DATE: April 17, 2001

TO: Planning Commission

FROM: Oscar Graham, Planner
Community Development Department

FILE NO.: VAR2001-00012

PROPOSAL: A variance to allow construction of a 16' addition to provide a fully accessible bathroom/bedroom area for owner use.


Applicant: Romer & Laraine Derr

Property Owner: Romer & Laraine Derr

Property Address: 9325 View Drive Juneau, AK 99801

Legal Description: Lot 5 Nunatak Terrace

Parcel Code Number: 4-B29-0111-005-0

Site Size: 39,950 Square Feet

Zoning: D-1, Single Family/Duplex Residential

Utilities: CBJ Water & Sewer

Access: View Drive

Existing Land Use: Single Family Residence

Surrounding Land Use: North – Mendenhall Lake
South - Residential
East - Residential
West - Residential


The applicant requests a variance to construct a 16 foot by 32 foot addition (512 square feet) to an existing single family residence to provide a fully accessible handicapped bedroom and bathroom for owner use. The addition will extend the existing single story gabled roofline and expand the existing residence to within 7.5 feet of the eastern property line. The addition will also include an access ramp along the northern portion of the addition.

The D-1 Zoning designation requires sideyard setbacks of 15 feet. While the western sideyard setback will remain at 51 feet the eastern sideyard setback would be reduced to 7.5 feet of the property line. The addition is proposed for the eastern portion of the structure in order to utilize existing vehicular access, floorplan and landscape amenities.


The existing single family residence was constructed in 1977 in conformance with the applicable dimensional standards of the CBJ Code. Advancing rheumatoid arthritis will require accessible handicapped facilities in the future. Lack of accessibility could force the current owner to move from the residence. It is the intention of the owner to remain at the residence.


Given the existing driveway/parking area, and floorplan of the residence it appears that the proposed addition is reasonable and well conceived. Similarly, the scale of the addition would provide for the relief requested relative to the provision of accessibility while minimizing expansion of the overall footprint. It should be recognized however that the existing sideyard setbacks exceed the 15 foot requirement set forth under Table 49.25.400 and that the western setback exceeds 50 feet. If the proposed addition could be constructed on the western portion of the residence the proposal could be accomplished without a variance.

Building staff have reviewed the proposal and indicate that the applicant has done a good job of making the proposed bedroom/bathroom wheelchair usable. A 5 foot clear turning area is provided in each room and inside the closet. While Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements do not apply to privately owned dwellings the proposal is generally consistent with ADA accessibility standards.

Variance Requirements

Under CBJ 49.20.250 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:

  1. hardship and practical difficulties
  2. resulting from an extraordinary situation or unique physical features affecting only a specific parcel of property or structures lawfully existing thereon, rendering it difficult to carry out the provisions of Title 49.

Staff reviewed the nature and type of hardship and practical difficulties documented in the application. Staff agrees that a hardship and practical difficulties exist. The hardship and difficulties are based on the location and floorplan of the existing residence, driveway and parking area and the applicant’s need to provide for an accessible bedroom/bathroom area along the eastern portion of the existing residence.

The hardship and practical difficulties could be viewed as an extraordinary situation affecting only a specific parcel of property. The presence of the existing site improvements in their current locations combined with the hardship of the applicant’s physical condition do represent an extraordinary situation. This situation however, is based primarily on the applicant’s physical condition and is not unique to the property itself. No hardships such as lot shape, size, topography or natural features associated with the property were identified by the applicant nor were any observed during the staff site inspection. Nevertheless the situation does render it difficult to carry out the provisions of Title 49.

Staff has reviewed Title 49 for alternative methods of evaluating the subject application. A single provision addressing entrances to accessory apartments to accommodate residents with disabilities (49.25.510(e)(2)(D)(vii) was reviewed and determined to be inapplicable. No additional Title 49 provisions addressing handicap accessibility were identified.

If the board of adjustment finds that 49.210.250(b) has been met, 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 property owner by providing approval to construct the accessible bedroom/bathroom facility within the required sideyard setback area. Reducing the 16 foot width of the addition would inhibit the accessibility sought under the request. Although the addition could be constructed along the west side of the existing residence without a variance, the existing floor plan driveway and parking area are not compatible with this approach. The relaxation would be consistent with justice to other property owners in that readily available access to a residence is a generally accepted requirement of a dwelling. 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.

The intent of Title 49 is established under Section 49.05.100 Purpose and Intent. Those sections applicable to the requested variance, are as follows:

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 specifically supports goal #6. By constructing an accessible bedroom/bathroom facility the applicant will be able to recognize the economic value of the land and its associated residential improvements, which he has established, and continue to utilize the residence. This criterion is met.

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

Adjacent residences within the View Drive area are generally sited in compliance with the D-1 sideyard setback requirement of 15 feet. Because of relatively large lot areas (some approaching 1 acre in size) in the neighborhood, many residences exceed the dimensional standards of Title 49. In addition adjacent residences are sited in a staggered manner which affords an enhanced degree of residential separation and privacy. Vegetation on the subject and adjacent properties consisting primarily of mixed conifers provides additional screening. Two windows along the eastern portion of the existing residence would be eliminated with the proposal providing additional privacy to the lot to the east. Two adjacent property owners to the west have provided letters in support of the variance application. The property owner immediately west of the subject property called staff with questions relating to the proposal and also expressed support for granting of the variance. As of the preparation of this staff report no additional public response has occurred. This criterion is met.

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

The D-1 residential district is intended to accommodate single family and duplex residential development. The proposed accessible bedroom/bath addition is allowed outright subject to the issuance of a building permit in this zoning designation. As such the variance would not authorize uses not allowed in the district involved. 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;

Yes. Compliance with the existing standards would eventually limit or prevent the owner from utilizing the property for its primary permissible use.

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;

No. The single family residence exists and is generally consistent as to scale, amenities, appearance or features, with existing development in the neighborhood.

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

No. No unique physical features associated with the property were identified.

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. The subject parcel does not possess any known pre-existing non-conforming conditions.
Staff have determined that the request meets (A) of the subcriterion. This criterion is met.

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

Based on the forgoing analysis and public response, staff has determined that a grant of the variance would result in more benefits than detriments to the neighborhood. The benefits are based on the continued utilization of the property by the longstanding property owner who will require special access accommodations in order to remain at this location. The only detriment identified is limited to a reduced sideyard setback of 7.5 feet or 50% of the required 15 feet. The net benefit of neighborhood stability appears to outweigh the relaxation of the diminished setback. This criterion is met.


Staff has 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 (April 13 and April 23, 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 through 6. It should be noted however that the request is not based on a hardship or practical difficulties associated with a specific parcel of property or a pre-existing non-conforming structure per 49.210.250(b). The practical difficulties result from the physical hardship of the applicant himself, which is proposed to be addressed through varying the dimensional standards of an existing conforming structure. Staff concludes that although the variance procedure is not appropriate for consideration of the subject proposal it may be the only existing avenue for the applicant’s relief.

An alternative to the variance procedure based on a demonstrated need and accepted accessibility standards could be developed as a code amendment. The amendment could set forth standards for the consideration of similar applications which are not predicated on parcel or structure considerations but on the access needs of the applicant. Access and construction standards could be modeled after the widely accepted standards of ADA pursuant to the Uniform Building Code adopted under Title 19. It should be recognized that development of such a code amendment could be a lengthy process.


We recommend that the Board of Adjustment adopt the staff analysis and director’s findings, and deny the requested variance.