Please Mr. Contractor – Don’t Raise That Roof!

Here’s a multiple-choice question: At the recent City Council workshop on attic space and the “bulk, mass and scale of housing,” which of the following groups were in attendance?

Published December 7, 2013 5:00 AM
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Here’s a multiple-choice question: At the recent City Council workshop on attic space and the “bulk, mass and scale of housing,” which of the following groups were in attendance?

 

By Bill Lawyer   

 

Here’s a multiple-choice question: At the recent City Council workshop on attic space and the “bulk, mass and scale of housing,” which of the following groups were in attendance?

 

A. Rye homeowners concerned about house scale

B. Contractors/builders

C. Realtors

D. Members of the City planning, architectural review and zoning appeals boards

E. Architects

F. Attorneys

G. All of the above.

 

The answer, of course, is “g”.

 

Workshop

 

This workshop had been set up after two City Council public hearings on an amendment to the City Zoning ordinance. Those hearings were for the public to comment on a proposed amendment to the City zoning ordinance related to house size and mass. The amendment “would change how attic space is included in the calculation of gross floor area for single-family residences.”

 

Held at City Hall on Wednesday, November 19, approximately 30 of the “all of above” were in attendance.  Rye City Planner Christian Miller provided a one-page summary of what he described as “four areas of concern that have been raised by members of the public.” 

 

These areas included:

 

1. The Aesthetic Impact on New Construction – would lowering roof pitch and dormers be less attractive, or would this result in housing that was more in keeping with surrounding house design;

 

2. The Creation of Non-Conformity – would the law unfairly penalize homeowners who had bought their home with the idea of expanding within the current law’s limits?

 

3. Economic Considerations – Would the proposed law enhance property values by preserving neighborhood character, or would it reduce development potential and thus lower property values?

 

4. Alternative House Scale Strategies – This was an open ended “concern” that urged residents with other ideas for addressing house scale should raise them at the workshop. 

 

The workshop began with an introduction by City Council and Planning Commission member Laura Brett, followed by a quick review of the proposed law by Miller. Brett then turned the meeting over to Nicholas Everett, Chair of the Planning Commission.

 

What followed was over two hours of lively discussion, with heavy participation by all the various “types” of people in attendance. Everett worked diligently to provide everyone in attendance with the opportunity to participate. 

 

In some cases assertions were made regarding possible aesthetic and economic impacts, but with little concrete evidence to support them.   Contractors made several references to what they alleged happened in Greenburgh when roof pitches were made less steep. 

 

In addition to the potential impact on house values, some contractors warned that the City’s building permit revenue would decline if the proposal were approved.

 

Proposed Law Amended

 

Led by City Planner Christian Miller, and Everett, with the input of City Councilmember Laura Brett, a compromise proposal emerged that was put before the City Councilwoman Brett at its December 4 meeting.

 

Said Miller, “The revised law strikes a balance between those of differing points of view.  It closes the collar tie “loophole” by requiring the attic headroom to be measured form the floor to the bottom of the roof rafter.” In addition, the measured headroom height for habitable space under New York State Building Code will be reduced from 7”6’ to 7’. All attic space is counted at 50%, not 100%, under the earlier draft of the law.

 

Both Miller and Everett, speaking at the Council meeting, emphasized that the proposed law was entirely in keeping with the 2003 law it amends, with the added element of closing a loophole that has or could allow larger homes. The law also pertains to all homes, not just new homes, something that had been contested by some, notably architect Paul Benowitz.

 

With the exception of one builder of large homes, Stanley Kotyza, who told the Council “that buyers would choose to build in Greenwich or Armonk, costing Rye needed tax revenue and fees,” the speakers supported the compromise.

 

The Council unanimously voted to close public debate, but, in deference to Brett, who was absent, put off a final vote until December 18. Once adopted, it will go into effect eight months from filing, next July.

 

“Those with properties in contract will be able to get papers and permits without making changes,” added Miller.

 

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