By Bob Uphues
If you own a home in Riverside and always wanted to build a porch on the front of your house but couldn't, because the village's zoning code prohibited it, you're in luck.
On Feb. 2, Riverside trustees voted 6 to 0 to amend the village's zoning code, changing the way the street yard setbacks are measured and allowing unenclosed front porches to be built where they were previously off limits.
"It's a big change for our town to allow porches like this," said Village President Ben Sells during the village board's Feb. 2 discussion.
The discussion of amending the zoning code with respect to front porches evolved over a period of months last year after the owner of a property on Scottswood Road approached the village to allow him to build an enclosed porch onto the front of his house.
The house originally had a large, open front porch, which had been demolished decades ago. The owner wanted to build a new, enclosed porch and village officials, including members of the village board and the Planning and Zoning Commission struggled to interpret the zoning code, which they found ambiguous.
In the end, the village board granted a zoning variation to allow the construction of the enclosed porch and embarked on a plan to rewrite the zoning code to avoid confusion but also, interestingly, avoid encouraging applications to build enclosed front porches in the future.
Under the previous code, homeowners could repair or restore already existing front porches within the porch's existing footprint. However, the homeowner could not change the form of the porch, meaning he couldn't enclose an unenclosed porch or open up an enclosed porch, without a zoning variance.
Further, the code prohibited the construction of any new porch, closed or unenclosed, because it would mean encroaching into the street yard setback, and Olmsted's General Plan for Riverside encouraged open vistas and deep setbacks. Frederick Law Olmsted planned the village of Riverside in 1869.
But, planning commissioners and village board members felt that encouraging the construction of open front porches that complement the architecture of a home was desirable and wouldn't negatively affect street yard setbacks as long as there was adequate room to build the porch.
The Riverside Preservation Commission also agreed with the final language of the zoning amendment.
The new code now allows one-story, unenclosed porches to encroach a maximum of nine feet into the street yard and allows the eaves of the new porch to encroach an additional 36 inches.
In addition, residential street yards of less than 36 feet are restricted to a 25-percent reduction in the street yard for a new porch. And the absolute minimum street yard setback for a new porch is 20 feet, including the eaves, which means there are many properties in Riverside that still will not qualify for new porches.
"[Officials] felt 20 feet would allow a good number of properties to qualify, but in some cases homeowners are not going to be allowed to do a porch," said Sonya Abt, the village's community development director.
Finally, the code while it still does not allow enclosing open front porches without a zoning variation will now allow enclosed front porches to be unenclosed by right. Previously that wasn't possible without a variation.
Village trustees agreed to clarify language that allows unenclosed porches to be screened, even permanently screened.
"We want to encourage people to open their front porches," said Abt. "This allows homeowners a lot more flexibility to work with existing front porches."