Lawrence city commissioners granted a garage in Lawrence a stay of execution Tuesday night.
Under city zoning laws, the attached garage of a home built this summer at 305 Sharon Dr. sticks out five and a half feet too far into the front yard.
The garage's owner faced the possibilty of tearing it down or detaching it from the house and moving it toward the back of the property.
Three of the five commissioners voted at Tuesday's meeting to schedule a public hearing on the possibility of freeing some city land to accommodate the zoning requirement.
"I don't think the public good will be served by making him cut five feet off his garage," Commissioner Bob Schulte said.
The decision came after more than an hour of debate over the consequences of overturning a recent Lawrence Board of Zoning Appeals decision on the garage.
WES MATTHEWS, builder and owner of the home, noticed the error once other builders began constructing homes on the block and brought it to the attention of the BZA.
He asked the BZA to exempt him from the zoning rule or change the setbacks laws to accommodate his mistake. BZA members put their collective foot down.
Board members were frustrated with the increasing number of appeals they have received recently for after-the-fact building boo-boos, said David Guntert, city planner and staff representative to the BZA.
One of Matthew's remaining options was to ask the city commission to waive the city's right to an area in front of his house, an action called "vacating right of way."
That would allow Matthews to extend his property line a few feet, putting the required distance between his garage and property line.
Commissioners said they sympathized with Matthews.
"I PERSONALLY don't want to tear five feet off your garage," Mayor Bob Walters said.
However, they were also leery of creating a precedent for bailing out builders who make similar mistakes or ignoring the intent of a BZA decision.
"What are you doing to the integrity of the BZA by approving the request?" Commissioner Bob Schumm asked. "This is an override of what the BZA is set up to do."
Schumm moved that the commission deny Matthews' request for vacation of right of way. Commissioner John Nalbandian voted with Schumm. Schumm's motion was defeated when Walters, Schulte and Commissioner Shirley Martin-Smith voted against it.
Martin-Smith then moved that the city move toward approving the vacation by scheduling a public hearing to consider it further. The motion passed with the approval of Walters and Schulte.
The commission then voted unanimously to direct the city staff to recommend alterations in zoning laws that would help the city avoid similar problems in the future.
That could include more requirements on builders, architects and engineers before they are granted a building permit. The BZA also has recommended a fine to act as a deterrent of $1,000 per foot for any portion of a structure that requires a variance.
"My interpretation of the BZA's action in this case is a cry for help to fix this problem," Schulte said.