A group of homeowners in the Cove Avenue area of Cherokee Glen subdivision say they were the victims when the city decided to allow Miranda and Corey Chaney to renovate a garage apartment on their street.
Kristopher Carter, who represents homeowners who threatened to sue if the city didn’t stop the project, told the Sun Herald that it was the neighborhood’s rights that were trampled on, not the Chaneys’.
Carter said the neighborhood received no notice that the Chaneys planned to change lot boundaries and build a structure that might require a variance.
He said errors on the building applications gave the city the wrong impression of what the Chaneys were trying to do with their property on Cove Avenue. He and his clients pointed that out to the city and the city pulled the Chaneys’ building permit and stopped work on the project.
“We tried to point out to the city there were errors in the way this went down. It requires notice to residents nearby and a hearing if you want a variance,” he said. “Rules are in place to protect the property owners and the value of homes and the structural integrity of structures on the water. If a house is not rebuilt right — as we saw with Hurricane Katrina — it will be blowing into your home.”
The Chaneys bought a lot and a half on the water on Cove Avenue that had a garage apartment on the half-lot. They planned to add to the apartment to create a 1,200-square-foot home and sell the other lot to help recoup some of the cost. Also, after assurances from the city, they sold their other two homes in the subdivision to put everything they had into their new home on the water.
They received a construction loan, after the city assured them in writing that what they were doing with the lots, was OK. But six weeks into construction, the city issued the stop work order before the contractor blacked in the roof and walls to protect it from the elements. Two months of rain this summer ruined the structure as the Chaneys wait to see what the city will allow them to do.
Carter and neighbors argue that what the Chaneys were doing is not an addition to an existing structure but qualifies as new construction, and new construction requires builders to follow new and stricter rules that manage structures in the flood plain and other factors.
Additions are less expensive and get less scrutiny, they say.
The garage apartment was an eyesore property that had been on Cove Avenue since Katrina, when the main house was washed away.
One neighbor said they assumed the Chaneys were renovating the apartment to live on the lot and a half. They said what the Planning Department did in a February letter was essentially give them a backdoor lot split that would have allowed them to live on a lot that is at least 10 feet narrower than the narrowest lot in the neighborhood and sell the other lot, which doesn’t meet the 80-100-foot width the city requires for new subdivisions.
Part of the problem is that Cove Avenue is a neighborhood of non-conforming lot sizes, because it was platted in the 1950s.
But residents say none of the odd lots are as small as the one the Chaneys want to live on — the half-lot.
They also say the garage apartment is too close to the road. And variances must be approved by the city Planning Commission or Board of Aldermen, which didn’t happen here.
Searching through city records, one resident said he believes the previous owner was told to tear down the garage apartment, which means it was condemned or unlivable.
“There was a false premise that it was a livable structure,” Carter said.
What he contends was happening is that the Chaneys were trying to turn a detached, garage apartment into a single-family dwelling, and calling it a “new addition” to the existing structure.
They Chaneys have an attorney of their own, Billy Guice, who says the city stopped the project without due process and ruined their home.
He said the Chaneys didn’t get notification or a chance to argue.
Guice claims they city’s action is a violation of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution and “a taking” under the 5th Amendment. He said the Chaneys had property rights in the form of the building permit the city issued in March, the city should not have made such a change without following procedure, and such a procedure doesn’t include one-sided action on the part of the city.
Bank loans and a contractor were left hanging, he said.
One thing both sides agree on is that the Planning Commission or the Board of Aldermen should have been part of the process from early on.