After rejections, landowner gets answer to property dilemma

Sean C. Morgan

A simple property line adjustment will solve a dilemma for a Sweet Home property owner who has been trying to win permission from the city to build a new carport for more than a year.

The city’s Community and Economic Development Department approved the property line adjustment last week, and it is in its appeal period. The decision transfers 246 square feet of property from 4590 Airport Lane to 4580 Airport Lane.

The Planning Commission and then the City Council last year had denied a request for a variance to the side yard setback requirement. Structures must be five feet from a side yard property line.

It became an issue for Tony McGovern, a commercial contractor who focuses primarily on parking lots, asphalt and striping, when he decided he wanted to turn his garage into a play room.

Sweet Home’s ordinance requires homes in single-family residential zones to have an attached carport or garage. That meant McGovern would need to build a new attached carport.

In the space McGovern had available, he could install a metal-frame carport and attach it with flashing, he said, but the area wouldn’t accommodate a wood structure.

A metal frame doesn’t fit the character of the neighborhood though, McGovern said. “I didn’t want to be the first one on the block to begin running it down appearance-wise.”

He preferred a wooden structure that would match the character of the neighborhood’s appearance, he said.

McGovern sought a variance from the setback requirement. Approval would have placed the carport within about 2½ feet from the property line at the closest point. Several neighbors, agreeing with McGovern’s plan, testified in favor of the variance during a Planning Commission hearing on the variance a year ago. No one opposed it. The commission denied it.

On appeal to the City Council, then-Councilor Ryan Underwood, who shares the property line with McGovern, excused himself from the hearing as a potential conflict of interest, and the council denied it. Underwood also supported McGovern’s plan.

McGovern found himself frustrated at the process while pursuing the variance.

In the run-up to the hearing, he said he was asked to adjust the plans twice, ending up with three different versions.

But as the hearing date approached, he said Planning Assistant Katie Wilcox was “a tremendous help,” preparing him for the meeting, McGovern said.

After the denials, he was still looking for a way to solve the problem, and he met with City Manager Ray Towry.

“I was able to go in and have a one-on-one with him,” McGovern said. “He said there’s got to be a way we can accommodate what you want to do, yet maintain the city code. I felt that Ray was understanding and was trying to give me the best guidance he could.”

McGovern hired Udell Engineering, he said. “It really got the ball rolling.”

Udell talked to city staff and ultimately came up with the idea of a property line adjustment, McGovern said.

“Why wasn’t I told this a year ago?” he wondered. The variance process cost McGovern application fees, and he had to hire an engineer.

“It shouldn’t have to be creative; but yes, we had to get creative.”

Adjusting the property line allows both structures, McGovern’s carport and the neighbor’s home, to meet side-yard setback requirements, said Community and Economic Development Director Jerry Sorte. “Neighbors talked to each other and figured it out. Those neighbors figured out a solution and are moving forward.”

Planning needs to be flexible, Sorte said. Processes need to be more streamlined, and it helps when staff can build trust and ask questions about a proposed project.

“We’ve got to find people the path of least resistance,” Sorte said, and ideally show them multiple options.

McGovern said he wanted to recognize Sorte, who began working for the city in September after the variance process was exhausted.

“He is amazing,” McGovern said. “He is for the people. He is more for the people than the laws and the rules.”

After the lot line adjustment idea came up, “I asked Ryan: I need 2 feet,” McGovern said of his neighbor. “He said, ‘You got it,’ and then we shook hands. I feel that he completely has been more than helpful.”

McGovern is happy to be moving forward at this point, he said. He is “anxious to get it done and move on.”