Land Subdivision at Harwick House Q&A

Updated 9/23:

For those of you who have never seen it, here is the description of the Pill Hill Historic District from the NPS website. 912 8th Street is listed as a contributing property, there is no reference to the grounds or anything else on the large lot to the East.

Updated 9/21:

2 updates. In addition to having the Director of Community Development check staff findings, the City Attorney reviewed the process for accuracy. He also affirmed that everything was done according to the law. Additionally while I had intended to set up an online meeting with interested neighbors to interact directly with staff that is currently on hold. Because neighbors retained legal representation the City team does not feel a meeting like this would be appropriate at this time.

Updated 9/17:

Based on a few of my interactions I am reminded why this job can be so hard on relationships with neighbors. I can’t make everyone happy, but I can be honest and explain issues. Some people are going to conclude that means that I don’t care. That is not the case. In government there are 2 roles, judicial and legislative. Legislative is when we make the rules, we have great freedom to do that. Judicial or Quasi-Judicial is where we must apply the rules fairly. That is what this decision was. I am doing everything in my power to make sure this was a fair and correct decision, but that will still leave some people angry.

The underlying issue here is that a property owner wants to divide a lot into two 15,000 square foot lots. This appears to be both legal and also something that does not come before the council because it is a staff level review. Staff reviewed it and made a decision. I was asked by neighbors to look into it and as best I can tell everything was done properly. I was asked to have the director of Community Development look at this and she agreed. I have now asked the city attorney to look at this and I suspect the answer will not change. I will also try to schedule a zoom meeting so that neighbors can directly get the information from staff. One of the frustrations expressed by the neighborhood is that some people claim that the city previously said the lot can’t be split. I have never seen this analysis and I hope that it is either not true or that something changed since then. The calculation is pretty much simple math, so I believe staff has probably done the exercise correctly.

The original property has the Harwick Home on it which is a contributing member of the Pill Hill Historic District. That home is currently under renovation. Most neighbors are against the subdivision, however I have heard from a couple who would like to buy and build a home on this site (obviously they don’t want to be named). I always listen to both sides to make sure I understand the issue. I believe that I do. Even the newly divided land would represent a large urban lot. I assumed, perhaps incorrectly that the concern was to ensure harm was not done to the historic district. I would have many concerns and would hope that as we update our codes we could to an overlay to address that. It was a long battle, but we now have a preservation commission in place. I learned though that there is opposition to even allowing anything to be built on this empty land. There have been a number of new homes build in the district and I don’t believe any of them have caused harm.

I can listen, I can respect fears, I can do what I can to protect the neighborhood, but this appears to be an exercise in mathematics and some people don’t want to hear that from me. This decision would be the same in a privileged area or a much less privileged one.

sigh…

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Previously

I am 1 of 3 city representatives who represent the Pill Hill area (the others are Mayor Kim Norton and Council member At-Large Randy Staver). This issue came to me attention and I am currently trying to gather information as it pertains to this site. I am summarizing some of what I learned below, and making it available for all to see. If you have any additional questions, just let me know and I will add them to the list. I will have our team review this summary for accuracy, but for now I accept this an imperfect attempt at communication.

A number of questions have come up regarding a potential land subdivision at the Harwick House at 812 8th Ave SW, formally owned by the Ohly family, in the Pill Hill Historic District. This item may not come before a public body. I have been asked a number of questions and I am largely gathering questions and seeking out professional guidance from our City professionals.

I am going to communicate through this format because I have been asked by several neighbors to make this information public, beyond an email chain. Additionally the email chain is difficult to follow. That said, any of you can of course share the link to this post.

The following answers were largely prepared by City Planning Staff

Update from 9/16: The Director of Community Development also reviewed the staff decision:

Good morning All,

I just wanted to follow up on this issue and thank you all for taking time to talk through it with me.  Based upon our conversations, I stand by my original decision to support the calculations and interpretations of our CDD teammates which would permit (pending no significant changes on the owner’s application) a lot split through a Type 1 review using metes and bounds.  Not only is this in compliant with our code, I believe it also addresses our desire to create infill housing and does not introduce a type of development that doesn’t already exist within the neighborhood and specifically within 200’ of this lot. I have spoken to the applicant Mike Mackin this a.m. and Planning Supervisor will be reaching out to the neighbors to let them know.  I am sure we will continue to field calls on this issue and so wanted to let you know of my decision and conversations that have already occurred today.

Happy to answer any questions.

Thanks,

Cindy

What is currently being proposed?

The Community Development Department was contacted by the owner of 912 8th Street SW,  regarding the potential to split this lot into two separate residential lots.

Has an application been submitted to split this lot?

At this time NO application to split 912 8th Street SW has been received by the City of Rochester.  A Predevelopment Meeting regarding this proposed split was held on Thursday, Sept. 10th.  Predevelopment meetings occur every Thursday afternoon and act as an information gathering meeting between a potential applicant and the various City departments that have a role in the development review process.  The meetings provide site-specific information to potential applicants, as well as identify the steps in the development review process.  No formal approval is granted at this meeting.  Predevelopment meetings are open to the public, but public testimony is not taken. 

Does the lot split require Planning & Zoning or City Council Approval?

The site is zoned R-Sa, which requires specific zoning standards for each lot.  These standards include minimum lot size, minimum width at building line, and building setbacks.  If two lots, both meeting all the required R-Sa standards, can be achieved, then the lot can be split through a Type I Land Subdivision (also known as a  “metes and bounds” application). 

If approved, what will be the size of the new lots?

The proposed lot split will create two parcels (Parcel A: 15,995sf, and Parcel B: 14,779sf) on the parcel currently known as 912 8th Street SW.  The proposed parcels will both be larger than 50% of the parcels within the 200sf radius.  To put the size in context, the smaller of the two parcels (Parcel B) will be almost exactly the same size as 726 8th Street SW.  It will be almost 1500sf larger than the two lots directly across the street – 919 8th Street SW (12,983sf) and 915 8th Street SW (13,298sf).  Based upon this, the size of the proposed lot is consistent with the character of the neighborhood.

Is there a discrepancy in the calculations by the Community Development Department and the neighbors expressing concern?

The Community Development Department has run the minimum lot size calculations twice in order the correct lot size requirement, pursuant to Land Development Manual 60.424, Subd 5.  Both calculation exercises confirm our original minimum lot size requirement of 14,768sf.  There were no adjustments made to the calculations or process followed to make the lot split “work.”

The discrepancy in the Community Development calculation and calculations done by the neighbors is explained by the omission of Parcel #019419 in the neighbor’s calculations, which is 825.34 sf.  While this parcel is small, it has its own, individual, parcel ID number.  It is an existing parcel which falls within the 200-foot boundary required to determine the minimum lot size for a site within the R-Sa zoning district.  The Land Development Manual states that all parcels within this boundary (that are also zoned R-Sa) are included in the calculation.  For that reason, the Community Development calculation includes Parcel #019419.  We used ArcGIS to determine the PIN numbers within the 200-foot radius, and excel to do the calculation.

Was approval of a lot split conveyed to the realtor representing the buyer prior to calculations being completed?

Community Development often gets questions from owners, or potential owners asking if/how their lot can be split.  In this case, we identify the minimum lot size, minimum width at building line, and explain the metes and bounds process.  It was likely represented to the buyer that a Type I metes and bounds application would be approved if it could meet the requirements for development in the R-Sa zoning district.

It should be noted that when our department received inquiries such as these, all individuals inquiring are told this information is preliminary and ultimately it depends upon what is included in their formal application.

If the triangular lot were joined to the larger lot (same property owner), would the calculations for the proposed lot split and recommendation change?

The parcel consolidation would require a Final Plat application.  If approved, the minimum square footage calculation for this site would change.

It appears the lots lines on the proposed lot jog?

Irregular or non-uniform lot size is very common throughout the city and exists in both new and older subdivisions. To help address this issue the code requires minimum lot size requirements as well as minimum width at the building line. In this zoning district (R-Sa) that minimum width requirement is 90’.

Is the existing home a Historic Structure?

The property is located within the Pill Hill historic district, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  This property is not individually listed on the National Register nor is it designated under our local ordinance as either Landmark or Potential Landmark.  Our local ordinance requires additional review of projects for properties that are locally designated Landmarks or Potential Landmarks.  Section 4-7-8 (a) of the ordinance states “All individual properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places receive automatic landmark property designation”.  Again, this property, 912 8th St SW, is within and contributing to the National Register District.   It is not individually designated on the National Register.

What are the rules regarding land subdivision (creating 2 or more lots, where 1 previously existed)?

In general, any property may be subdivided if the resulting properties meet the legal standards set forth in the underlying zoning. This is a Type 1 process which means that this item is approved by staff and does not require a public hearing.

You are correct, this will be a metes and bounds application which is approved at staff level.  It will not go to Council.  This one is much more complicated than it probably should be.  I do believe that the Planners followed the code requirements in making the determination, however, I completely understand the neighborhood’s concerns. 

Good Morning Mike.  Sorry I didn’t get to this over the weekend.  I took Friday off.

The property is located within the Pill Hill historic district which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It is not individually listed on the National Register.  It is also not designated under our local ordinance as either Landmark or Potential Landmark.  Our local ordinance requires additional review of projects for properties that are locally designated Landmarks or Potential Landmarks.  Section 4-7-8 (a) of the ordinance states “All individual properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places receive automatic landmark property designation”.  Again, this property, 912 8th St SW, is within and contributing to the National Register District.   It is not individually designated on the National Register. 

Planning / Preservation

What could be built on a future corner lot?

The current zoning would require a single family home, the city is currently updating zoning, but future requirements are unlikely to change much in the historic district.

Was there previously a home on the corner of the Harwick site?

I was told by one neighbor that there was, however others have now said that there was not. This does not change the rules as it pertains to land subdivision.

What are the plans for the subdivided lot?

While this is not in the purview of the staff decision as it pertains to subdivision, I did reach out and have a conversation with the owner. There are currently in the process of renovating the existing home. There are no current plans for the future corner lot, it will likely be put up for sale. It is possible that the future owner of the Harwick House can purchase it as well. Neighbors will likely have the option to purchase the site as well if the subdivision occurs. There in no current plan to develop the property.

Are portions of a property which are more difficult to develop considered in lot size calculation?

Yes, and this is the case on thousands of properties throughout Rochester, the lot size may include land that is difficult to develop due to topography or prohibited.

Can council members direct staff to pause a process or change an answer?

No, changes would have to come in the form of formal action by the City Council. Any potential changes to the law might not apply to applications that are currently in process. I have offered to work with neighbors who would like to craft a message to the council.

Is there an appeals process?

There is an appeal process (LDM 60.731 & 60.160).  At this time, the only appeal that would be applicable is an appeal of the zoning administrator’s interpretation.  Right now, Community Development planning division has made the interpretation, but I think it would be appropriate for Cindy to make the final interpretation as the Zoning Administrator.  Once the interpretation is made, an aggrieved party could appeal the ZA interpretation to the Zoning Board of Appeals.  Cindy and I have played phone tag a bit on this today, but I anticipate we’ll have a direction Monday morning.

Planning

Are there any potential complications that have not yet been resolved?

It is not clear if they can combine the small parcel with the larger parcel to the east.  My fear is that it cannot be done through property records since the two parcels are in different subdivisions (which is likely why it’s still existing on its own).  If this is the case, the only way to consolidate would be through a Final Plat application, which would be approved by council.  I have a call out to Property Records to better understand what is permitted in their office.

Planning

Can the neighborhood pay to have another survey done?

The neighborhood could certainly do this, but I expect that staff calculations will be accurate.

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