Leader Blues

Thursday, August 17, 2006

TOP STORY >> Setback rule costs homeowners

IN SHORT: Planners set a public hearing on an ordinance that would reduce 35-foot front yard requirements to 25 feet.

Leader staff writer

“We are charging people to live here,” a Jacksonville builder told the planning commission Monday night.

Jack Wilson, a longtime local contractor, told the commission that its requirement to have homes setback 35 feet from the street costs the buyer. “It’s like an impact fee. We are asking people to pay an extra $1,000 to live here,” he said.

“Here we are desperately needing to attract people and then we hit them with this cost. It either causes a hardship or they go elsewhere to live,” Wilson said.

Commissioners listened to Wilson and others after Tommy Bond of Bond Consulting Engineers requested a discussion about the setback requirements.

For about the last 30 years, the city has required all homes to have a 35-foot setback (yard) in the front and a 25-foot setback (yard) in the back.

Surrounding cities such as Cabot, Sherwood and North Little Rock require homes to be set back just 25 feet in the front. The commission will hold a public hearing on the matter at their next meeting. In a letter requesting the discussion, Bond wrote, “Over the last several years I have made several attempts to get the planning commission to change building setback from residential subdivisions from 35 feet to 25 feet.”

Bond said his main argument has been the added cost to the construction of the houses.

“It adds anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 to the cost and that is rolled into the mortgage and is doubled or tripled before the mortgage is paid off. A homeowner pays on that extra for 30 years,” Bond explained. An additional argument for the change, he told the commission, was that today’s homes are built deeper and won’t fit on a basic lot with the city’s setback requirements.

Wilson added, “We show people a floor plan that they really like, but have to build something else because it won’t fit.”
Bond admitted that many years ago, families sat on their front porches and enjoyed and used their front yards, but now families seem to value their backyards more than the fronts.

“Most everyone now prefers the privacy and security of a fenced backyard,” Bond said.

Commissioners Emma Knight and Bart Gray Jr., both in real estate, said the change would be very welcome. “The time has come,” Gray said. But Commis-sioner Art Brannen said the idea to change setbacks just didn’t sound good to him.

Builder Greg Heslep, who is developing the Base Meadows Subdivision off Highway 107 near the air base, said he considers Base Meadows a family-oriented subdivision, but because of the requirements for the front yard “there’s not even room for a swing set in the back” of some of the lots.