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:
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.