From time to time we receive letters from neighbors who are curious about one thing or another.  We thought it might be useful and fun to feature a few here in the hope that the Q & A might be useful for others.  If you have a question you’d like to ask, please send it to [email protected]

Q: I have just driven by a new house under construction at (address redacted). Every time I see this type of construction, the same questions come into my mind:  Who approves a huge and very tall new building such as this?  Is it zoning? Is it a city department that I am unfamiliar with?  Are there rules covering what may be built on a lot such as this… the former site of a lovely older ranch home, which sat there very comfortably and was totally appropriate for neighborhood…. unlike the new construction.  Should there be some kind of oversight to control the over large replacements in Hilltop, which has already lost some lovely, older homes?

A:  The answer you seek is complicated.  I’ll tackle the easy part first:  The type of house one may build in Hilltop is based on both zoning and building specifications.  Most of Hilltop is zoned for single family detached units, typically E-SU-DS or DX and E-SU-G.  The new house in question is E-SU-G, meaning urban edge, single unit, minimum 9000 sq.ft. lot.  So if the property owner has a 9000 foot lot, they can build a single family detached unit.  The 9000 sq. ft. minimum is attached because it is in the Hilltop Heritage area, where a group of neighbors many years ago successfully prevented lot-splitting by getting a 9000 foot minimum for a single family home in a section of the neighborhood between 3rd ave and Bayaud and Alameda.  In other areas of Hilltop, the minimum lot size for a single family home is 6000 sq. ft.  The height limit in Hilltop is 2 1/2 stories tall (about 35 feet).  That is, the third story can cover only half the floor area of the first story or thereabouts.

The setbacks are restricted by building code.  Building code has lots of rules, i.e. placement of AC’s, roof requirements, garages, etc.  The property in question has to meet the setbacks for that area, and the building inspectors enforce those.

Regarding design oversight, a more complicated answer:  Some neighborhoods, Crestmoor and Lowry for example, have Design Review requirements and a design review committee to which building plans are submitted for approval.  These neighborhoods are HOA’s, homeowner associations, and residents pay monthly fees to the HOA.  Our neighborhood has a voluntary association of residents, an independent streak and a history of a welcoming a variety of house styles over the span of its growth from the Italianate mansions and brick Tudors of the 1920s and 30s to split-level and ranch homes of the 1940s and 50s and everything in between and now these new architectural styles. The late Alice Bakemeier, wrote a lovely book about the neighborhood’s history and architecture that unfortunately is no longer in print but can be checked out at DPL or I am happy to lend my copy if you promise to return it!  The Cranmer Park/Hilltop Civic Association does not have a design review policy or function and my gut feeling is that a proposal to create one would be resoundly rejected by the neighborhood.

I feel confident telling you our board of directors is filled with neighbors who passionate about Hilltop and devote a good deal of their time and energy to working on neighborhood issues we are able to affect.  

Wende Reoch, Cranmer Park/Hilltop Civic Association