Richard Day watched with dismay when the small one-story house next door, typical of many in Chevy Chase, was razed and replaced by a large two-story house.
The new house, with faux clapboard siding painted yellow, looks nothing like the other houses on Cochran Road, which are mostly rather modest-sized, one- and two-story brick and stone houses.
Day, who lives at 357 Cochran, said he went from feeling like he had a little room around him to feeling like “you have someone standing on your shoulder.”
In recent years, residents of the Chevy Chase neighborhood have watched a worrisome trend as tear-downs and additions have begun to alter the neighborhood’s identity.
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So the neighborhood is doing something about it.
On Thursday, after months of research by Chevy Chase residents, the Planning Commission agreed to work with the neighborhood on creating a zoning “overlay” to help protect the look of the area.
“With the trees, the rhythm and beauty of the architecture of the houses, there’s a visual continuity in the neighborhood that’s being interrupted,” said Brad Hawkins, chairman of the neighborhood committee that worked on the overlay. “The fear is over time it will evaporate altogether.”
Two years ago, the Chevy Chase Neighborhood Association began to pursue the new zoning designation for Chevy Chase called neighborhood design overlay, or ND-1.
Urban County Council adopted the neighborhood design overlay in 2002 to help neighborhoods preserve their beauty and character. Greenbrier is the only neighborhood to have an ND-1 overlay
The ordinance provides 15 possible design guidelines. Chevy Chase chose seven guidelines that address such issues as minimum rear yard setback, maximum building height and maximum garage size.
Neighborhood volunteers spent two years doing an architectural survey of neighborhood buildings. Then they held 16 neighborhood meetings, focus groups and solicited neighborhood input.
“What ND-1 does is gives neighborhoods a chance to come together and decide, very democratically, how they want their neighborhood to develop going forward,” Hawkins said.
“ND-1 offers some protection, but not as much as historic zoning,” said Traci Wade, a senior zoning planner for the city.
In a historic district, exterior changes to a house must be approved by the Division of Historic Preservation and the Board of Architectural Review.
With ND-1, owners submit a building or addition plan to the city. “If it’s within the guidelines, they will issue a permit,” Hawkins said. If not, the owner will be asked to make changes in the design so it does comply.
“These guidelines are not subjective according to the whim of a board,” Hawkins said. “These are measurable standards. With a tape measure and carpenters square, you can measure and know if you comply.”
Owners can still have a generous-size house or a generous-size addition.
However, it does not permit a super-size McMansion. “There are lots of places in Lexington to find 5,000 square foot homes. if that is what you desire,” Hawkins said.
Guidelines are not “cost prohibitive or creative-prohibitive,” Hawkins said. “It will cause people to pause and think before they add on and change their property.”
The guidelines give property owners some assurance that somebody can’t come in and add a big-box addition or construct a huge house.
The Planning Commission has agreed to become the applicant to initiate ND-1 zoning for Chevy Chase.
Commission member Linda Godfrey called the Chevy Chase neighborhood report laying the foundation for the case to receive ND-1 zoning “the most comprehensive, best plan we have ever been presented with from a neighborhood.”
The city’s planning staff must come up with recommendations on the proposed zone change, which must be approved by the Planning Commission. The Urban County Council must give final approval.