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.