Our contractor thought we might possibly need a zoning variance because the existing house’s location is non-conforming (grandfathered). Lis went to the city’s building department and was told we definitely did not need a variance, but might need a special permit.
Last week we had an appointment with the city’s Development Review Board, and the good news is that they’re of the opinion that we don’t even need a special permit. There are two parts of the building code that may be applicable to us: the first is basically that if we put on an addition that is itself compliant with the setback rules, we are OK. The rule in question for this project is the rear setback, which for our property is 15 feet. I believe the sunroom we’re designing is more than 15 feet from the rear property line, but we need a land surveyor to verify exactly where the property line is. If this is the case, our addition would be by-right and we would simply need a normal building permit.
The other possibility is that part of the sunroom would be closer to the rear property line than allowed by setback. There’s an interesting ruling by our city’s Board of Aldermen that, in certain densely developed areas where most structures are already non-conforming, small additions that basically don’t make the non-conformity worse in the rear or side setbacks are to be allowed. Our neighborhood is one such area. So even in the case where the proposed sunroom would violate the rear setback, so long as we don’t also violate the front setback our addition would, once again, be by-right.
As I mentioned, what we need to figure out which of these situations applies is an accurate land survey of our property. Lis has been attempting to hire a land surveyor to do this for us; I wouldn’t think this should be hard, but so far no luck getting anyone to actually come and do the work.
The other possible zoning issue is Floor Area Ratio, which is a surprisingly
non-straightforward calculation that limits the amount of living space
in relation to lot size. My calculations — assuming I did them
correctly — show that we’re not close to FAR being an issue.
We also inquired about any setback restrictions concerning patios, since
we’re very likely to want to construct a patio behind the house in
future (though not directly as part of this project). There are no
property-line restrictions so long as it’s just a flat patio (no
structure), though there are restrictions on the lot’s percentage of
impermeable area. I think we’d want to do a concrete paver patio anyway
— which, if selected and installed properly, is considered permeable
— so we should be good there too.
On the design front, our contractor has now told us that a flat roof vs. a gable-end roof is approximately the same cost — the flat roof is simpler to construct, but needs to be stronger for snow load and the required rubber roof is more expensive; whereas with a pitched roof there is more roof area, but we can use standard asphalt shingles. So given this, we’re likely to proceed with a pitched roof to better match the architecture of the house.
I would like to consider doing some simple gingerbread ornamentation of some sort to help tie the sunroom into the rest of the house. Using some of the same pieces as we used on the front porch — which were quite reasonable in price — seems like it should work just fine. We just need to work with the contractor’s architect to come up with a design that works.