Jeremiah Horne of Ethan Jackson Investment, LLC, sought variances from the city’s zoning restrictions due to failure to meet set back requirements for structures he has built or is in the process of building at 312 Third Street N.E. and 409 Fourth Avenue N.E.
The 12 x 24 foot “tiny house” Horne built at 312 Third Street N.E. is complete, but does not meet set back issues on either side of the 288 square foot home, but does meet the required set back from the street. Horne is in the process of building another “tiny house” at 409 Fourth Avenue N.E. and it fails to meet the set back requirements from the street, but does meet set backs on either side.
Horne appeared before the Cairo Planning Commission Thursday night to make his case for the two variances.
The local businessman said the issue with failure to meet the set back requirements were “just oversights.” “I did not set out to build over the set back lines. If I were, I would have come in before hand and not after the fact,” Horne said.
Horne also shared with planning commissioners his reasoning for constructing these two “tiny houses.”
“I grew up with plenty of advantages and am blessed to have been, but I also have the underdog mentality. It makes me work harder,” Horne said.
The developer said that he sees many in this community who work hard, but cannot afford decent housing. Particularly concerning, he said, are the elderly on fixed incomes and low wage earners.
“It’s a big concern, and I only see the problem getting bigger down the road. I built these two houses as a test to see if it is a solution to two problems. The first problems is, can housing be developed for profit without government funding or assistance and targeted to the specific underdogs in our system that I mention. Number two, from the perspective of the underdog, can low wage earners afford to live in a nice, well-built, efficient home, pay rent and utilities and still have money left over to save. Those are the two problems I have in mind that I’m trying to solve and that I’m hoping to solve for Cairo and Grady County,” Horne said.
The local businessman said he has been planning for two to three years to come before the planning commission with a “special, out-of-the-box project.”
“I didn’t anticipate having to come before you for an oversight on set back issues. I apologize for my role in the set backs. If possible for you to see in the prism of what I’m trying to accomplish long term, I would appreciate that attitude,” Horne said.
He also solicited the planning commissioners’ support in being part of the solution for housing issues in the community.
Planning Commissioner Tom Brown told Horne he understood the big picture of what he was trying to accomplish, but he questioned how the house on Third Street N.E. could be completed before the set back issues were discovered.
“How did it happen?” Brown asked.
Horne said that the city code has provisions in the zoning ordinance for lots like his on Third Street, which are considered substandard lots due to their size. Under the city code is a 65 percent rule. According to Horne, he applied the 65 percent rule to the set back requirements, which City of Cairo Building Official Brian Hayes says does not apply.
As to the set back issue on Fourth Avenue, Horne said he was not involved in the staking out of the structure. “I have no defense there. I just didn’t make sure it was right,” he said.
Planning Commissioner Tom Brown suggested that Horne could acquire two feet of property from the property owners on either side of his Third Street residence and resolve the set back issues. However, Horne said the property on both sides was heir property and would be impossible to obtain.
Brown then told Horne the Fourth Avenue structure, which has the plumbing only roughed-in, could be moved back 10 feet “pretty easy.”
Horne said it would be a “financial blow” to have to relocate the Fourth Avenue structure.
“It would be easier to move than the one that is already built,” Planning Commissioner Tom Brown said. He added, “We’re not here to cause you a financial burden, but that’s irrelevant to the issue. If we grant a variance, we are, in effect, changing the whole zoning laws for the city of Cairo. The next person who doesn’t do what they are supposed to do will say they just made a mistake and we will have to issue them a variance too.”
Cairo Mayor Bobby Burns also attended the public hearing Thursday night and requested to address the planning commissioners. The mayor said that the building permit issued to Horne was for a 12 x 20 square foot structure, but what ended up being built was a 12 x 24 square foot structure. “Was a request made to extend it four feet or was it just done arbitrarily. By extending it, it put it outside the building lines. However, it’s Fourth Avenue that concerns me more. It is sitting so close to the street a visual inspection by the city should have caught it, in my humble opinion. It’s right at the street. I’m here primarily to recommend you consider, as a board, adding provisions to the ordinance to require a site plot plan or a construction plot plan so when someone goes to build a house the lot will be surveyed and the house will be plotted on the survey. That would alleviate this problem. It is an added expense, which I don’t agree with, but additional rules are required when the original rules are broken,” the mayor said.
Building Official Hayes said that such a requirement is placed on commercial developments, and he said it was within his authority to require site plans for residential development. “Maybe I should have requested it on this,” Hayes said.
Planning commissioner Tom Brown offered a motion to deny the variance request for the Fourth Avenue property and Planning commissioner Larry Brown seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.
With regard to the Third Street property, Planning commissioner Tom Brown asked Horne if the mayor’s assertions were correct. According to Horne, he did submit a plan for a 12 x 20 foot structure “informally” and he discussed it with Hayes, who suggested to meet minimum room sizes it should be adjusted to 12 x 24.
“I would have preferred to build the 12 x 20, but I was doing what I was told,” Horne said.
Hayes told planning commissioners he remembered talking with Horne about a 12 x 20 foot structure.
“If we had a misunderstanding, I will shoulder the blame, but the mayor is absolutely false. I did not go out on the sly and build a 12 x 24. If I intended to be devious, I would have submitted a plan for a 12 x 24 and built a 12 x 20,” Horne said.
Horne said he did not want to do anything in the dark and preferred to do business in the daylight. “I’m exceedingly proud of this project and I absolutely do not want to do anything at all with the lights off,” he stated.
“I just want you to understand that this body is not here to cause you any undue hardship, but it is our duty to enforce the regulations. I understand where you are coming from. Entrepreneurs like you are what this country is built on. However, we are looking after the taxpayers and what we are assigned to do,” Planning Commissioner Tom Brown said.
Horne said it was not his intent to “throw anyone under the bus” but he reminded the planning commissioners that he could have have poured footers without the city’s permission to put them there. “We all should have caught it. I’m not here to blame anybody. I have to work with everybody under this roof,” Horne said.
Horne went on to say that his hand was not the only hand in the mistake, but that he would be the only one paying to correct the mistake.
“The city has a hand in this, too,” he stated.
Planning commissioner Tom Brown offered a motion to deny the variance for the Third Street property, but the motion died for lack of a second. Planning commissioner Larry Simmons then offered a motion to approve the variance and commissioner Larry Brown seconded the motion. Vice Chairman James Gerth joined Brown and Simmons in voting to approve the variance with Tom Brown voting against. Chairman Ed Gravenstein was absent Thursday night.
Horne asked the planning commissioners to reconsider the vote on the Fourth Avenue variance due to the fact that the city had erred too, but Planning commissioner Tom Brown said, “You got half of what you wanted.”
Vice Chairman Gerth recommended to Building Official Hayes that going forward site plot plans be required for all residential development moving forward. He also requested the planning commissioners think about what should be considered a “tiny house” and in what zoning classifications they should be allowed to be constructed so that the group could discuss the matter at its next meeting and issue a recommendation to the city council.
In other business last week, the planning commission approved a conditional use request for property at 210 Second Avenue S.E. contingent on the property being purchased from Capital City Bank. According to Chip Wells of Capital City Bank, the potential buyer wishes to convert the property into a climate-controlled storage facility.