GUSTINE - Five single-family homes planned for North Avenue lots should have undergone architectural review when underlying zoning on the properties was established in 2016, city officials acknowledged last week.
But no architectural review was conducted.
And now, three years after the fact and faced on one side by a builder ready to begin construction and on the other by neighborhood residents voicing their opposition, the city is continuing its legal review of how to resolve the situation.
City Manager Doug Dunford and City Attorney Joshua Nelson said Monday that they are continuing to delve into the issue and expect to issue a report to the City Council next Tuesday evening.
Neighborhood residents last month objected to the planned homes, saying they were not the semi-custom units promised by a previous property owner when a tentative map and variance for the project were approved by the city in 2016. The question was also raised of whether the city failed to follow its own code in regard to requiring architectural review on the homes.
City Attorney Joshua Nelson said in presenting his opinion to the City Council last week that he believes the homes should have been subject to architectural review - but emphasized that the code requires the review be completed at or near the time underlying zoning is established.....which would have been three years ago.
The matter did not end there, however.
New information presented by North Avenue resident and project critic Sherri Marsigli prompted the city to take a second look at the question of architectural review from a new angle.
Marsigli delivered staff reports from the 2016 proceedings which states that “when construction of single family dwellings is ready to move forward the applicant will have to submit separate building and architectural plans for review.”
The verbiage, Nelson told Mattos Newspapers, raises questions of whether the initial applicant was served notice of the architectural review requirement - and of whether that notice passes on to the subsequent owners of the property.
“We had focused on the actual resolutions and maps and not the staff report,” Nelson said last Wednesday. “That is new and additional information that frankly (Dunford) and I need to evaluate. We are evaluating the information provided yesterday to see if it changes our view. We need to understand the effect of the language in the staff report.”
Marsigli continued to speak out against the project when she went before the City Council last week.
She reiterated her contention that the floor plans were essentially tract homes, and presented further procedural concerns.
“I believe it is evident that city procedures and codes have not been followed correctly,” Marsigli stated. “If this development is allowed to proceed incorrectly, with multiple errors and omissions, it will set a precedent for future building which could be disastrous for our community, especially given the recent southeast annexation.”
The city will look at a number of factors in attempting to resolve the issue, Dunford told Mattos Newspapers.
One issue which must be balanced, he said, is that the time line laid out in the staff report for architectural review is in direct conflict with the city’s code.
“We want to make sure we do the right thing,” Dunford commented. “We want to think it through, make sure that we get all the pertinent information, evaluate it and make a correct decision.”
The past practice of not requiring architectural review for new home construction dates back well beyond the North Avenue project, Dunford said. He estimates that the city has not required architectural review for 16 years if not longer.
Nelson said he will most likely present his findings to the council in closed session next Tuesday as a matter involving potential litigation. If so directed by the council, however, Nelson said he would issue a report publicly following the closed session.