Regardless of whether anyone agrees with how a zoning appeal involving a pair of rental properties on Circle Avenue was resolved, Amy Perry’s ordeal over the last several months is a case in point for the argument to revise the village’s zoning codes.
For those who haven’t followed the story, Perry owns a two-flat and a coach house at 417 Circle Ave. In November of last year, the two-flat was damaged by a kitchen fire and has been boarded up since. Because the multi-family unit is located within a neighborhood zoned strictly for single-family homes, Perry was told by the village that the structure was damaged so severely she would not be allowed to restore it to its original use. She would have to rebuild the structure so that it conformed to the zoning codes.
Meanwhile, in surveying the damage to that structure, village officials became concerned that the coach house was no longer being used, and in accordance with the codes, it was ordered to be demolished.
Perry appealed both of these rulings and won each. What should be noted about the reversal of the two demolition orders is that neither was overturned because of some mistake made by village staff. The building department accurately interpreted the codes and made legitimate efforts to enforce them. Like it or not, Perry’s properties survived this ordeal on a pair of technicalities.
With respect to the two-flat, the village determined the value of the structure and compared that to the cost of repairs, as provided by Perry, the property owner. Simple math will determine whether the cost of repairs exceeds half the value of the property. Simple logic reveals a loophole in this ordinance big enough to squeeze a building through.
By using cheaper materials, cheaper labor and arguably winding up with a lesser product, property owners can turn this section of the zoning code into something that actually cheapens the housing stock.
As for the zoning board’s decision to let the coach house stand, we agree that in all likelihood the tenant did not vacate the property. However, the discussion regarding the tenant’s use of running water was akin to our former president asking what the definition of “is” is.
Ultimately the language in a new and sorely needed revision will be determined by the professionals who write zoning codes. The community, however, needs to begin discussing what to do with legal nonconforming properties, of which there are hundreds. The mechanisms in place for eradicating the village of such properties are obviously causing discomfort.