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  December 25, 2008 Issue                                       

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Contested zoning variance approved by CHCA board

Despite lingering complaints from upset neighbors, the Chestnut Hill Community Association Board of Directors last week voted 20-6 in favor of a pair of zoning variances for a two-story garage and exercise studio to be built at 424 W. Springfield Ave.

The majority of the board seemed convinced that the homeowner, Henry O’Reilly, and his architect, Larry McEwen, had negotiated the variances in good faith with the Crooks and Halloran families. After all, Ned Mitinger, vice president of the CHCA’s Physical Division told them that both the Land Use, Planning and Zoning Committee and the Design Review Committee of the CHCA supported height and use exemptions for the garage after McEwen, an LUPZ member and DRC co-chair who recused himself for the votes, redesigned it in light of the neighbors’ objections.

There is a 15-foot height limit under the city zoning code. Although McEwen’s final design came in at 21.7 feet high — 1.5 feet below what the LUPZ and DRC had unanimously approved — the Crooks and the Hallorans were not satisfied.

“We are still opposed, vehemently,” said Gary W. Crooks, who lives adjacent to O’Reilly on the 400 block of W. Moreland Avenue. “This has affected our property negatively. Zoning law should try and protect the rights of the property owners.”

Crooks said that a two-story garage would block his view and diminish the value of his property. (Thomas F. Halloran of the 7800 block of Huron Street later agreed with Crooks.)

But Mitinger disagreed with Crooks, as did the DRC and the LUPZ.

Mitinger said that the DRC and LUPZ thought McEwen’s proposed design was in line with other garages in the vicinity and that it would not “adversely affect” the neighbors.

Crooks then said that the new O’Reilly garage — a “boxy” structure to stand six feet from his own garage — would “ruin the whole ambiance” of the 1.5-story carriage-house garages on the four-property lot.

McEwen said that he and the O’Reillys had done all they could to pacify the neighbors short of sacrificing the second-floor exercise room — the reason for the renovation in the first place.

“Their garages range in square-footage … from 2,300 square feet to 2,950 square feet,” he said. “We want to build an 825-square-foot, two-story structure.”

Although the board endorsed the variances, the Crooks and Hallorans showed no signs of giving up. A heated exchange could be heard in the lobby of the Chestnut Hill Library as McEwen and the feuding neighbors left the meeting.

The city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment will have the final say. They will certainly get an earful.