Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Panhandle Lots

A panhandle lot is a lot that is set back from the street, behind other houses, and only accessable via a long narrow drive. Imagine the main lot with a house, is the pan, and the long drive is the panhandle. In an predominantly built area, like Amberley, where some homeowners own large lots, panhandle lots may be the only area in which to build a new house. Typically, they are created when an existing homeowner sells a large lot and the new owner decides to subdivide the lot into two or more lots. Panhandle lots allow a developer to put an additional lot onto an exisiting property without building a new road. Panhandle lots can consist of one single lot with a single home or a series of new lots and homes, essentially creating a new street or drive behind the original street. Each new house would share one long driveway and the address, typically, is on the main street.

Earlier this year, The Board of Zoning Appeals heard applications from two developers over the course of nearly as many months who each wanted permission to create panhandle lots on property they had just purchased. Each property was in excess of two acres, thus meeting the minimum requirement for one acre housing lots in property zoned Residence "A." Both properties were located in deadend or cul-de-sac streets, and both were heavily wooded in the rear. Neither property owner presented a detailed plan to the BZA for the yet-to-be-built homes. Both applications were contested by existing neighbors and homeowners who stated that they did not desire the extra traffic from construction vehicles, additional curb cuts to create a drive, and a new house to be built in their backyards. Yet, each case was decided differently, primarily due to Amberley's current Zoning Code which does not provide any guidance for deciding on these type of lots. 

The trend for older communities is to restrict panhandle lots, allowing them only when detailed plans are presented to the BZA. This protects existing homeowners who were not expecting to have to share their backyard with a new homeowner's front yard. It also protects the integrity of older neighborhoods and the rural ambiance that comes from living in an area with larger lots and mature trees. Additionally, it puts potential buyers on notice that they may not be able to subdivide their property if it will result in a panhandle lot without first having their detailed plans scrutinized by the BZA. 

Amberley's Planning Commission has been examing new legislation that addresses this issue and will be presenting it to Council in the coming months. Please subscribe to our Village webpage at AmberleyVillage.org if you want to be notified of the public hearing for this ordinance.