By Cecilia Chan GSN Managing Editor
Lanny Hair had had multiple heart attacks and is not in the best of health.
He and his wife want to move from west Phoenix closer to their son Jason Hair, who lives in southeast Gilbert in a semi-rural neighborhood of homes on acre-plus lots.
The Hairs got approval from the town’s zoning administrator in June to build a second home on the family’s 1.25-acre property on 142nd Street near Lindsay and Ray roads. The administrator based the decision on four findings, including that the secondary dwelling won’t impact the neighboring uses or the community in general and the proposed use conforms with the General Plan.
That same day, backyard neighbor Matt Dawson filed an appeal, citing a number of concerns – such as a second home would exceed the lot coverage, reduce property values for nearby homes and that the second home in the future could become a rental.
Planner Stephanie Bubenheim said even accounting for the main house with carport, a shed, an accessory garage and a cabana, the addition of a second home would not exceed the maximum lot coverage allowed.
Also, there was no evidence to support the claim that property values would fall, and town code allows for any secondary dwelling to be used to a rental, she said.
In short, she said, there was no violation of town code.
The issue landed before Gilbert Planning Commission last week with Dawson pleading his case.
“I’ve lived here nearly 30 years,” the retired police officer said. “I built my home for a rural lifestyle.”
He said he lost his view when Jason Hair moved in and built a garage, big enough for an RV.
Now that the family wants to build the second home next to the garage, he said, “Quite frankly, it’s ridiculous. It will make an eyesore worse.”
Dawson also questioned the need for a 5,000-square-foot-plus house for an elderly couple.
The house would have three bedrooms, 1.5-bathrooms, a full kitchen, a living room, garage, two covered porches and a basement that includes one bedroom and one bathroom. The home would share the same electric meter with the main house.
Staff said the total first floor under roof amounts to about 3,520 square feet while the basement comes to approximately 2,112 square feet.
Dawson said circumstances change in that people could lose their jobs, marriages could end in divorce and the Hair property end up getting sold to an investor who would rent out the two large homes.
And if that were to happen, Dawson said it was a good chance there would be multiple people living in each home, which would result in loud parties and noise complaints.
In his more than 24 years as a police officer, he’s been to neighborhoods where people complained about loud parties and where there was drug use.
“No one has two homes on a 1-acre lot,” Dawson said. “If you want a second home, sell your piece, go out and buy two acres and build a second home, or add on to the existing home or build a smaller home.
“Mr. Hair has no care or concern for his neighbors,” he added. “There’s a very good chance if you allow this what will stop people from doing this and this becomes a subdivision. The bottom line is we value what we have on our property. I don’t like the fact someone can come in and build two homes on a single lot.”
Lanny Hair said the property is in a family trust and there is no plan to sell or rent.
“I want to address the outright lies and falsehood spread around the neighborhood,” he said at the public meeting. “Before I’ve even moved into the neighborhood I am already the bad guy.”
Hair said his son has lived on the property for five years and there have been no parties and if there were any drugs found on site, they would be Geritol and his medication.
He said Dawson also can rent his house and throw wild parties.
“Accusations from a former policeman are offensive,” Hair said.
Hair said neighbors have been told the family will split the lot into two lots and sell one, ruining the personality of the neighborhood.
He said the family could have opted for a different type of dwelling on site but that would mean no basement or a full kitchen. He said the basement would also include a playroom for his grandchildren and space to store antiques.
“I have no clandestine plan to turn it into a meth lab,” he said sarcastically.
The extra bedrooms are needed for visiting family members and perhaps down the road a full-time caregiver for him and his wife, Hair said.
He countered Dawson’s claim there were no nearby properties with two homes. He said according to Google map, there are nine properties on two streets nearby with a secondary structure or guest home.
He also said his son’s garage was more attractive than Dawson’s horse stall and utility truck, which were in view of his son’s window. “He lives in a glass house and shouldn’t be throwing rocks,” Hair said.
He said there was bad blood between Dawson and his son with Dawson’s father-in-law coming over and complaining about a shed Jason Hair put up for his lawnmower. “There’s nothing we can do on the property that won’t upset Mr. Dawson,” he said.
Commissioner Joshua Oehler asked why the Hairs didn’t consider adding on to the existing home instead.
Hair explained the swimming pool would need to be eliminated for an addition but the main reason is he didn’t want to infringe on his son and his family.
“I don’t think having in-laws that close is a good idea,” Hair said. “It’s the best use of the property because the land we are using is not being used other than for a lawn.”
Oehler said in reviewing the site plan, it looked like there was room to add onto the main house.
Five other neighbors spoke out against the administrative-use permit. Staff also received emails and phone calls of concern from residents in that neighborhood.
Ben Mellberg said a second house would add to the density and he was worried the lot may split in the future.
According to staff, the property cannot be split into two separate parcels in the future because the two lots would not meet the requirements of minimum-lot size within the town’s current SF-43 zoning district.
Becky Brandt said the concern was the homes becoming rentals if the Hairs leave or sell.
Brandt said when she, her father and sister – who is married to Dawson – moved to the neighborhood, they each brought property and never considered building an additional home on the land to accommodate family members.
She said there are other options and if Jason Hair wanted to take care of his parents, he should do so without disrupting the lifestyle neighbors have known for so many years.
Dawson’s wife, Cassandra, who works in real estate, argued people who move out there do so to get away from small lots and what the Hairs were allowed to do would deter potential home buyers.
She noted all the structures already on the Hairs’ property and on top of that a 5,600-square-foot second home.
“They have no respect for the land’s character or rural lifestyle,” she said.
Oehler said he has a problem with the fact that it’s a single-family lot and with the addition of a second home, the property will then always be two households.
He said he felt with the help of a design professional, the Hairs can add onto the main house instead and the family’s proposal was more of a want than a need.
“There are other ways to work with your neighbors and not ask for this kind of permit,” he said.
Oehler suggested continuing the matter to give both sides time to work on a compromise
Commissioner David Cavanee citing his past experience as a zoning officer, said it was not good to adjudicate this issue based on perceived future use. He said he didn’t see any violations by the Hairs in seeking to build a second home on site.
“I can see both sides of the coin,” Commissioner Carl Bloomfield said, citing the need to protect property rights.
“I hate to see this kind of thing happen in a neighborhood,” he said. Commissioner Brian Johns suggested the Hairs hire a professional to design a structure that would fit in with the neighborhood.
Commissioner Greg Froehlich said what the Hairs requested is not inconsistent with the neighborhood. Chairman Kristopher Sippel acknowledged it was a difficult decision for the board to make.
But Cavenee made the motion to uphold the decision granting the Hairs the permit, seconded by Froehlich.
The motion passed on a 5-2 vote with Oehler and Johns opposed.
But the Hairs can’t begin to build just yet because Dawson can turn to the courts for relief.
Dawson declined comment after the hearing and did not return a call the next day for comment on what he plans to do.
Generally under state statute, a person aggrieved by a decision made by a legislative body or board has 30 days to file a challenge in Superior Court. Filing the complaint, however does not stay decision but the court may grant a stay or modify it.