The question of how big is too big moved to center stage last week after developer Herb Koss and his company - Douglas Park, LLC - asked the city to allow five homes to be built a larger size than the council had previously approved.

After the planning commission had turned down the request and staff decided to follow suit, Douglas Park appealed to the city council.

Although the council's decision wasn't resounding, it was a simple majority (1-2) choice. Of the three councilors in attendance, Michele Eberle and Jody Carson voted to deny the appeal of the planning commission's decision. Without giving many details for his reasoning, Mayor Norm King voted in favor of the appeal.

Eberle did not find any extraordinary circumstances, noting that it is the free right of the owner to sell or not to sell land for a park. She also pointed out that if the parkland had not been sold to the city, the development would have had 31 (larger) lots, not the 32 now proposed.

Eberle also criticized the applicant's request for larger homes in order to make them of similar size to the surrounding neighborhood.

'By the applicant's own submission of materials,' she said, 'the median size of homes in the area is 3,387 square feet, and the square footage that was agreed upon was 3,200 square feet. That difference of 187 square feet, to me, does not constitute anything that is not similar. It is a very similar size.'

Carson agreed with Eberle, noting that she had 'summarized her thoughts very well.' Carson said the size of home that had been granted was within the range of home sizes in the area, and 'in fact, is slightly larger than those found on a 7,000-square-foot lot.'

But King said he strongly disagreed with the other councilors. In fact, he said he believes the application meets the criteria in the code on both major contentions (extraordinary circumstance and homes of similar size).

'This is R-10 zoning, not R-7 zoning' King said. 'It's only because of the PUD that they are similar to R-7. I think on both of the two issues, the applicant has actually met the criteria, so on that basis I'll be voting against (the motion to uphold the planning commission's denial).'

Several requests, appeals

The Douglas Park development, located in the 3000 and 3100 blocks of Haskins Road not far from Salamo Road, is planned as a 32-lot planned unit development (PUD) with two acres of land sold to the city for a park.

The planning commission approved the initial proposal that included a variance from code for slightly larger homes on some of the lots.

That affirmative decision was appealed to the city council by local residents last June, but the appeal was turned down. The council, however, placed a 3,200 square-foot maximum on home size. Last week, Koss and his attorney returned to the city and asked to have even larger sizes on the five homes that face the parkland.

The planning commission found that proposal not to its liking because it was so similar to what the council had already approved. Since the commission denied the new request for five larger homes, the Douglas Park PUD appeal appeared on the council's agenda for last week's special meeting.

It's all about size

Koss' attorney, Michael Robinson of Perkins Cole LLP, told the council that there were several reasons that could sway the panel's judgment in favor of the appeal. Two of those reasons included the extraordinary circumstance of the parkland sale that resulted in smaller lots and if the five homes were larger they would more closely match home sizes in the surrounding neighborhood.

Robinson told the council that the extra 300-400 square feet per home would not produce a larger 'footprint,' but would be seen in taller homes.

He also talked about keeping up with the city's changing codes.

'Douglas Park LLC had already purchased this property after the (limits on home size) became applicable,' Robinson said. 'Had they known about (the limits), maybe they wouldn't have purchased it.'

Robinson posed another 'what it,' talking about what would have been if the subdivision had not been a PUD with a park.

'If we had done 10,000-square-foot lots, which we could have without the sale of the park,' he said, 'we would have had 4,500-square-feet homes that complied with the (code).'

Community weighs in

During the public hearing last week, council heard testimony from five people, four of whom spoke in favor of larger homes. Also received was a petition signed by 17 members of the Tanner Basin Neighborhood Association stating they are in favor of denying the appeal.

Local resident Diane Wustrack favored the applicant's request, telling the council that allowing the five larger homes would raise the value of homes that now exist in the neighborhood. And Alice Richmond said the larger homes would attract families.

Residents Kenneth Chappuis and Holly Miller both supported the applicant's request because they want a park in that area.

But Ann Forestel said the applicant is designing lots next to the park with very small backyards so that the park would become those homeowners' backyards.

'The neighbors who live around the park will have to share these people's backyard as their park,' she said. 'I am the closest person to that development than anybody on Haskins Road, and it's been hell. They're using this park to push their agenda.'

But Robinson said nothing has been changed in the subdivision's design; they're just asking for a few extra square feet on five homes.

'There's no material change in what these houses are going to look like,' he said. 'The setbacks, the rear, front and side setbacks are all met. We're not asking to deviate from those. The footprint is the same; we're just gaining the extra square feet, a fairly small number of square feet - 300-400 square feet - in the cases of five lots, by going up (not out).'

The appeal denial means that the project will not be allowed homes of more than 3,200 square feet.

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