The Porter Plan
Commission discussed non-conforming structures and use variances at its
meeting last week, ultimately deciding it will consider revisions to Town
code at its next meeting.
Town Planner Jim
Mandon said the current code related to non-conforming structures operates
under the assumption that the Town wants every structure to eventually
conform, but the Board of Zoning Appeals has made lots of exceptions in
recent years, and there have been talks at the Plan Commission that its
unfair for homeowners to be required to seek the Town’s permission to
rebuild after something unforeseen.
Due to minimum
floor area requirements being increased in 2003, a home smaller than 1,500
square feet on land zoned for R1 (single-family residential, large lot) is
considered a non-conforming structure, and many homes in Porter fit the
bill, since Town code previously allowed smaller homes.
homes built in R1 must be at least 1,500 square feet. If one of the many
smaller homes in Porter burns down, it cannot be rebuilt without a variance
from the BZA.
Mandon and Building
Commissioner Michael Barry proposed changing the Code to allow a
non-conforming structure to be rebuilt within its same footprint in case it
is destroyed. The proposed change would apply to non-conforming structures
in all zonings.
“People can always go to the BZA to rebuild, but if it’s okay as far as the
Town is concerned, then why make them do that?”
Madigan said her home is a non-conforming structure because it was built
before the Code was changed. “If it burns down, I would have to go to BZA
and say ‘Please, please can I rebuild my house.’”
The issue of a fire
has come before the BZA in the past year, and the members of the Plan
Commission have said at several meetings that the requirement could be
Homeowners in that
situation could just build a conforming structure, which would mean a larger
home. Madigan said she’s lucky to have enough lot to do that, but not
everyone in Porter is. Conforming structures also have to abide by limits to
lot coverage, side and front yard setback rules, and others that make
building a 1,500 square foot home on some lots impossible--or impossible
without more variances.
Planner and Porter
Fire Chief Jay Craig noted that insurance payouts aren’t likely to support
someone rebuilding and upgrading to a larger home. “If you have something
damaged, insurance isn’t going to pay to build a house that conforms.
They’re only gonna give you enough money to build what was there,” Craig
For his part, Barry
said owning a non-conforming structure can actually affect insurance
premiums. Barry said insurance companies call him to ask if a home can be
rebuilt without question after an event like a fire. “That is an issue every
time a non-conforming house is purchased. It’s a question that’s in a lot of
the closing documents,” Barry said. “It changes their rate of insurance, and
it does kill deals.”
Madigan asked if
the changes would contradict the Town’s master plan. Mandon and Barry said
the master plan is more about land use and density than the details of
Planner Erik Wagner
said he’d like to see the changes move forward.
The Planners voted
unanimously to hold a public hearing to get input on the change. After the
public hearing, the Plan Commission will forward a recommendation to the
Town Council, which has the final say in changes to Town code.
Mandon and Barry
also suggested the Planners consider changing code surrounding use
variances. Currently the code contains an outdated and incomplete list of
acceptable uses for land in Porter.
“Most codes don’t
have a shopping list where the BZA is limited to issuing use variances for
only the uses listed. I don’t think it’s wise to have that because you can’t
anticipate everything,” Mandon said. Whoever wrote the list couldn’t have
anticipated that blacksmith shops would fall out of fashion and that cell
phone stores and vape shops would come to exist, for instance.
Barry said he ran
into an issue when the recently opened Ten-Mile Brewing was seeking permits.
There isn’t an allowance for or guidelines for a brewery in Town. “So
whenever someone asks me to do something like that, I have go in and
interpret,” Barry said.
Planner Tara Duffie
suggested that keeping a list in some form could be beneficial, since the
old list got the job done. Madigan suggested there’s no need for a list when
Porter could just defer to state mandates. Another issue to consider,
according to Barry, is that removing the list can have domino effects for
other parts of the code. For example, if the list is taken out, the word
“cemetery” goes with it, and there is no other guidance for where cemeteries
are and are not allowed.
unanimously approved Barry and Mandon to come up with a proposal for
changing the code so there’s no laundry list, but there’s still a
“reasonable way to make exceptions within specific zones.”
After the Plan
Commission met, the BZA met briefly to elect new officers. John Kremke was
elected president, and Henry Huyser was elected vice-president.