Ashland residents who live in older, “nonconforming” homes will now be allowed to add on to their abodes. Town Council just asks that they do it tastefully.
Meeting Jan. 15, Ashland Town Council approved a series of amendments to the ordinance governing “nonconforming” uses and features. Voting 3-2 to approve the measure, council first debated whether the change will beget neighbor disputes over encroachment. The amended ordinance, in effect, allows homes that predate the current 25-foot property line setback to expand along existing planes.
Aside from alleviating “landlocked” homeowners in Ashland, the series of amendments brings the town’s zoning ordinance up to date, said Nora Amos, director of planning and community development.
“Many parts of the zoning ordinance have been piecemealed over the years. Several sections contradict each other and we also have a lot of repetitive sections,” Amos said. “I don’t know that any section has that more than the nonconforming uses and features section.”
Before supporting the amendments, Councilman Edward “Ned” Henson III played devil’s advocate.
“This is just one of those ‘careful what you wish for’ things because this can cut both ways,” Henson said. “You can wind up with a neighbor with a small piece of building – maybe it’s two stories high just to do away with that argument – and then suddenly their taste is different than yours and you have a potential monstrosity that runs the entire length of the building. That’s one possible consequence.”
Vice-mayor Dr. George Spagna said that current code does not prohibit a homeowner from expanding fully within the current, allowed setback.
“My hope is, shall we say, the good taste and common sense of neighbors,” Spagna said. “The last thing in the world I want to do is do something to my house that’s going to annoy the dickens out of my neighbors and create a problem in and of itself. I suspect that’s the case with most homeowners.”
“If that were reliable we wouldn’t have planning and zoning,” Henson quipped.
“We can’t legislate good taste,” added Councilman Steven Trivett.
Trivett also worried about the impact allowing expansion of homes near property lines would have on fire and safety.
“You don’t want to necessarily have houses that are so close together that you’re putting the firefighter at risk in trying to fight the fire or putting the neighbor’s home at risk,” he said.
Trivett also expressed concerns about the possibility of encroachment.
“I don’t expect anyone’s going to plan to abuse the opportunity, but people do,” Trivett said. “If I’ve got a neighbor that’s got a 4-foot-wide segment that’s 3 feet away from the property line and I’ve gotten used to that, but now it’s going to be 30 feet across the property line, that really affects me.”
“It’s not about ‘I want it my way,’” he added. “It’s about: What’s the rule of zoning? What are we going to follow? Where do we set the standard?”
Mayor Faye Prichard pointed out that the town’s Comprehensive Plan calls for redevelopment. She also warned against Town Council legislating for the worst case, saying that the scenario of neighbor disputes arising from home additions is possible but unlikely.
“What if someone has a perfectly good reason to expand their house…and their neighbor’s fine with it?” Prichard asked. “Everything we do here is going to have negatives and positives.”
Prichard joined Spagna and Henson in supporting the ordinance amendments. Both Trivett and Councilman James Foley voted against the measure, with Foley calling for Council to defer it. All speakers during the public hearing supported the amendments.