Historic Home at Risk of McMansion Expansion

By Ross Hunter

Tomorrow evening’s meeting of the Zoning Board of Adjustment has on its agenda the fate of the historic Leavell House, 803 College Street, at the corner of Eighth and College. The house is 130 years old with a magnificent aspect, visible from the square looking down the length of Eighth Street to the east.

Its new owner now wants to build a 3-story addition to the house that will encroach into the setbacks from the property lines required by code, and he’s requesting the Board to grant a Special Exception to the Unified Development Code to allow this.

Staff is recommending in its report that the Board should grant the request. There is no appeal from this decision except in court. What the Board decides on Tuesday night will tend to settle the matter.

I urge you to come down to the Council Chambers tomorrow, Tuesday the 15th, at 6 p.m. This is the only matter on the agenda so you should show up on time. You don’t have to speak, as always numbers matter, and showing your support by your presence is extremely valuable.

You can sign up to speak and cede your 3 minutes to another person if you want (I for one could use the extra 3 minutes, and there will be others). And you can add your voice quite simply by taking a moment to speak and stating your opposition to this request.

Why is it wrong to grant a Special Exception for the Leavell House? Here are some points to consider.

  • By encroaching into the setback from the property line, the 3,651 square foot addition approaches very closely to its neighbors to the south and to the east. This poses an increased fire danger to their properties by its increased proximity and its hindrance of firefighter access.
  • The neighbors now will face the solid wall of a “McMansion” to look at right at their own fencelines, which undoubtedly reduces their property value and at the same time likely raises their tax assessments, by reason of the new, almost-9,000 square foot structure. The Leavell House thus increases its own value literally at the expense of its neighbors.
  • In August the Historic and Architectural Review Commission granted the owner permission to demolish an old outbuilding already encroaching into the setback but grandfathered close to the fence line. HARC believed the owner’s representations at that time that he proposed to expand the house into the footprint of the outbuilding, but in a way that met “all current City regulations.”
    Now, four months later, this surprise is sprung on us, and the owner has custom architectural plans that intend deliberately to encroach much more extensively into setbacks than even the original outbuilding did. This begs the questions, how did these plans change, and who’s being taken for a fool?

The meeting of the Zoning Board of Adjustment is in the Council Chambers, at 101 E. Seventh Street on the corner of Seventh and Main. It’s at 6 p.m. sharp, please come a few minutes early if possible. The date is tomorrow, Tuesday, December 15th.

There are a number of supporting documents available for your study. We’ve compiled them below.

Please join us tomorrow to help close the lid permanently on McMansion-style renovations in Georgetown.

Thank you.

Ross Hunter


  • Staff Report to the Board

Staff Report

  • Minutes of the HARC decision in August

HARC

  • An extract from the newly approved UDC language that pertains to this case (UDC Section 4.09.040.B, Review Criteria for Special Exception – as cited in the Staff Report)

4.09.040-SpecialExceptions


These documents can also be downloaded here (right-click on these pdf files to save):

StaffReport

HARC

4.09.040-SpecialExceptions

**Note the extract from UDC comes from a Word doc at the City website, the full Chapter 4 here:

http://udc.georgetown.org/unified-development-code/
Click on “UDC – Chapter 4 Zoning Districts – Revised*

 

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