Members of the Glover family have lived for more than fifty-eight years in a one-story house on Raleigh's Churchill Road, where they have often enjoyed afternoons filled with bright western sunlight.
That was true, according to a court filing, until a developer proceeded with construction on a thirty-two-hundred-square-foot house on the 0.23-acre lot next door. Less than six feet from the property line, one of the new house's eastern walls rises nearly twenty-eight feet above grade, right between the family and the sun. Other walls reach twenty-eight feet as well.
"Our home used to be full of sunshine," says Jane Simpson, who lives in the smaller house with her ninety-one-year-old mother, Jo Ann Glover. "It used to be so bright in here, you used to have to wear sunglasses. Now it's kind of dreary in here in the afternoon."
To mitigate the effects that large infill houses may have on adjacent homes, the city's unified development ordinance, or UDO, limits the height of new construction close to a home of more than twenty years' existence, in this case to twenty-two feet.
This stretch of Churchill had been quintessential mid-century Raleigh, Simpson says, home to a bunch of N.C. State faculty families and even to Phyllis Peacock, the famed Broughton High English teacher whose students included novelists Anne Tyler and Reynolds Price. But as prices have risen for Inside the Beltline lots, all that's changed. Nearby Nottingham Road has seen a number of modest duplexes scraped off to make room for houses selling for between $699,999 and $1.1 million.
Last week, Simpson, who holds her mother's power of attorney, petitioned the Wake County Superior Court on behalf of her mother to reverse a decision by the Raleigh Board of Adjustment to allow an after-the-fact variance of the ordinance concerning wall height. Meanwhile, work has continued on the new house, referred to as "the Property" in the filing.
"The excessive height of the home on the Property will directly impact and specially damage the Glover Home and Ms. Glover in various ways, including increased water runoff and stormwater complications, the near elimination of natural light into the Glover Home and various secondary adverse affects, including adverse impacts on the valuation of the Glover Home," the petitioners' filing says.
A spokesman for the city of Raleigh and Tobias Coleman, a lawyer for Glover, both declined comment Friday. Tom Worth, the attorney for defendant Northstar Capital Group LLC, the developer of the property, did not return a call for comment.
However, the story of the way the house was initially permitted, and of the bureaucratic fallout that followed, emerges in the minutes of a May 8 meeting of the Board of Adjustment. That quasi-judicial body "acts on appeals for variances, special exceptions and interpretations in the zoning regulations," according to a city website.
One of the meeting's many May 8 agenda items was a request from Northstar for a variance allowing a twenty-seven-foot, eleven-inch height for a wall located 5.8 feet from the property line, a twenty-eight-foot height for an east-facing rear section of the house, and another twenty-eight-foot wall height for a "projecting second-floor box bay located seven-point-five feet from the side property line."
According to the Board of Adjustment minutes, "Mr. Worth asserted he has never had to deal with a situation such as this." The attorney representing Northstar laid out a timeline that included three city plan reviews, with final approval on February 6; city inspection beginning February 8; a new interpretation of relevant codes dated March 7 but not posted until May 1; a stop-work order for the side wall issued April 13; and official notification of a new interpretation of the code on April 17.
As the chain of official actions rolled out, Glover was emotionally affected by the construction of the high wall next to the family's home of more than fifty years, says Simpson.
"That's why I'm doing what I'm doing," Simpson says. "She's cried tears."
Neighbors at the Board of Adjustment hearing objected to the new house's design on a variety of grounds, including incompatibility with the long-established area and persistent stormwater problems originating at the construction site. Worth maintained that the developer had acted in good faith, had attempted to comply with the UDO, and would suffer hardship if the waiver were denied.
On a 4–1 vote, the Board of Adjustment agreed to the variance requested by Northstar, referred to as the Applicant.
"Strict compliance with the provisions of the ordinance would deprive Applicant from the reasonable use of the property," the board wrote as part of a long list of findings of fact. "Applicant's hardship is related to the unique circumstances of the property, namely the fact that the lot has an unusual topography, and substantial work has been completed following the issuance of a building permit."
In their filing, Simpson and Glover say, "Northstar did not offer any evidence that it could not secure a reasonable return or make reasonable use of the Property if it were required to comply with the UDO's twenty-two-foot maximum height limit."
The city has until August 12 to respond to the filing.
This article appeared in print with the headline "The Wall"