DATE: May 16, 2001

TO: Planning Commission

FROM: Oscar Graham, Planner
Community Development Department

FILE NO.: VAR2000-00041

PROPOSAL: Variance request to allow 3rd floor decks and street level (unheated) arctic entries within 1.4 feet of the front property line where 20 feet is required.


Applicant: Alfonso O. Soriano

Property Owner: Alfonso O. Soriano

Property Address: 187 Gastineau

Legal Description: Lot 9 Gastineau

Parcel Code Number: 1-C07-0-BOQ-001-0

Site Size: 6,836.90 square feet

Zoning: D-10 Multifamily

Utilities: CBJ water & sewer

Access: Gastineau Avenue

Existing Land Use: Multifamily Residential

Surrounding Land Use: North - Residential

South - Residential

East - Vacant

West - Mixed Use Commercial/Residential



The variance requested is to authorize existing improvements to a multi family residential structure (six-plex). Specifically the request would authorize six existing third floor decks and three existing street level arctic entries that were constructed without benefit of setback approvals. The decks or balconies are 4 feet deep by 8 feet wide and are utilized as appurtenant amenities in conjunction with the six apartment units. The decks extend to within approximately 2.3 feet of the front property line. The arctic entries are 3.5 feet deep by 6 feet wide and provide unheated, secure entrance to the apartment units. The entries encroach to within 1.4 feet of the front property line. The standard front yard setback requirement in the D-10 Zoning District is 20 feet from the front property line. The arctic entries are also located within a 6-foot easement intended for construction and maintenance of public improvements associated with Gastineau Avenue. A plat amendment to remove the easement on the subject parcel is being requested in conjunction with the variance request.


Prior to construction of the existing building a six-plex was located on the subject parcel. When the owner proposed a complete renovation of the building it was determined that the structure including its location and density were grandfathered and could be reconstructed on the existing footprint. During the reconstruction process third story decks and arctic entries were added to the building. These features were not fully represented in the building permit application but were subsequently depicted on the as-built survey. The variance request is based on the modifications made to the permitted building which provided third story decks or balconies for each apartment unit and the enclosing of open halls and stairways which provide access to the six apartments. The open halls and stairways were being utilized by unauthorized individuals for shelter. By enclosing the open halls and stairways, entrance to the apartments was secured.

While this request is being considered under the variance provisions of Title 49, several additional regulatory options were considered. Because existing residential development in the vicinity generally includes front yard setbacks, which are substantially less than 20 feet, Section 49.25.430 (J) was assessed for applicability. This provision reads:

(J) Existing Substandard Setbacks. If a lot under development is subject to a front yard setback greater than that which prevails throughout the neighborhood, the new building may have a front yard setback equal to the average front yard setback of the three closest adjacent buildings, except that if there are no such buildings within five hundred feet, the required setback shall be the average of such fewer number of buildings as may be within five hundred feet, and provided further that in no event shall the required setback be less than half of that required by this chapter or ten feet, whichever is greater.

While the above provision provides limited relief based on an average of adjacent substandard setbacks, the subject features are less than half the required 20 setback and less than 10 feet. No analysis was included in the application to support the use of the averaging option. It is possible however, based on staff observations, that adjacent residences are set back at an average of 10 feet or less. If this is the case the setback requirement would be 10 feet. The setbacks requested however are 2.3 feet and 1.4 feet. Whether the required setback is considered to be 20 feet or 10 feet the existing setback exceeds the required setback.

Section 49.25.430 (4) (i), (ii) provides limited relief for projections into required setback areas for:

  1. Stairways, ramps, landings, catwalks, balconies and associated roofs, windbreaks, and covers providing access to and around the primary permitted use on the property may extend no more than forty-eight inches into the required setback;
  2. Arctic entries not exceeding sixty-five square feet gross floor area and no closer than five feet to any property line.

The option addressing balconies described under (i) was found to be inapplicable to the proposal because the balconies extend more than 48 inches into the required setback. The standard required setback is 20 feet. The balconies extend 17.7 feet into the standard required setback. If the required setback were determined to be 10 feet, the request for a 2.3 foot setback would still exceed the standard by 3.7 feet.

The option addressing arctic entries described under (ii) was found to be inapplicable to the proposal because the arctic entries are closer than 5 feet from the front property line. The arctic entries are within 1.4 feet of the front property line.


Variance Requirements

Under CBJ'49.20.250 (b): where hardship and practical difficulties result from an extraordinary situation or unique physical feature affecting only a specific parcel of property or structures lawfully existing thereon and render it difficult to carry out the provisions of Title 49, the Board of Adjustment may grant a variance in harmony with the general purpose and intent of Title 49. A variance may vary any requirement or regulation of Title 49 concerning dimensional and other design standards, but not those concerning the use of land or structures, housing density, lot coverage, or those establishing construction standards.

The proposed development was reviewed for:

Staff reviewed the nature and type of hardship and practical difficulties documented in the application. Staff agrees that a hardship and practical difficulties are present. A steep hillside exists along the eastern portion of the property that precluded construction of the original and reconstructed buildings in compliance with setback requirements. Based on the location of the existing building it is impossible to construct the balconies and arctic entries in a manner that complies with the required zoning setback. The hardship is also based, in part, on the applicant’s desire to include the balconies as appurtenant features to the residential use. The practical difficulties associated with the arctic entries are based on the lawful location of the existing structure and the need to provide secure entries to the six apartments. The hardship and practical difficulties represent an extraordinary situation affecting only a specific property and render it difficult to carry out the provisions of Title 49. Staff has determined that the variance process represents the appropriate regulatory mechanism for consideration of the request.

A variance may be granted after the prescribed hearing and after the Board of Adjustment has determined:

1. That the relaxation applied for or a lesser relaxation specified by the Board of Adjustment would give substantial relief to the owner of the property involved and be more consistent with justice to other property owners.

The relaxation applied for would give substantial relief to the applicant in that the existing features could be retained. The amenities associated with the decks and secure access provided by the arctic entries may be required to be removed if the variance is not authorized. Adjacent residential development also includes secured entries and decks, which are located within the required front yard setback. This criterion is met.

2. That relief can be granted in such a fashion that the intent of this title will be observed and the public safety and welfare be preserved.

1) To achieve the goals and objectives and implement the policies of the Juneau Comprehensive Plan and the coastal management program;

2) To ensure that future growth and development in the city and borough is in accord with the values of its residents;

3) To identify and secure, for present and future residents, the beneficial impacts of growth while minimizing the negative impacts;

4) To ensure that future growth is of the appropriate type, design, and location and is served by a proper range of public services and facilities such as water, sewage, and electrical distribution systems, transportation, schools, parks and other public requirements, and in general to promote public health, safety and general welfare;

5) To provide adequate open space for light and air; and

6) To recognize the economic value of land and encourage its proper and beneficial use.

The proposed variance does not violate any of the above referenced goals and is specifically supported by goals 4) and 6). The pre-existing non conforming history of the parcel considered in conjunction with the variance request ensure that the proposal is appropriate in terms of type, design and location. Consideration of the variance request in association with the proposed plat amendment intended to eliminate the public easement ensures that the proposal will be consistent with public improvements planned for Gastineau Ave.

The requested variance recognizes the economic value of land and generally encourages its proper and beneficial use buy promoting a well designed multifamily residential facility, which is safe and secure.

If the requested relief is granted in conjunction with the proposed plat amendment the intent of Title 49 will be observed. No material impacts to public safety and welfare were identified in association with the request. By providing for secure entrances to the structure the entries and hallways can no longer be utilized by unauthorized individuals for shelter. The effect of secure entries may be to promote public safety and welfare by eliminating an area formerly used by unauthorized individuals. This criterion is met.

3. That the authorization of the variance will not injure nearby property.

The authorization of the variance would not appear to injure nearby properties. As of the date of preparation of this staff report no comments from adjacent property owners have been received. This criterion is met

4. That the variance does not authorize uses not allowed in the district involved.

The variance does not authorize uses not allowed in the district involved. The D-10 District is intended to accommodate multi-family residential development. This criterion is met.

5. That compliance with the existing standards would:

(A) Unreasonably prevent the owner from using the property for a permissible principal use;

No. Compliance with the existing standards would not prevent the owner from using the property for a permissible principal use. Residential utilization of the property could be accomplished without the third story decks and/or arctic entries.

(B) Unreasonably prevent the owner from using the property in a manner which is consistent as to scale, amenities, appearance or features, with existing development in the neighborhood of the subject property;

Yes. Compliance with existing standards may prevent the owner from providing secure entry to the structure and enjoying the amenities associated with the third story decks. Secure entry and appurtenant decks are common features to the neighborhood.

(C) Be unnecessarily burdensome because unique physical features of the property render compliance with the standards unreasonably expensive

No. Compliance with existing standards would not be unreasonably burdensome because of unique physical features. Although the property is bordered by steep slopes to the east, topographic conditions do not require the inclusion of either the decks or arctic entries. The applicant would bear the expense of removal of the features in the event that the variance were denied.


(D) Because of pre-existing nonconforming conditions on the subject parcel the grant of the variance would not result in a net decrease in overall compliance with the Land Use Code, CBJ Title 49, or the Building Code, CBJ Title 19, or both.

No. While the pre existing nonconforming history of the parcel does contribute to the difficulties associated with inclusion of the decks and entries, the features do result in an overall decrease in compliance with the Land Use Code, CBJ Title 49. The decrease in compliance is based on an encroachment into the front yard setback which exceeds that which was provided for under the authorization to reconstruct the nonconforming building.

Staff has determined that the request meets (B) of the subcriterion. This criterion is met.

6. That a grant of the variance would result in more benefits than detriments to the neighborhood.

The grant of the variance would provide for the inclusion of decks or balconies which provide a generally attractive and diverse architectural feature. This feature will be utilized as a residential amenity by residents. The grant of the variance will result in elimination of access to the entries and hallways of the structure by unauthorized individuals. By controlling unwanted access to the building, public safety and welfare may be promoted. No impact to proposed public improvements to Gastineau Avenue are anticipated. This criterion is met.


Staff have reviewed the proposed development and determined that no enforceable provisions of the JCMP apply.


CBJ'49.20.240, Board of Adjustment Action, states that the Board of Adjustment shall hear all variance requests and shall either approve, conditionally approve, modify or deny the request based on the criteria in CBJ'49.20.250.

Under CBJ'49.20.220, Scheduling and Fee, the director makes the following determination:

1. Is the application for the requested variance complete?

Yes. We find the application contains the information necessary to conduct a full review of the proposed operations. The application submittal by the applicant, including the appropriate fees, substantially conform to the requirements of CBJ code Chapters 49.15. Additionally, notice was provided in the Juneau Empire under Your Municipality which ran on (May 11 and 21, 2001). Notice was mailed to owners of record of all property within 500 feet of the subject property.

Under CBJ'49.70.900 (b)(3), General Provisions, the director makes the following Juneau Coastal Management Program consistency determination:

2. Will the proposed development comply with the Juneau Coastal Management Program?

Not applicable.

3. Does the variance as requested, meet the criteria of Section 49.20.250 Grounds for Variances?

Staff has determined that the requested variance meets criteria 1-6.



We recommend that the Board of Adjustment adopt the staff analysis and findings and approve the requested variance.