Paradise Valley is continuing its discussion on the building pad portion of code with the Town Council examining potential changes to the section.
The Town Council discussed at its May 14 meeting the section of code in response to confusion and complaints from residents on home heights and construction practices for some homes. This was the second discussion on the matter with council hearing another report on Jan. 23.
While council didn’t render an official discussion, it did direct staff to craft a list of potential code changes for the Planning Commission to explore.
Some points included clarifying definitions and interpretations; building height certification, finished floor elevation certification and pad elevation certification coming earlier in the process; and reviewing the use of fill material for areas outside of the pad such as pools or patios.
Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner also requested technical clarifications on the town’s interpretation of the code, such as what has been codified and what the interpretations have been over the years, before sending a list to the Planning Commission.
“To me, that sounds maybe like a good idea also so that there’s not any crossing of wires and that everyone is on the same page on what is going to be looked at,” he said during the meeting.
“To me, that sounds like a short study session pretty much just on the list that’s going back plus the technical clarifications which may lend itself to whether we want staff or the commission to think about any definitional questions that may be a little unclear based on what we have in the code right now or whether the council wants to keep that at an administrative level if that’s where it’s been, historically.”
Town Engineer Paul Mood gave an overarching presentation on the code, its interpretation and some potential impacts of a code change. His presentation is in response to residents who question how the town determines building pad heights and what effects it has on the overall height.
In section five of the code, called Building and Construction, it outlines grading plans and specifics on the building pad and other fill.
Town code, per staff’s interpretation, allows for at most 2 feet of earthen fill or at least 1 foot above the surface water elevation of the 100-year flood, a flood in a land area with a 1% probability of being equaled or exceeded in any given year. The town defines earthen materials such as natural dirt, rocks or a combination of the two.
In the case of a sloped lot, builders can further add on top of the pad with non-earthen materials to help level the land, per staff’s interpretation. Staff have also interpreted the code to mean there is no limit to the non-earthen fill.
Both the pad and the non-earthen fill do not increase the height of the house. The town allows for home heights of 24 feet from the lowest natural grade of the house.
Mr. Mood said this has been the staff’s interpretation of the code for as long as he could remember and believes it dates as far back as 30 years.
Some Paradise Valley homebuilders choose to build homes on the mountain, resulting in a non-earthen wedge such as a two-sack slurry or a retaining wall to keep the home above the lowest natural grade. Others like to build into the mountain, setting up less of a wedge and a lower finished floor level.
Both options are allowable under staff’s interpretation of the code, Mr. Mood said. Lowering a pad to follow the natural contour of the land could potentially effect views from a finished floor height.
Mr. Mood presented several potential options such as removing the maximum 2-foot earthen fill requirement and setting up a finished floor height of 3 feet above the natural grade.
Councilmember Paul Dembow said he wasn’t a fan of this restriction because of the potential impact it could have on views.
“Changing the inside of the height of the house is something that I can see plenty of people taking umbrage,” he said during the meeting.
“If you have a short person who needs to have an elevated view within their house, it wouldn’t feel very good if they couldn’t raise it that extra foot higher so they can get that view. I just thinking stealing those views if somebody bought their house based on that is something I didn’t hear anybody supporting, changing something that somebody has had a right to do and has had a right to do for the past 30 years.”
Councilmember Scott Moore said in his experience, he’s heard conflicting interpretations on what exactly constitutes a pad or what exactly is fill.
“So that’s our clarification we’re trying to reestablish and what we’re looking at here,” he said. “As we move forward with that, I would like to have our engineering department make that clarification because I think that’s an important clarification to make.”