On Tuesday, John LoGrande found out he will not have to tear his house down. "I do feel quite a bit of relief," he said after the meeting.
Two years ago, LoGrande applied for a permit to build a detached garage on his property. While the recently approved garage meets county guidelines, his house does not. During the permitting process, LoGrande found that his house, which is in the floodplain of the Potomac River, sits seven inches too low to satisfy county regulations. However, it meets federal guidelines.
The house was built about 25 years ago, and county staff have been unable to determine if the house was built too low, or if it has settled. "There is no record of what happened," said Barbara Byron of the Department of Planning and Zoning.
During the permitting process for the garage, county staff had told LoGrande that he would either have to build a berm around his house, somehow raise the house by seven inches, or tear it down, add seven inches of dirt and rebuild the house.
The other alternative would be to get a variance from the Board of Zoning Appeals. The board, however, rarely grants variances in the light of a Virginia Supreme Court decision known as the Cochran Case. That case stated that if there is any possible use of the property taken as a whole, the board may not grant a variance.
Cochran dealt with cases which wanted to build something new, pointed out LoGrande's attorney, Michael Holm. "The LoGrande's are fighting to be able to continue to live in their home," he said during the board's Jan. 31 meeting. "All the variance would do is grant the status quo."
"I think this is a very, very unusual case," said Paul Hammack, vice chair of the Board of Zoning Appeals. He acknowledged that Cochran may not exactly apply to this situation. "This is really factually different from those cases," he said. "If this variance isn't granted, the alternatives for the LoGrande's are extreme."
The board voted to grant LoGrande a variance 6-0. Board member Jim Hart recused himself citing a working relationship with Holm. LoGrande will be able to keep living in the house he bought in 1999. He will not be required to build the berm or take any other measures. He will be able to build the garage.
"I think they wanted to get it right," LoGrande said after the meeting.