Tag Archives: Jefferson Parish Zoning

HOW TO OVERCOME THE 13 FOOT HEIGHT LIMITATION FOR A GARAGE IN JEFFERSON PARISH

Garage-2

The second to last post outlined the design problem with trying to design a traditional garage when Jefferson Parish’s zoning limits garages outside of the main house’s buildable area to be no higher than 13 feet.  The link to that post is here:  http://michaelrouchell.posterous.com/why-is-it-so-difficult-to-design-a-garage-in.

The last post showed examples of how other architects and designers solved the problem, either by providing a flat roof, a low pitched roof, or preserving an existing accessory structure and renovating it to match the new house.  The link to that post is here:  http://michaelrouchell.posterous.com/why-is-it-so-difficult-to-design-a-garage-in-0.

This post describes how I solved the problem for the attached garage proposed for the residence at 450 Betz Place in Old Metairie.

The earlier designs had the gable roof of the garage perpendicular to the main house, matching the same roof pitch as the main house, and springing from the same eave height as the main house.  Because the house is proposed to have 10 foot high ceilings on the first floor and be raised above grade, the garage already exceeded the height limit without any pitched roof.  An alternate roof design with a gable garage roof parallel to the main house was explored to avoid conflict with overhead electrical and communication wires located at the rear of the property.  As it turns out, this design provided some opportunities that were not available with the earlier design.  One was the creation of a inconspicuous location for air conditioning equipment.  The other is a separation between the main house’s roof eave and the garage’s roof eave that allows the flexibility of setting the roof of the garage at a lower elevation.  This was not achievable on the earlier design due to the continuity of the roof eave of the garage tying into the rear porch and rear of the house; it would have looked awkward breaking that continuous eave just for the sake of lowering the garage roof.  However, one of the problems with lowering the garage roof was that the roof eave facing the house would conflict with the arched opening at the breezeway.  So instead of a roof eave, the gutter is contained behind the garage wall at this one location.  A scupper on the front façade of the garage drains the gutter into a leader head and downspout.

The height of the arched garage door was reduced slightly to fit under the reduced scale of the garage façade, and the result was that the garage exceeded the height limit by just over 18 inches, rather than approximately 6 feet as with the original design.  I felt that I could not possibly lower the roof any further, nor could I reduce the pitch of the roof.  What I came up with to bring it into compliance with the 13 foot height limitation is something kind of like a hybrid gambrel roof on the side of the garage facing the rear property line.  By bringing the eave height down 3 feet, and leaving the ridge at the desired height, brings the mid height of the roof down 18 inches.  As a result, the window on this elevation now becomes a half dormer with a Dutch Colonial shed dormer roof.

By this manipulation of the roof, I am able to preserve the proportions of the garage façade facing Geranium Street.  The half gambrel roof is not visible from the rear yard or from the corner of Geranium and Betz Streets; it is only slightly visible where not concealed by the rear property owner’s garage.  In addition, I proposed some trellises that would extend up above the 6 foot high roof eave that would help conceal it with some natural vegetation.

The Old Metairie Commission was pleased that I had found a way to legally bring down the height of the garage to the 13 foot height, and I was pleased that the garage retains the same height and mass as what was submitted.    

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WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT TO DESIGN A GARAGE IN JEFFERSON PARISH? – HOW OTHERS SOLVE THE PROBLEM

The photos below were taken within the Betz Place neighborhood, and near the 450 Betz Place site.  It shows a wide range of design approaches to the problem of designing an accessory structure that falls outside of the buildable area of the main house.  The current zoning ordinance requires that the height be limited to 13 feet measured to the mid height of a pitched roof, or measured to the roof surface if a flat roof is proposed.  The 13 foot height limitation was likely devised back when houses were built on slabs, had 8 foot ceiling heights, and had low ranch type roof pitches.  The houses that are currently built in the neighborhood are more traditionally inspired and are built 3 feet above grade, have 10 foot ceiling heights and steeper roof pitches.  The height limitation makes it difficult to design a garage in a style that matches the main house without seriously compromising on the proportions of the garage, and therefore the beauty.  That post can be read here:  <a href="http://michaelrouchell.posterous.com/why-is-it-so-difficult-to-design-a-garage-in.

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Here are my comments on the photos:

Photo 1:  This photo shows where an existing house has been demolished except for the garage.  The existing garage has a steeply pitched roof that probably would not be allowed by the current zoning height limitations.  Is it any wonder why they left the existing garage?

Photo 2:  This photo shows an extremely large house that is currently under construction.  The portion of the garage that falls outside of the buildable area of the main house has a flat roof.  When this project was reviewed, it didn’t matter so much about the scale of the main house, but they made absolutely sure that the garage didn’t exceed the 13 foot height limit.

Photo 3:  This is another house that is currently under construction, also with a flat roof over the garage.  The main house appears to be a well proportioned traditional styled house; the flat roof unfortunately, appears to be a compromise to the overall composition.

Photo 4:  This is another house that is nearing completion.  It appears to have a flattened hip roof.  It is another unfortunate compromise.

Photo 5:  This photo is slightly difficult to see, but it shows a new traditional cottage that was just recently completed.  In the background is the original accessory structure, (I can’t remember if it was a garage or a carport) that was remodeled.  A cupola added to the top of the roof traditionalizes the garage, and helps marry it to the new cottage.

Photo 6:  This photo show another cottage type house that was completed just last year.  The garage in the foreground has a hipped roof that is a very shallow pitch, and is barely visible in the photo.

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WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT TO DESIGN A GARAGE IN JEFFERSON PARISH?

I am in the process of designing a new house with an attached garage at 450 Betz Place in Metairie, Louisiana, which is in Jefferson Parish.  The main house takes on the form of a traditional cottage; it is raised about three feet above grade, the floor to ceiling height is 10 feet on the first floor and nine feet on the second floor.  The roof has a 10/12 pitch, which is common for this type of building.  There is a 35 foot building height limit for the main house, which would be measured from base flood elevation to the midpoint of the roof, since the house has a gable roof.  After drawing up the house elevations and getting all the proportions worked out to my liking, I check to see how close the height is to the allowable height.  As it turns out the ridge is slightly below the 35 foot height meaning that I can continue to safely play around with the main houses’ proportions and roof pitch if I wanted to without fear of exceeding the allowable height.

When designing the garage, my first instinct is to design the garage as a miniature form of the main house.  The main house has a cottage roof, so the garage should also have a cottage type roof.  In my first concept, the roof eave of the garage matches the height of the main house.  It makes things a lot easier that way than to have roof eaves at various heights.  The variety of eave heights is very common on McMansions built within the last 15 years.  In a previous post (http://michaelrouchell.posterous.com/whats-wrong-with-jefferson-parishs-zoning ) I discussed the problems with the garage setbacks requirements that were recently amended, and that have the unfortunate consequence of reducing usable yard space in favor of a longer driveway to the side street. 

As if the garage setback requirements weren’t problematic enough, the height limitation for a garage (or portion of a garage) that is within the rear or side yard of the house is 13 feet.  Right away one can see that if I wanted to align all the roof eaves as stated before, it would be impossible, not even with a flat roof, because if the house is raised three feet and the walls of the first floor are 10 feet, that is already at the maximum height without anything left for a pitch.  Therefore the garage roof eave must be lower than the main house roof, by quite a bit, in fact, which happens to work better on the second concept where the ridge was turned parallel to the main houses’ ridges.  So what height do I make the garage walls?  8 feet? 9 feet?  What roof pitch do I use?  Do I forgo the cottage concept and use a 5/12 or 6/12 ranch type roof pitch.  So I am pushing, pulling, squeezing and manipulating the wall heights and roof pitches, trying to achieve this magic figure of 13 feet above the Base flood elevation.  It is a complete struggle, and with each manipulation, the garage roof gets squatter and squatter and the notion of designing a building with good proportions is out the window.  There simply is no way to make this garage appear to be a natural extension of the main house.  As stated in a previous post (http://michaelrouchell.posterous.com/the-problemn-with-building-height-restri… ) there is a danger to establishing a height limit based on exact measurements of feet and inches with no regard for proportion and aesthetics.

It seems like this 13 foot height limit is a carryover requirement that existed when houses had eight foot high ceilings, were built on slabs, and had low ranch type roofs.  In those instances, one can see how a garage could comfortably fit within the an allowable height of 13 feet.  Now, houses have taller ceilings, steeper roof pitches, and are built above grade in imitation of the historic houses that were built 150 years ago.  Architects and builders designing these historic houses back then didn’t have a zoning laws that mandated a building’s height (much less an accessory building’s height), there wasn’t a set of design guidelines, and they didn’t have to have get approval from a board consisting of mostly lay persons such as the Old Metairie Commission.  How is that past architects were able to design such great works without design guidelines or a design review board?

Jefferson Parish needs to amend its zoning laws once again.  If it’s really necessary to regulate the height of an accessory building–and it’s my opinion that the height restriction for the main house should be applicable to the whole site—but if they have to set a maximum height for an accessory building, then it should be moved up to 18 or 20 feet to account for the increased height of houses that are inspired by traditional architecture of the past.  If not, the design quality in Jefferson Parish will continue to suffer.      

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WHAT’S WRONG WITH JEFFERSON PARISH’S ZONING?

Suburban_zoning_diagram

I went down to the planning office of Jefferson Parish to see about the process for getting a preliminary review for compliance with the Old Metairie Neighborhood Conservation District and quick check on the zoning.  To my surprise, I discovered that an article of the zoning code had been revised, specifically Article XXXIX.  EXCEPTIONS AND MODIFICATIONS.  The date May 27, 2010 was at the bottom of the page.  The following paragraphs had a vertical line down the left hand margin, indicating that they were added or revised paragraphs:

                 Sec. 40-743. – Regulation of accessory buildings, structures, and uses

 (g)          Private garages. The following regulations shall apply to all private garages accessory to single-, two-, three-, or four-family dwellings, including manufactured homes and townhouses and shall supersede any conflicting regulations applicable to accessory structures:

 

(1)           Location.

a.             Attached garages shall comply with the side yard setback requirements of the principal structure and shall not be closer to the rear lot line than the side yard setback of the principal structure.

b.             If located in front of the principal structure, a detached garage shall comply with the side yard setback requirements of the principal structure and shall not be less than sixty (60) feet from the front lot line.

               

 

What were they thinking when they added this revision?

The schematic plan of the proposed new residence at 450 Betz Place (http://michaelrouchell.posterous.com/450-betz-place-creole-cottage-styled-new-resi-1) shows a typical condition where the garage is located behind the main house facing the side street.  The garage could be attached, but in this instance, the garage is attached to the main house with a breezeway.  The arrangement of house and garage forms an “L” that defines the rear yard space.  The breezeway in this design provides an exterior public entrance to the rear yard via a gate located at the breezeway.  Creole cottages and townhouses in the French Quarter often have rear courtyards that have gated entrances off of public ways, so that in this instance, the house, garage, rear yard arrangement with the public entrance at the breezeway fits within the Creole spirit of outdoor living and entertaining.

Typical suburban zoning usually requires front, rear and side yard setbacks for the main house to limit footprint size of the main house and to assure that neighboring properties are not deprived of natural light and air.  In the Suburban Residential District R-1B, the setback requirements are front yard, 25 feet; rear yard, 20 feet; and side yards of 7 feet, except that the side yard on a side street is 10 feet.  Usually, accessory buildings, including garages, are exempt from the main house setback requirements.  Before the zoning was revised, the setback requirements for the garage was 3 feet from the rear and side property lines and if the garage faced the front street, the front setback was 60 feet.  Where the garage faces a side street, the setback remains at 3 feet, but must also be setback a minimum 10 feet (equal to the house side yard distance) from the street curb.  The footprint area of garages and other accessory buildings is further limited in that it can’t exceed 40 percent of the rear yard area.

The new zoning revision indicates that the side yard setback from the street for the garage now matches the house.  In other words, the front of the garage would align with the side of the house.  What does Jefferson Parish accomplish by shifting the garage away from the street to align with the side of the house?  It doesn’t affect the footprint area of the house or the garage, so the amount of open space remains about the same.  Shifting the garage away from the street reduces the area of usable rear yard and replaces it with additional driveway area.  Outdoor space for people is reduced and space for automobile use is increased.  Finally, the placement of the garage blocks natural light in the corner of the house that is nearest to the garage.  Moving the garage out toward the side street maximizes natural light exposure to the house. 

This revision to the zoning code was ill conceived.  It is hard to imagine what was going through the heads of whoever wrote this.  As a result, I will probably have to go before the parish’s Board of Zoning Adjustments to appeal it, and hope common planning sense will prevail in the end.       

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