Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Inconsequential 200 Foot Radius

“With respect to applications which involve a public hearing, the Board shall cause a public notice of such hearing to be published once in the official newspaper at least 10 days prior to the hearing date, and the applicant shall cause a copy of such notice to be mailed to all property owners within 200 feet of the subject premises, as shown on the latest completed tax roll, measured along the frontage on both sides of the street, and to all other property owners located within 200 feet of the boundaries of the premises, by ordinary mail at least 10 days prior to the hearing date. The applicant shall submit proof of such mailing.” Southampton Village Zoning Code 116-32 D (2)

I believe more residents should be notified when renovation/new construction is proposed to take place in their neighborhoods, and I don’t believe the above 200 foot radius rule does that adequately. For example, it is completely conceivable that in the R-10 district a 200 foot radius could require 14 neighbors to receive notices, while only 8 would be sent notices in the R-40 district, and perhaps only one in the CR-200 district. Do you see where I’m going with this? The amount of neighbors that receive notices is directly related to the size of the property; the bigger the property, the fewer the notices. One could elaborate on that argument and talk about wealth and elitism, but I won’t go there. I believe either a formula should be derived so that the radius is determined by the lot size, and so that a proportionate amount of residents are notified when new work is proposed regardless of zoning district, or the radius rule should be abandoned and replaced by a requirement that every person owning property on the street where the work will occur shall receive a notice, whether the street is the length of Henry Street or Halsey Neck Lane. I’ll bet the Village would argue that because notices are also advertised in the local paper and because signs are posted in the front yards of the property where the work will occur they are doing their due diligence. I believe many more people pay attention to notices they receive in the mail than they do to the paper that many people don’t read, or to signs that most people don’t notice while driving by them. People love mail! Furthermore, I believe these notices should include copies of the proposed elevations of the project, which could be reduced onto two letter size sheets, cost only a few more pennies to include, and not increase the postage amount. These few changes would invite more public participation into the whole ARB process and help to ensure that new work appears compatible within our historic village.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Privacy Issues

If you can’t see the faces in the doodle above, the people in the middle house are leaning out of their double-hung windows smiling and waving at their neighbors, while the people in the houses on either side are frowning.

During the last two public hearings, the issue of privacy came up and got me thinking. A small balcony was being proposed and some ARB members (Curtis, Christine, and Sheila) are adamantly against balconies on smaller lots believing they create privacy issues for neighbors. So they will allow them, but only if they are decorative and not technically accessible (yeah right). In the architect’s effort to persuade the board to approve the balcony, part of his argument included the fact that someone standing in the house’s Master Bedroom had a much better view of anything going on in the neighbor’s yard than they would on their new balcony and so any privacy issue was not made more severe by the balcony which would be further away. To me, this is where it gets interesting. The whole privacy issue is not really even related to balconies. Either you have a clear view into your neighbor’s property – whether from the interior or exterior – or you don’t. It’s only really an issue on smaller lots, one acre and less. On larger lots, where houses are spaced further apart, privacy is obtained via distance, landscaping, and gates. On smaller lots privacy is sacrificed to some degree or even completely. I’m not sure there’s any practical way to design around it. When I was 10, I lived in a nice house on a half acre in Ohio, and I remember when I looked out my east bedroom window I could be eye to eye with the girl who lived next door whose house was probably twenty to thirty feet away. It’s like this all over America. It’s only here it seems, in the land of hedges and gates and second homes, that people want everyone to mind their own business and keep out.
Back to balconies in Southampton Village, I think they should be permitted but should be limited in size so that their use’s intensity can be sensitive to their lot’s size and their neighbor’s proximity. A simple formula based on your lot size could be incorporated into the codes to determine if one can have a balcony, and then how big it could be. I live in a small cottage and the house near me has a balcony on which someone could have a complete view of my yard. If I were to one day build a bigger house on my property, whether it had a balcony or not, I would then have a complete view into their yard. That’s just the way it goes on these little quarter acres. Hang some curtains. And if you're outside, behave.