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Playhouse Under Fire For Code Violations

POSTED October 26, 2011 9:27 a.m.

One Oakdale resident has a tough decision to make: re-build the playhouse he created for his kids or appeal to City Council. The playhouse is eight inches too high to meet Oakdale City zoning codes. The resident appealed the code violation at the Oct. 19 Oakdale Planning Commission meeting, but it was denied by a 2 to 2 vote.

The play structure in question is a 15 foot, eight inch tall playhouse in the back yard of a residence on Ranger Court. It has two child-sized stories and sits 3.5 feet from the interior side yard and 4.5 feet from the rear yard. Oakdale zoning code permits an accessory building over 15 feet tall only if it meets normal building setbacks for the zone it is located in. By code, the playhouse must be set back 20 feet from the rear yard and 10 feet from the side-yard property line. The resident appealed to the Planning Commission to be exempt from the code.

The lot where the playhouse is located is considered to have a unique shape because it accommodates the curve of a cul-de-sac. It is also two feet higher in grade than the surrounding properties, making the playhouse look taller than it actually is. Staff analysis of the appeal said that the house is “built to accommodate children with a small front door, a six-foot high first floor... with a pitch roof that has some “gingerbread” elements to the roofline. Miniature windows are located around the first and second floor of the playhouse. The building is painted a light earth-tone color and is surrounded with palm trees and deciduous trees.”

A complaint was filed against the playhouse for privacy reasons due to the playhouse's height. The property owner has agreed to screen the playhouse balcony to give more privacy to neighbors. City staff suggested that if the roof of the playhouse were lowered eight inches and the structure moved 1.5 feet it would meet all zoning codes. However, the slight changes would not make much of a difference as far as visual impact and privacy is concerned.

Furthermore, the building would need more modifications to meet building and fire codes, including the addition of a fire wall and a demonstration that the foundation is structurally sound. The resident would need a building permit to make any modifications to the playhouse. The zoning code which this building violates is in place to provide a fire break between structures, keep accessory buildings out of utility easements, and allow access in case of emergencies. The home owner was not aware that he would need a permit to build a playhouse in his back yard.

Planning Commission members voted 2-2 on the issue of approving the appeal, leaving the structure as-is and forgiving the height. Commissioner Lupe Aguilera was absent and did not vote. Colleen Andersen, lieutenant and administrative secretary for the commission, explained that in the case of a tie vote the appeal is automatically denied. She said that the home owner has 10 days to appeal the decision to the Oakdale City Council.

“At this time no appeal has been filed,” Andersen said.

If the resident does not appeal the decision he can either apply for a building permit and make all necessary changes to comply with zoning and building codes, or the playhouse will have to be removed.

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