Space issue: Rescue squad sues city over variance

Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad volunteers hope to demolish the north wing of their building and rebuild a five-bay garage with two stories of added space above it, along with other modifications. Photo courtesy of Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad volunteers hope to demolish the north wing of their building and rebuild a five-bay garage with two stories of added space above it, along with other modifications. Photo courtesy of Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad

The Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad hopes to increase the size of its building, which has been nestled on McIntire Road since 1964, to give volunteers more space to meet and make it possible to accommodate the increasing size of emergency vehicles.

“The trucks don’t fit,” says Chief Dayton Haugh. “It’s 2015.”

In May, CARS submitted an application to the Board of Zoning Appeals to request an increase of the maximum building height from 35′ to 45′ and a variance from the building setback to make several modifications including demolishing the north wing of the structure and rebuilding a five-bay garage with two stories of added space above it.

In recent years, Haugh says the number of volunteers has doubled to about 200. Vehicles the squad owns have nearly quadrupled, and the rescuers have to have somewhere to keep all of the ambulances, trucks and boats.

Members of the Board of Zoning Appeals granted a variance to CARS, however not the total amount of requested space (the proposed side and rear setbacks were granted, but the front setback going from 25′ to 0′ was set at 5′, and the building height was set at 40′). The board ruled that Mary Joy Scala, secretary to the city’s Entrance Corridor Review Board, must review and approve any future modifications.

CARS sits beside, but not within, an entrance corridor overlay district. In the petition for an appeal of the BZA’s variance decision, the volunteer rescuers say the board lacks the power and legal authority to designate petitioners’ property as a part of the entrance corridor and they maintain the board erroneously applied the law and imposed corridor design review obligations on city staff not authorized to perform them.

Read Brodhead, secretary of the BZA, says he can’t discuss pending litigation. (C-VILLE co-owner Bill Chapman is also a BZA board member.) Because the board is appointed by the city, CARS filed suit against the city.

According to Haugh, once the BZA approved the variance June 18, CARS appealed the ruling and the case went “to the back burner for a couple months,” he says. Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson says she cannot discuss the matter and a court date has not been set.

“We’re waiting to see if we can reach some sort of agreement with the city and we probably can do that,” Haugh says. “And then we can all dismiss this suit.”

The rescue squad is in a residentially zoned area, which is intended primarily for single-family use. In the suit, the city says CARS’ current use of the property is not permitted under the zoning ordinance, but also says the board’s ruling “was not within the authority of the BZA and was otherwise not appropriate,” adding that the board has no authority to grant a variance of setback or building height regulations or to authorize the expansion of a nonconforming structure.

The biggest issue with reaching a settlement, Haugh says, will be the city’s stance on nonconforming use.

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