MAY 4, 2009

The Council of the Village of Riverlea met on the above date at the Worthington United Methodist Church, 600 High Street, Worthington. The following Council members were present: Mayor Mary Jo Cusack, John S. McAlearney, Kirk McHugh, John A. Schaer, Renee Shannon, Rodney Tettenhorst and Paul J. Zenisek. Members of the Planning Commission present were Michael Jones, Planning Commissioner, Jody Croley Jones, L. Keith Beachler and Lisa Morris. Also present were Pamela M. Colwell, Clerk-Treasurer, Steven Mershon, Solicitor, Taylor and Suzanne Surface, Gary Alexander, Lois Yoakam, Newsletter Editor, Jennifer Koontz, Digital Reporter, Linda and John Mercer, Donald Campbell, Deborah Barman, Richard Surface, Marilou Beachler, Lori and Jeff Pisching and Rose Stevens. At 7:00 p.m. the Mayor called the meeting to order.

Planning Commission Appeal

Council met to consider the appeal of Suzanne and Taylor Surface from the decision of the Planning Commission on April 13, 2009 to deny a Variance for the construction of improvements to their property at 5849 Olentangy Boulevard. Jennifer Koontz, Digital Reporter, recorded the hearing.

The Solicitor explained that the Surfaces applied for a Certificate of Appropriateness and a Variance but the Planning Commission ruled mostly on the Variance, so in agreement with the Surfaces this meeting will be about the Variance. The Surfaces will go to the Planning Commission for a Certificate of Appropriateness.

The Mayor pointed out that there were two applications for a variance. The first requested a 9’6″ penetration into the setback and the second application requested a 7’6″ penetration into the setback. She asked the Planning Commissioner to speak first and would follow with statements from the members of the Planning Commission who were present.

Planning Commission Statements

Mike Jones, Planning Commissioner, stated that the strict application of the zoning code is applied to everyone. He saw no hardship or special conditions for the Surfaces since all residents would have the same review. The character of the Boulevard has not changed since the beginning of the Village and there were no alterations until 1996.

There was some discussion between the Surfaces and Planning Commissioner regarding the definition of the setback and the use and legality of a land survey. The Surfaces had a recent survey completed and had submitted it to Council prior to this meeting. The Planning Commissioner stated that the Planning Commission did not have the benefit of this survey at their meeting.

Jody Jones questioned whether this appeal was based on the Planning Commission’s decision or was based on new information. The Solicitor explained that historically the practice of the Village Council was to make a decision based on evidence presented and they did not judge the Planning Commission or find them in error. Jones expressed her disagreement with this since the Planning Commission’s decision was based on material presented to them at their meeting. She spoke about her long tenure on the Commission and remembered the Surfaces said they would not ask for another variance after one was granted for their garage. She was also on the Riverlea Land Use Committee along with four residents from the Boulevard and no one ever objected to the setbacks. She felt a variance was granted for the public good and not for an individual. Also, she failed to see the hardship for the Surfaces was unique or particular for their property.

Morris was surprised Council would hear new evidence at this appeal. She thought that the Surfaces should have had to return to the Planning Commission with this new information. She also believed there were other options for the addition and that a variance was not a right.

Beachler pointed out that it was a split decision with three against the variance and two for the variance at the Planning Commission meeting. He considered more than just the legality of the request. He said none of the neighbors objected, it was a reasonable request, and it enhanced the neighborhood. He understood about the problem of granting a variance and that others would want variances too, but there are other Planning Commission meetings to deal with those issues.

Taylor and Suzanne Surface Presentation

The Mayor asked the Surfaces along with their architect, Gary Alexander, to make their presentation. They showed how this addition would enhance the street appearance, maintain the character of one story homes around them, make the house look more balanced, increase home values, maintain sight lines in the back for their neighbor, provide a larger home for their family, and stay within their budget. The setback line runs diagonally across their property and is not parallel with the front of the house. They presented illustrations showing the lots on Olentangy Boulevard, the setback line on their property, the design of the addition and the floor plan. They presented a petition signed by their neighbors agreeing with the variance and addition. They discussed design issues and costs. A rear addition would block the neighbors view and would require extensive interior redesign at a greater cost. Alexander brought a small model to show how the home looked now and with the addition. There was more discussion about interpreting hardship and they disagreed with the Planning Commission that there was no hardship. It was pointed out that after granting this variance there would be eight houses closer to the street than theirs. Their home would still sit about 90’ from the street which is comparable to other setbacks. They discussed the results of their land survey and noted that with this information the encroachment would only be 4.04 feet.

Council questioned reducing the addition but was told it would require shuffling the interior layout which would cost much more. There was some discussion regarding the interpretation of the setback. It was pointed out that the initial setback was figured incorrectly. With the help of the new survey and the Village’s Code, the new setback lines show that the Surfaces only need a variance of 4.04 feet.

Neighbor Testimonies

Rose Stevens lives next door and approves of the front addition. A rear addition would impact her site line to the woods and a 2 story addition would not fit in with the neighboring homes.

Don Campbell lives directly across the street and thinks the addition is attractive and would add value to the community. He is in favor of the variance.

John Mercer said the addition would enhance the property and the variance is insignificant. He would like to see the addition.

Linda Mercer is in favor of the variance for all of the reasons given. She feels it would revitalize the neighborhood.

Jeff Pisching views this as a win-win situation. He says the Planning Commission did not make a mistake but hopes Council will look at granting a variance in this instance.

Deborah Barman thought it was a wonderful way to complete a home. She says we need to be considering the future where families do not want to live in a 1950’s home.

Council Discussion

McHugh said the setback applies to the whole Village. Their problem is the curvature of the street. It means a lot to him that the neighbors fully support this and feel it is appropriate. Tettenhorst said when you buy a home you get the positives and negatives and you can see what you are getting. He considers this a short term benefit and the character is impacted for the long term. He is worried that this has created a precedent for more variances. McHugh said the Planning Commission and Council can deal with that in the future. Schaer stated that each design has to be looked at individually. Shannon felt this was a unique situation and the law should not stop people from improving their homes. Zenisek said a literal interpretation of law puts us in a box. Change is inevitable and we need to deal with it.


Please see the Findings of Fact and Decision.

There being no further business, McHugh moved and Zenisek seconded a motion to adjourn the meeting. The following vote was recorded on the motion: Yea, 6; McAlearney, McHugh, Schaer, Shannon, Tettenhorst and Zenisek: Nay, None. The Motion carried 6-0. The meeting was adjourned at 8:57 p.m.