Nonconforming House?

You’ve found the right designer, you’ve hired the best builder, and you’ve submitted the plans to the city. And three weeks later the cities plan reviewer informs you that your house is nonconforming. This has become very common.

The nonconforming clause has been appearing with more frequency in city ordinances throughout the country. In my opinion it is little more than an exercise in bureaucracy. I believe the best way to explain a nonconforming home is through an example. Let’s say your home was built in the early sixties and you would now like to add a room addition to the rear of the house. Your house is seven feet from the property line on the right side and six feet on the left side. The new room addition on the rear maintains those same side yard set backs (distance from side of house to side property line). From a design perspective this might make sense, but not from the cities perspective. In the sixties when your home was built the city ordinance required that a home in your neighborhood could be no closer than six feet to a side property line. Today the ordinance has changed. If you were to build that same house the side yard setback could be no less than twelve feet.


So what does this mean for your rear room addition? Well if you follow the ordinance your addition would have to conform to the new side yard setbacks. This would mean that your addition would be considerably narrower than your house. The option available to you is the zoning appeals board. The board is usually made up of a few political types and a few city residences. This is where, for a fee, you’ll be able to make your case for your original addition design. In an example like this you’ll probably experience little resistance. But be aware the word hardship will be thrown around quite a bit. And believe it or not you probably don’t have one, the house is just too small for our growing family, won’t work. But don’t fear it’s been my experience that this ordinance is designed to allow the city to negotiate some changes to your original submittal. The most common request I’ve received from these boards is to redesign the lot’s drainage. This usually includes installing a rear yard drain or catch basin that will no doubt solve a drainage problem for several neighbors. This is just one example so don’t worry. The idea I would like to leave you with is that nonconforming is more of a nuisance than a road block and can usually be resolved with out blowing your budget.

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