hile the size of new homes – and how that impacts smaller neighbors’ privacy – remains the main issue to come out of a pair of Village Council workshops regarding the single-family home zoning district, it isn’t the only topic on local leaders’ agenda.
As they eye changes to the district, Council members will also focus on retaining walls that keep rain runoff from flooding a neighbor’s property, the location of air conditioning units to prevent noise nuisances, and improvements to the construction process while a new home is being built.
The Council held its second single-family district workshop Tuesday, April 23, and local leaders ended the session by vowing to propose changes that will address the privacy issues.
On the other topics, while Building, Zoning and Planning Director Jud Kurlancheek said tweaks on retaining walls and air conditioners are probably unnecessary, he is recommending a new requirement for homes that are under construction.
Kurlancheek said the BZP Department already requires new homes to build retaining walls on their property to keep water on the lot. He noted the rule is especially important when a lot is elevated – a typical condition for new homes, as they must comply with Federal Emergency Management Agency flood safety regulations.
Keeping water on one’s property is essential, Kurlancheek noted, because runoff can cause flooding, damage and dangerous conditions on neighbors’ lots – complaints of which have come to the Village’s attention in recent months.
However, properly-built retaining walls are now required to keep water on a property: “It is the best option to obtain that result,” Kurlancheek said, noting under the weather conditions typically seen on the Key, “Water will not go over the wall onto the neighbor’s property.”
Of course, Kurlancheek said, there are forces of nature that can cause problems – like two inches of rain falling in less than an hour at high tide.
But while such situations are not unheard of, they are very rare, and he feels the Village’s current rules do a good job of protecting homeowners.
“You can’t address the worst problems,” he explained regarding the most extreme conditions.
Meanwhile, Kurlancheek said the Village is also doing a good job of regulating air conditioning units so they don’t cause noise problems for adjacent homes.
He explained air conditioning units on new homes must be rated at 60 decibels or lower and sit on an acoustic soundproof base or ledge, and builders must install a screen around the unit.
Air conditioners must be set back 4 feet from a neighboring home.
On that, Council member Jim Taintor expressed concerns, noting he has heard complaints from residents that the setbacks put noisy units too close to their homes.
But Kurlancheek said he doubts homeowners are really complaining about noise – instead, they probably don’t like the appearance of the air conditioning unit next to their house, or they have some other unresolved problem with their neighbor.
The fact is, Kurlancheek said, 60 decibels is not very loud – and increasing the setback from 4 feet to 7.5 feet, as Taintor suggested, wouldn’t do any good. “Sixty decibels isn’t going to sound any less at 7.5 feet than 4 feet – it’s indistinguishable,” he said.
Meanwhile, responding to a question from Council member Michael Kelly regarding whether there is any way to deaden an air conditioner’s sound – “even an expensive one,” as Kelly put it – Kurlancheek replied, “Nothing that is better than what we’re doing now.”
Therefore, he said, he’s confident the current rules are working.
He added: “On the new installations, I don’t get any complaints.”
While retaining wall and air conditioner rules are working well, Kurlancheek said, there is room to improve how the Village handles new construction projects.
Some new regulations are already being enforced, he said, and the Council is poised to adopt s new requirement that builders provide a written notice of demolition or construction to adjacent property owners.
The rules that are already in place include requiring construction and contractor vehicle parking on the site whenever possible, along with installing entry gates that slide rather than swing to make more room for parking; and placing rocks on the swales of a construction site so water and sediment do not migrate to neighboring properties.
Meanwhile, a new regulation – which the Council is set to vote on as part of an ordinance that sets minimum maintenance standards for properties Village-wide – would require contractors to send notice via certified mail to all adjacent property owners prior to demolition or construction.
Council members stress the regulation is not aimed at allowing neighbors to influence plans for a new home, but to giving them a chance to prepare for the inevitable inconveniences of living next to a construction site and to protect their own rights by securing surveys of their property.