A request to divide a property in the Pill Hill Historic District is in limbo after a split Rochester Planning and Zoning Commission failed to land on a decision.
“The arguments laid out tonight have been really great,” Commission Chairman Tom Hill said of Wednesday's 3 1/2-hour discussion.
The divide came with an appeal by Pill Hill neighbors who objected to Community Development staff approval of a request to split property at 912 Eighth St. SW. The property contains the Harwick House, which is considered a contributing part of the historic district on the National Register of Historic Places.
The property was recently purchased, and the owner requested splitting the lot into two properties, one with 15,996 square feet and the other with 14,779 square feet, while he worked to upgrade the existing home on one of the proposed lots.
Neighbors argue the smaller lots don’t fit with the historic nature of the lots, and petitioned the commission to reverse the staff decision.
Commissioners were split 4-4 on a pair of votes seeking to resolve the issue.
The commissioners eventually voted 5-3 to revisit the issue Dec. 9, hoping the absent ninth commissioner, Michael Walters, could join the discussion.
The primary division involves conflicting interpretations of the city’s land-development manual, which includes guidelines for determining whether a property can be divided.
City staff ruled the requested property split met requirements, but neighbors questioned whether the guidelines were properly applied.
“It feels very stretched to me when the city is trying to make this happen, and it’s really made us question why this is happening and why it seems so forced,” neighbor Melissa Murphy said of the staff’s determination.
Attorney John Beatty of Dunlap Seegar represented the neighbors, arguing some of the land-development manual language is ambiguous and city staff appeared to be changing the rules in comparing neighboring properties.
He said past rulings on the issue should be maintained.
“There is a clear formula that needs to be followed,” he said.
Allison Sosa, Community Development planning supervisor, said the formula was followed in determining whether the lot could be split, taking objection to implications that the staff sought to manipulate the outcome.
“Community Development was not looking for a way to make this lot split happen,” she said, adding that the review used the land-development manual as a guide.
She also said the size of the proposed lots would still fit with neighboring properties and be more than double the size of lots allowed elsewhere in the city.
“Those lots are still large lots by city standards,” she said.
Neighbors, however, argued that zoning in the Pill Hill neighborhood and surrounding areas provides a different standard, based on its history and its homes.
“The properties are not like the rest of the properties in Rochester,” said Barbara Daughery, who lives down the block from the Harwick House.
“Lots are large to be proportionate to the homes,” she added.
Sara Hylwa, who lives across the street from the Harwick House, said the proposed split would change the nature of the neighborhood.
“It will have a huge detrimental impact on our neighborhood,” she said.