The word is in from Atherton's town attorney: The size of Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis' house exceeds the town's zoning ordinance by about 129 square feet; she should not have been allowed to demolish and rebuild the portion of the house that was "nonconforming" because it was too close to the property lines under existing law; and the blame for those violations of the ordinance lies with the former building official, so no action by the town should be taken in the matter.
That summary by attorney Wynne Furth was submitted to the town June 15, ending a review of the question of whether the Lewis house at Alejandra and Emilie avenues was built lawfully, but not squelching criticism that the review was done internally rather than by an outside, independent investigator.
The summary is in the form of a four-page memorandum with two lengthy attachments that include copies of permits; a Planning Commission approval for a project, dated June 2000, that did not include the demolition of the nonconforming portion of the house; and a June 14, 2010, memo from Deputy Planner Lisa Costa Sanders stating that, because the building department later approved the tear-down of that portion, the house construction was not in compliance "with the plans approved by the Planning Commission."
In her memo, Ms. Furth notes that the building official who approved the plans, Mike Hood, is no longer with the town, and building plans are now reviewed by the planning department for zoning compliance before they undergo plan check for building code compliance.
If the Lewis house plans had been reviewed by the planning department for zoning compliance in 2002, she wrote, a number of elements would not have been allowed, including allowing the portion of the house that was too close to the property lines to be rebuilt in the same footprint. Also, she said, the allowable area for building would have been calculated differently, and "a reduction in area required."
The Lewis house, which was signed off by the building department in March 2006, has been the subject of public criticism by some residents since Ms. Lewis launched her campaign for a council seat in 2008.
After a recent public renewal in the push for the town to act on the allegations that the house was too big for the property and that it violated building law, Mayor Kathy McKeithen requested that the town hire an independent investigator to settle the matter once and for all.
Ms. Furth and City Manager Jerry Gruber decided to conduct the review in-house instead.