Monday, May 11, 2009
Governments offer various controls on remodeling
By Ann Robinson and Annie Schwemmer
One of the most unsettling experiences you can encounter is looking out your front window to see a huge Dumpster being delivered in your neighbor's driveway.
What does it mean? What are they going to do? How will their decisions affect you and the rest of your neighbors?
You are immediately thrown into the quandary of individual property rights versus neighborhood/community rights. In our society, we have decided a homeowner does not have the right to do anything he wants to his own property.
However, the question of how much control society has over the individual is an ongoing issue. People see a project that they find objectionable and they ask us — as architects — what can we do to protect our neighborhood so this doesn't happen (or doesn't happen again) on our street?
While we don't have a definitive answer to solve all your problems, here are the main agencies society has created to attempt to regulate our built environment.
Municipal Planning Office: Zoning codes address standards such as the type of building that can be constructed (single family, multifamily, commercial, etc.), the overall size of the building in terms of floor area (expressed as an allowable percentage of lot coverage in residential projects), the allowable height, and where the building (and accessory building such as a garage) can be placed on the lot.
Individual communities can create zoning overlays — or rules that apply just in their area — such as reducing the overall height allowance or lot coverage. These overlays must be approved by the City Council (in Salt Lake City) in order to have legal status.
Municipal Building Department: Building codes are regulations to promote life safety. They affect such things as the size and placement of windows and doors, smoke alarms, height and width of stair treads, seismic (earthquake) and structural issues, etc. The focus is how to get people safely out of any dangerous situation, not on preserving the building itself.
National Historic Register: The Utah Division of State History has a Preservation Office that works with the National Register. Individual buildings or entire neighborhoods can be placed on this register. This is an honorific designation, meaning that no restrictions are imposed on these buildings or districts. The advantage is that this listing makes you eligible to qualify for federal (commercial) and state (residential) tax credits for some of your remodeling projects. Getting a building or district placed on the register requires a lot of work involving documentation, written descriptions of history and significance, photographs, etc. The process must be approved at both the state and federal level.
Heritage Foundation: This is not a government agency with any regulatory power, but a nonprofit organization. Its focus is preserving, protecting and promoting Utah's historic built environment.
It is involved in events to promote public awareness and advocacy and can provide technical assistance for specific projects and have actual stewardship for some historic properties (like the Memorial House in Memory Grove).
Historic Districts: These districts are set up by local authorities to preserve a building or district's historic character. In Salt Lake City, there is the Historic Landmarks Commission, which reviews major applications such as new construction and demolition, while minor applications such as a new roof or fence can be reviewed by staff in the Salt Lake Planning Department. Many other cities and suburbs have their own versions of historic preservation and review commissions.
Covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&R's): These are rules created by individual neighborhoods to regulate what is allowed within a specific area. They are usually set up by the initial developer so that a homebuyer knows what restrictions they are agreeing to uphold.
It requires an active homeowners'' association to enforce the CC&R's because the city will not be involved.
Next week we will discuss some of the ramifications of these attempts to manage our built environment. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.