project addition: preliminary meetings with the city

I don’t have a good idea for naming  / ordering these posts yet. “Episode” sounds really epic, but that’s what first came to me. Maybe I’ll think on it a little more.

Yesterday was a really fun day, although fun is sort of an odd way to describe a series of meetings with city employees charged with upholding various statutes and codes and bylaws and standards. But I went into the rest of my day with a bit of a swing in my step, so I’m going to call it a success.

Our first meeting was in the Cultural Resources Department. We showed the Historic Preservation Planner our site plan, site section, and images of the building model, as well as pictures of the immediate alley context around the site of our proposed garage. We’re hoping to build a two-story garage that will house an in-law suite above (or possible rental unit down the line). With a four foot grade difference between our yard and the alley, almost half of the interior height of the first floor garage won’t even be visible from the house, so even a full two story structure is going to feel shorter from the backyard.

We drove around the alleys in our neighborhood last weekend and took photographs of Model Examples of existing two story garages (that were originally carriage houses) in the neighborhood. There are a lot of them, and there are quite a few on our own block, so building one on our property is not going to stick out like a sore thumb.


We were pleasantly surprised in this initial meeting that we didn’t get any pushback on what we are proposing. (Particularly the second floor on the garage or the proportion of windows / openings in the new addition.) Our house’s facades are classified as “private facades” vs. “public” or “semi-public”, so even though you will be able to see a portion of the addition from the neighboring cross street, because we are the second house in from the corner, we have fewer regulations on the final design of the addition.

We also discussed approved materials for the addition and the garage. There’s a fairly short list of approved materials, but we do have the option to propose different materials for review, so we’re not limited quite yet. Approved materials in the district are brick / brick veneer, stone veneer, scored stucco or sandstone, or 4″ wood lap siding. Not included on this list are many of the exterior materials I talked about in this post. But that’s okay – we’ve got a starting point, and over the next few weeks we will start to make some decisions on these.

After the Cultural Resources meeting, we hung out for awhile on the fourth floor, waiting for our appointment in the Zoning Department. City Hall is a really beautiful building, but we decided that it could use a few seating areas outside of the offices.


We headed in a few minutes early to our zoning meeting, and the reviewer we met with was really helpful. He had pulled everything we needed to discuss based on my phone conversation with him, and we were able to cover all the potential issues in just over thirty minutes. Here’s a brief outline of those issues:

1. Our lot is very narrow (25′ wide) and will require building to the property line(s).
  • Addition on west property line : Notarized maintenance agreement from west neighbor
  • Garage on west and east property lines: Notarized maintenance agreement from both neighbors
  • If we can’t obtain notarized maintenance agreements (basically permission to access the side of our building from their property for maintenance issues), then the project doesn’t stop, it just has to go in front of the Board of Adjustment. (We’re trying to avoid this hurdle – it’s expensive and time consuming.) We have very good relationships with both neighbors, so this shouldn’t be a big issue. It’s the just the logistics involved in getting everything signed and notarized.
2. Two-story garage – you can build under 12′ high with no issue (12′ is measured to the top of a flat roof, not the parapet, or to the midpoint of a gabled roof). Anything above that requires a sign off from the neighbors.
  • Garage Height: Notarized statement from both neighbors if above 12′ and below 18′. If it exceeds 18′ then it has to go to Board of Adjustment. (We have preliminary approval from Cultural Resources to do a living unit above the garage, and we are currently in a multi-family zoning area so that is okay! So we’ll have to see how the height works out. It’s an average of the height on four sides and we have a 4′ drop at the alley, so that is to our advantage. And the parapet wall doesn’t count on a flat roof.)
3. 30% Rear Yard Construction: This will require Conditional Use Hearing. We were told this is very common in our neighborhood (tight, city lots), and it’s a hurdle that is easily overcome, but between the addition and garage, we definitely exceed 30% of our rear yard under construction with this project.

4. Cultural Resources Preliminary Review – Materials and Site Plan.
  • Yesterday’s meeting was an informal review, but we’ll have to submit our final schematic package for approval, with materials listed.
I think those are the major issues. Our goal will be to avoid going to the Board of Adjustment. The majority of these issues can be staff approved. Fingers crossed that it’s as simple as was outlined to us yesterday morning!
January has been such a busy month, both at work and at home. We’ve been pretty diligent about getting things done, but I still have moments when I’m pretty overwhelmed by the current activities. But yesterday felt like such an accomplishment – the project just felt “real” in a way that it hasn’t until now.

We left City Hall, stopped into a neighborhood coffee shop for a minute, and then headed off in separate directions for the rest of our work day. But we sent virtual high-fives and dancing lady emojis via texts throughout the day, and decided that it’s pretty fun to be the clients we are working for!

7 Responses to project addition: preliminary meetings with the city

  1. Hooray!! I know you guys have been making lots of “first steps” in various directions for this project, but this must feel like such an affirmation in your “first step” with the city! I’m excited for the (literal) growth this is going to bring for y’all, and can’t wait to support you from a distance via the magic of the internet! Congratulations on a great meeting– surely a testament to how diligent you and M have been throughout the planning process. Onward!! 🙂

    • Thanks for another virtual high-five. I really appreciate it.

      Before the meetings I kept wishing that the drawings had more detail on them, but then when we asked what they needed for a zoning permit application, the reviewer said we already had more than enough, and more than most people ever put together for this. I haven’t figured out how to cure the inner perfectionist in me, but it’s nice to occasionally have someone else acknowledge our anal-ness, ahem, diligence.

  2. my hat is off to you — just counting up the water using units in our house for a bathroom project caused me to have the quivering fantods. it is going to be awesome.

  3. Random….but how old is the brick (on the ground) in the alleys? I love brick and cobble stone streets. The two street of downtown Savannah have original cobblestone date back to mid 1700s which is so wild and fascinating to me.

    Anyway, random tangent aside – excited for your project! Do you have a timeframe you hope to have his all completed?
    Caroline recently posted…Run, Ranger, RunMy Profile

  4. Our house was built in 1885. I’m fairly confident the brick in the alley is original, so probably just a bit older than the house.

    Timeline? There are lots of factors in play, but if all the stars aligned, it would be great to be under roof before the snow flies later this year.

  5. This is so fantastic that you are chronicling the less glamorous and less tangible sides of the building process. I can’t wait to dig in and see what you have planned (when I have a moment for reading!). Your house looks so great, I always dreamed of an urban townhouse like this.
    Lilly recently posted…The ROOsterMy Profile

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