Crowded Houses

City overrules planning staff, neighbors in approving a zoning commissioner's dense residential project

At the hearing, Sasser's zoning attorney, Mike Curley, asked the board to overturn planners' denial of Sasser's request for variances to reduce the amount of open space on the site from 35 percent to 9.5 percent, and to build two-story homes that would reach heights of almost 40 feet above the base of the hill.

According to hearing minutes, city planner Carol Johnson (no relation to Lynn Johnson) told the board that Sasser was trying to impose "flat-land development conditions" on a hillside parcel. She also expressed concerns that the two-story homes would create a "Chinese wall" of development overlooking the mobile-home park.

Carol Johnson's statements echoed those of planner Ted Brookhart, the hearing officer who originally had rejected Sasser's request for the variances.

Brookhart went so far as to recommend that Sasser seek to have the property rezoned to allow single-family homes on large lots. Carol Johnson suggested that Sasser consider giving up several units to create more open space on the site.

But Curley argued that the staff's recommendations were moot because the site had long been zoned for 62 units, and because the council had already approved his client's plans to build single-family homes, which would necessarily take up more space than townhomes.

Curley further argued that it was ridiculous to expect Sasser to build $200,000 homes on a site hemmed in by "substandard" developments, like mobile-home parks.

While she considers it "unusual" for the board to vote against both staff and neighbors, Carol Johnson says, she sees nothing sinister in the board's decision.

"Sometimes they vote with us, sometimes not," she says.
Sasser points out that most of those who opposed his plans were renters whose opinions don't carry as much weight as property owners'. He adds that the partners who own the mobile-home park have never contested his plans.

"That's because they understand that this is really something special, and it's going to bring value to the area," he says.

Marge Leonard, a Paradise Views resident who will live directly below the new development, says she dreads to think of the new homes.

"I'll have no privacy because the people living in those houses are gonna have a view right down into my backyard," Leonard says.

Sasser says he intends to create a landscaped buffer zone to minimize his development's impact. He adds that his profit margin is too slim to pull even one home from the plan.

That statement draws a laugh from Lynn Johnson.
"The city said he could build up to 62 units," Johnson says. "They didn't say he had to build all 62."

For his part, Sasser says, he is mystified by Johnson's spirited resistance, given the fact that Johnson's home sits one street away from his development and would face minimal--if any--impact from it.

"It's almost like he just wants to leave any mark he can on this project," Sasser says. "He wants his pound of flesh. Well, I'm not going to give it to him."

Johnson says he's just a concerned neighbor who has the best interests of the neighborhood at heart.

Johnson played what may prove to be his last card at a May 1 Board of Adjustment hearing when he requested a continuance to send the issue back to the City Council for reconsideration.

"I truly believe that they [the council] never had any idea when they voted . . . that they were going to get this kind of a development," Johnson told the board.

The board unanimously rejected Johnson's proposal.

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