Brandon homeowners denied variance request, insurance claim
July 01. 2013 9:07AM
Two Brandon homeowners came to its City Council looking for answers June 17, but didn’t get the responses they were hoping for.
Homeowner Cory Baker, 1500 E. Birch St., overcame opposition from his neighbors at the Council’s June 3 meeting regarding a home he moved onto the property.
Neighbors argued the home didn’t meet city ordinances and should not have been considered “new construction.” The Council, however, upheld the Planning and Zoning’s recommendation to allow the building permit.
Two weeks later, Baker was back in the Council chambers appealing the P&Z board of adjustment’s denial of a variance application to reduce rear yard setback requirements for an attached garage de’d planned to build. Baker said the site plan was shared with the developer and the city building inspection department prior to purchase of the lot and application for a building permit, giving him no reason to believe an attached garage would not be allowed. The board of adjustment however, denied the request, citing that it’s not in the best interest of the city and that no hardship was demonstrated.
“The fact is, we would’ve never bought the lot or paid for it what we did knowing we couldn’t do what we wanted with our lot,” Baker said. “This plan was put in place and approved and we did not find out until six months later that it didn’t meet code.”
Baker said they submitted their building permit application on Nov. 5, 2012. On April 19, 2013, they were notified that a clerical error had been made in the city inspection office. He said it was then that city building inspector Dave Swier told him that he was unaware of the setback issue.
“It is not our fault that the official of the city was not aware of or enforcing this particular setback change on corner lots in the code,” Baker said.
Baker said attaching the garage to the home would be a better fit for the neighborhood than a freestanding garage. He explained that their lot is long and narrow and does not allow for much adjustment of the home and garage.
“If we are unable to offset the garage from the house, the rear wall would result in a 104-foot straight wall, which I believe would be less appealing the neighborhood,” he said. “Our goal is to make this house fit into the neighborhood.”
Alderman Blaine Jones sympathized with Baker, but said it was important to adhere to city ordinances.
“I was a huge proponent of getting the (building) codes in place,” Jones said, recommending the Council uphold the board of adjustment’s decision.
Alderwoman Barb Fish also commiserated with the homeowners but supported the ruling. “I’d like to vote in their favor because we’ve had a couple of issues with this,” she said. “But I can’t override the board’s decision because they’re trying to uphold the law.”
The Council also had a sympathetic ear for homeowner Gene Corbett, 130 S. Seventh Ave., whose basement had just under $2,000 in damages from 3 to 4 inches of backed up sewage on April 25.
He has a $1,000 deductible.
And while the Council wanted to help Corbett with the damages, the city’s insurance carrier denied the claim. Corbett was told the claim was denied because there have been no prior sewer problems in this area, the city cannot control what gets put in the sewer and because the city performs routine maintenance of its sewer lines. The sewer lines were last jetted in January.
“I’ve lived in this house for 16 years and never had a floor drain or a toilet bubble. Never,” Corbett said. “And I would not hope this on anybody to have sewer backup in their basement. It’s nasty.”
Corbett argues that the backup was not in his sewer line. According to a city work report the sewage backup was created from tree roots and paper in the sewer line.
“Although I do feel terribly sorry for Gene … if we were to go against our insurance and pay this … it would be setting a precedence down the road that we could be sorry for,” Jones said.
Alderwoman Jo Hausman questioned the backup even though the line was jetted in January.
“How do we clean it out and then we have blockage?” she asked. “I just think it’s ironic that he’s lived there 16 years and nothing.”
The Council directed City Administrator Bryan Read to contact the insurance carrier for further information regarding the denial. Read did tell the Council that any municipal insurance carrier would not pay the claim if regular maintenance is in place.
“The facts are it was roots and paper. … Those are natural things that shouldn’t be there, so why should this claim not be covered?” asked Alderman Bob Bruning.
Read said not all paper is sewer-friendly, specifically citing wipes.
“Wipes are the biggest problem we’re seeing at the water treatment plant,” he said. “They don’t break down.”