Homeowners seeking mercy from the O’Fallon City Council to reverse a zoning variance that was recommended for denial are gaining sympathy from city officials.
Community Development Director Ted Shekell said the Community Development Committee unanimously approved recommending support of the zoning variance at its meeting Monday, which reverses a previous staff opinion. Their findings will be forwarded to the council, which could act on it Monday, Aug. 21.
The request from Jared and Sarah Stone for an area-bulk zoning variance for their residence at 302 S. Augusta St., at the corner of Third and Augusta, has gone through city channels for several months, which brought to light some new details.
The Stones wanted approval for 34.81 percent of lot area coverage, which exceeds the 30 percent limit in the city code, for a 180-square foot bedroom addition.
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They purchased the one-story ranch home in March. The lot size is 9,022.5 square feet, which is similar in size to other single-family lots in the Parkview Gardens subdivision, meeting SR-2 zoning district requirements.
The total square footage of structures on the property is 2,961, which includes a garage, covered patio and accessory structure, and that already exceeded the maximum lot coverage at 32.82 percent.
In March, they were granted permission to add a room, but only if a 252-square-foot covered patio roof was removed. That would have brought the property under the regulation.
The room has been built, but the roof not taken down, and they want to keep it, as explained in a hardship plea.
A zoning officer’s denial recommendation was agreed on by staff and submitted to the council for action Aug. 7, but after discussion, the council OK’d returning it to the CDC for further consideration. That prompted heated words from one alderman to another over the issue.
Homeowner Jared Stone explained the reasoning behind the request to the council, and a next-door neighbor expressed support for the Stones.
The Stones have lived in O’Fallon for seven years, moving here for work from the Chicago area. They have two children, a 3-year-old and 5-month-old.
Two days before closing, the Stones found out that the county records listed the square footage below the MLS listing, around 9200 square feet. The general contractor found plans that the city claimed ownership of 10 feet around both sidewalks, but were told it’s not an easement.
They would have to spend $5,800 to remove a covered patio that they don’t want removed. They do not consider it an eyesore.
The patio provides the only shade in the back yard, and his children play there, he said. “It would look squirrelly without it,” he said.
A list of signatures from surrounding neighbors in support of keeping the patio roof was given to the city.
“We went to 29 folks, and not one had an issue with us keeping the roof,” Stone said.
If the variance is denied, they would have to move back out of the house for a few days while the roof is removed so that the power can be shut off while the electricity is rewired. The power box would have to be moved, costing several hundred more dollars.
The city’s zoning hearing officer, Douglas C. Gruenke of Bruckert, Gruenke and Long, did not recommend approval in presenting his findings July 13, after a public hearing July 11.
He said the request did not meet the conditions required for approval.
“The allowance of lot coverage to exceed the 30 percent are uncommon within O’Fallon and could alter the essential character of the locality,” Gruenke stated in his report.
Shekell told the council Aug. 7 that the officer had to review it according to procedures.
“He had to look at the facts, and he had no choice,” he said.
A previous owner had received permission to add on in 1991, and it wasn’t known at the time that pushed the square footage over the city code limit.
The council has 21 days to review it, and within that time, can vote for reversal or agree with the denial recommendation.
The Community Development Committee did not have a quorum at its July 24 meeting, so the matter was forwarded to the council without a recommendation.
Alderman Matt Smallheer, CDC chairman, told Stone Aug. 7 that an override seemed possible.
“It merits a discussion. My biggest concern is that you did put in writing that you were going to do something and did not do it. Personally, I have a problem with it. If you say you are going to do something, you’ve got to do it,” he said. “I am sure you are going to get mercy on this. I don’t think it’s going to be voted down, but please be a man of your word.”
Alderman Matthew Gilreath was upset by Smallheer’s comment.
“As a council, for us to do the things we do for businesses on a daily basis, and then attack a resident right, there is something I will not stand for, and frankly, you’ve got me pretty (expletive) off. We need to take care of our residents,” Gilreath said. “It has been a trying process for him and his family for several months. He did everything he was told to do to the best of his knowledge.”
Mayor Herb Roach admonished Gilreath for lashing out at Smallheer.
“There is no place for that language. You’re out of line,” he said.
Smallheer said his remark was not an attack.
“I apologize if I offended you,” he said.
Smallheer said it was his understanding that the city had several meetings with Stone and was trying to resolve the issues. They were trying to allow the process to work.
Gilreath said originally there was miscommunication between Shekell’s office and Stone.
“There’s no debate on that,” he said.
The Stones purchased a home they could rehab and make their own, Sarah Stone wrote in a letter the city received June 13.
“It is where we would like to raise our kids and spend our dollars and lives with love (in) the town,” she wrote.
The Stones declined comment until the matter is officially resolved.