janet Eaton bristled at that remark, saying that neighbors have even complimented them on the structure. She also offered to point out areas in town that have some shoddy-looking structures if BZA members really wanted to see one.

BZA member Wayne Lewis said he sees the situation as an opportunity. Much like how the Jones School project may help lift the standards in that neighborhood, he said the Eaton project could help “put pressure on neighbors to take better care of their property.”

“Janet, I don’t know what your plans are five years from now,” Lewis said, “but I know it will be better than it is tonight.”

With that Lewis made a motion to approve the development standards variance, which passed on a 3-1 vote -- with one catch. A development standards variance cannot be expanded, extended or enlarged unless reauthorized by the board.

Lewis, Mark Hammer and BZA Chairman Brian Cox voted in favor of the variance, while Ranck cast the lone dissenting vote.

Hammer was sworn in prior to the meeting as the newest member of the BZA, representing the City Plan Commission on the panel.

The BZA will next meet in regular session at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3 at City Hall. The Jones School project to convert the building into 25 senior apartments is expected to be on the agenda.

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  • Wow. Puns abound Eric.

    -- Posted by Old Soul on Tue, Sep 12, 2017, at 9:56 AM
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