Q: The house next door to us was just sold to a developer who plans to tear it down. We are afraid he will put up one of those ugly giant mansions and wonder what recourse we have to give comments if the design impinges on our privacy or view.
A: DESIGN REVIEW PROCESS:
Many cities require a design review process prior to the approval of a project or development. Once the developer applies for review, the project undergoes a strict review of design criteria.
Design guidelines are popular in many cities to provide consistency and efficiency in the process. These guidelines include a review of size, scale, massing, aesthetics, architectural style, compatibility with the neighborhood, as well as privacy and views.
After it is determined the project meets the guidelines, a public review process occurs where neighbors are notified and invited to attend a public hearing.
The developer does well to have a neighborhood meeting prior to the formal hearing so as to head off any potential issues with the neighbors. These issues can be dealt with and integrated into the final design. If the issues are not met, and concerns are made in writing to the city, the project could be sent to the planning commission.
OTHER IMPORTANT ISSUES:
The public hearing is an opportunity to comment on the design in so far as the guidelines are concerned and other site issues such as:
- erosion control,
- access to light & air and
- screening for privacy.
EACH JURISDICTON IS DIFFERENT:
Every jurisdiction has their particular rules. Some preserve neighborhood compatibility and some have no specific protection of views. If the city feels the design meets the design criteria and there are no outstanding issues with neighbors, the project is approved with a 10 day appeal period.
APPEAL PERIOD & PROCESS:
During this appeal period, anyone can submit their concerns in writing. If there is an appeal, the project goes to planning commission for further review. The project can undergo a great deal of revision if it goes this far in the process. It is obviously in the best interest of all to negotiate any concerns well ahead of time and avoid the unnecessary scrutiny of the planning commission.
SPECIFIC FINDINGS REQUIRED:
Once the project advances to the planning commission, specific findings must be made to approve the project. These findings include whether there is a hardship due to shape, topography or site conditions; the approval would allow the same rights as others in the same zoning district; the natural environment (landscape and topography) would not be adversely affected; and that an approval would not promote favoritism, etc.
Though there is a design review process in most cities, the process can be long and arduous if issues are not discussed and negotiate early on in neighborhood meetings. It is best for neighbors and developers to work together for a mutually acceptable result and only appeal to the planning commission as a last resort to avoid unnecessary time, stress and expense.
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