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School Board Member Restarts Carriage House Fight

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The city issued a notice of violation to Jonathan and Norma Murdoch-Kitt for renting out the carriage house behind their Seminary Avenue house. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • The city issued a notice of violation to Jonathan and Norma Murdoch-Kitt for renting out the carriage house behind their Seminary Avenue house.

Seminary Avenue residents are sparring over the proper use of carriage houses again.

School Board member Norma Murdoch-Kitt and her husband, lawyer Jonathan Murdoch-Kitt, want the city's permission to keep renting out the top floor of their carriage house — 14 years after city officials first told them they weren't allowed to.

The Murdoch-Kitts bought their 18-room mansion, which came with the two-story carriage house, in 1986. When the Murdoch-Kitts were seeking to refinance in January 1998, their lawyer asked the city for a letter confirming that they were adhering to the zoning laws. They didn't get it. Instead, the city fired back a letter saying the couple needed to apply for a special-use permit.

The matter rested until 2010, when a complaint by a neighbor goaded the city to remind the Murdoch-Kitts that their carriage house apartment wasn't legal. In May the city officially cited them for a zoning violation. In November the couple applied for the special-use permit they needed, including five supportive letters from neighbors who say they've had no problems with the situation.

City planners weren't sympathetic. Using the carriage house as a residence has been illegal since Union Theological Seminary sold the property in 1975, "and you have had the benefit of that use since your purchase of the property in 1986," senior planner Jeff Eastman notes in a Dec. 7 letter to Jonathan Murdoch-Kitt.

"Staff further finds that the granting of the special use permit would constitute a precedent, which could in turn lead to the conversion of other accessory structures in the Ginter Park neighborhood for multifamily use." That "would be detrimental to the future of the neighborhood," Eastman says.

In November 2010, next-door neighbors to the Murdoch-Kitts, Kevin Dodson and Rebecca Wright-Dodson, sought a permit to rent out four apartments in their carriage house — which at 2,800 square feet is larger than many houses. The ensuing debate divided the neighborhood. The Murdoch-Kitts spoke in support of the Dodsons. In the end, council approved the Dodsons' request.

The city Planning Commission is scheduled to consider the Murdoch-Kitts' application at its March 19 meeting. Then the matter will be decided by City Council.

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