Hearing held on subdivision, variance

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

The Planning Commission held two public hearings Nov. 16, one for a 23-lot residential subdivision plat and another for a variance allowing more than two dwellings off an easement.
The commission approved a Family Tree Real Estate, LLC request to develop the Cedar River Estates, a 23-lot subdivision between two tracts on six acres of land for single-family and/or duplex homes located on vacant property off West Joy Street between South 5th Street and South Main Road. A public street will divide the two tracts with access points at 5th and Joy streets.
Each lot would be between 7,036 and 18,068 square feet. Community Development Director Kelly Hart indicated townhomes or zero-lot-line developments on the parcels would require additional planning permits, and the larger lots could be eligible for limited-size apartment complexes.
Sharon Kay, who formerly lived on West Joy Street and expects that she may return in the future, communicated her concerns about the proposal via email, mainly requesting beautification of the storm drainage area along the street where fencing would be required.
She indicated long rows of fencing along streets provide “ugly” views, so she asked for consideration of a walking path and landscaping along the ditch to “soften the unfortunate view” and provide safety for pedestrians. Kay attempted to speak via Zoom during the public hearing, but technical difficulties prevented her from participating.
The proposal’s applicant requested that the developer be allowed to decide what type of fencing to install along West Joy Street. Commissioners questioned that, and Hart replied that there was no restriction. However, commissioners could adjust the requirement at that meeting to include certain restrictions.
The purpose of establishing any sort of fence line was to prevent homeowners from encroaching on the easement, a problem the city has encountered in the past and makes maintenance of the ditch difficult, Engineering Services Director Ron Whitlatch said.
“We just want delineation so that we’re not going out there in five years and telling three or four homeowners, ‘Hey, you have to pull your fence out because we’ve got to do this (maintenance)’ and they had no idea upfront that that wasn’t their property line,” he said. “The fence is the easiest way to delineate that property.”
Commissioner Don Fountain said he’d prefer conformity of fence lines for visual appeal, but Commissioner Karisten Baxter said that would be difficult to maintain as future homeowners made changes. Commissioner Dave Workman said his “default is to dictate as little as possible.” Chair Don Robertson felt strongly that the easement line should be delineated “somehow, some way.”
After much discussion over whether the delineation should be fencing, shrubs or iron rods, the commission ultimately decided to leave the requirement as-is, namely, to require developers to put in fencing.

The Planning Commission denied a request for a Class III variance following a public hearing on the matter. The variance would have authorized up to four dwelling units to be accessed by one easement at 180 Hiatt St., where a minor land partition was administratively approved Nov. 2 to divide the .48-acre property into three parcels. An alley sits behind the property, but city staff indicated that it was not sufficient to act as an access point.
The partitioned land includes the original dwelling on a parcel at the lot’s northeast corner with frontage on Hiatt Street, and another parcel on the lot’s southeast corner, also with Hiatt frontage. A third parcel comprises the lot’s west portion. Had the variance been approved, the first parcel would be able to build an accessory dwelling unit (ADU), and the third could be developed with a single-family or duplex unit. The second parcel remains available for a single-family or duplex unit.
Parcels one and three are to be accessed from a 14-foot easement just north of the first, which was the subject of the public hearing. City code states that a 12-foot easement can be used to access up to two dwelling units, so the subject property would need a 24-foot or two 12-foot easements to access those parcels. The requested variance would allow the proposed 14-foot easement to access up to four dwellings.
Several area residents spoke in opposition to the variance during the public hearing.
Derrick Gonda and Robert Johnson, who live behind the subject property and access their homes via the alley, requested fencing to divide the subject property from the alley, preventing more traffic.
“There’s very limited access and it’s pretty skinny back there,” Johnson said. “It’s Derrick’s yard, pretty much, that’s being built in front of and it’s my secondary access to my home.”
Nicole and Alan Owings, who live next door to the subject property, expressed consternation with the increased development in Lebanon and density of persons on a single property.
“This is a neighborhood filled with single-family homes,” Nicole Owing said. “There’s some really good growth (in the city), but there is just some crazy amount of housing available here right now and I don’t see any reason why we need to convert this single-family-home neighborhood into this multiplex. I feel like we’re getting to the point with the population on our street that none of us are really comfortable with it.”

This plan shows the developer’s layout for three lots on Hiatt Street.

Robertson clarified that House Bill 2001 mandates that the city allow property owners to place up to two dwelling units on a single-family lot, something the city could not prevent.
“I vehemently oppose any ADU on lot one, absolutely none,” Alan Owings said about the first parcel. “We have so many people traveling through this area. All these people have children. We bought this as a resident, low-density home. We did not buy in a high-density area for a reason.”
Other residents stepped forward.
Bob Davenport also opposed the variance based on traffic.
Benjamin Boyer approached the commission to say the city may have to approve up to two dwellings per lot, but they don’t have to approve the variance. He also pointed out that street parking was limited, and the neighborhood was not developed to accommodate high density.
Todd Hess mentioned the limited parking, which was partly due to Hiatt Street serving as “overflow” parking from Dodge Street residents.
Victoria Owings expressed concern about parking, traffic and noise.
Laura LaRoque of Udell Engineering, acting on behalf of the applicant, said she could understand the public’s concerns, but city staff reviewed developer plans for buildings and parking during the permit review process, which included ensuring adequate off-street parking.
“Every sort of development within Lebanon is required to have parking that’s provided either in a driveway, or in a garage or carport,” she said. “So there will be availability just through the code review to ensure that there is parking that’s provided adequately on these sites.”
Regarding traffic, Lebanon’s transportation plan (TSP), which classifies each street by how much volume they could handle, was taken into consideration. LaRoque pointed out that Hiatt and some of its connecting streets are classified as “local streets,” which, in the TSP, are defined as being able to serve less than 2,000 vehicles per day. The TSP noted that safety and livability could be degraded when traffic volumes reached 1,000 to 1,200 vehicles per day.
“These proposed dwellings and future dwellings along that street will be able to be well-served by Hiatt Street,” LaRoque said.
Commissioner and Ward 2 City Council member Dave Workman opposed approving the variance based on neighborhood comments.
“It’s their neighborhood,” he said. “I know that’s maybe not popular or legal, but I voice the same concerns. You’re in my ward, I hear you, and I think they have the right to be heard and my opinion on it is that shouldn’t be allowed.”
Fountain noted that HB 2001 tied the commission’s hands, but the variance gave them an option, and he, too, did not support the variance. Commissioners Shyla Malloy and Kristina Breshears also opposed it.
Baxter, however, offered food for thought. She said that the criteria in this circumstance had been met to allow for the variance and HB 2001 forced them to be compliant. Commissioner Lory Gerig-Knurowski also understood the concerns, but the partitions had already been approved.
Fountain moved to deny the proposed variance based on public comment. Workman seconded it. Hart requested a valid reason for her findings report be given for the denial, to which the commission agreed on two points: a hardship, which was not self-imposed, existed on the lot that made it impossible to install the required 24-foot-wide easement. The variance was unanimously denied.
Robertson addressed the public, stating, “Thank you for taking the time to come down. This is the type of thing that we like to hear from the neighborhoods when there’s something that may affect you. We appreciate your time.”
Commissioners Marcellus Angellford and David McClain were absent.