CITY HALL — Amid a zoning dispute with neighbors, the family of a 13-year-old girl who uses a wheelchair will have to wait more than a month to learn if they can add a garage to their historic home.
Bill Deakin and Lisa Diehlmann bought a home in the 1800 block of North Lincoln Avenue — part of the Old Town Triangle Landmark District — in October 2015 and had planned to add an attached garage to accommodate the needs of their daughter. But their neighbors, some of who are members of the Old Town Triangle Association, have opposed the move, saying it could damage the historical integrity of the area and would violate the district’s rules.
The family had hoped to have a decision on the matter at a Friday meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals, but the board chairman ended up continuing the case until Dec. 21.
The continuance came after Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) asked for the delay, a move that was supported by the association’s lawyer, Amy Kuson. Smith told the board she hoped a continuance would give the neighbors more time to come to an agreement and avoid legal action.
Deakin and Diehlmann’s attorney opposed the continuance, and Diehlmann said it was “incredibly disappointing.”
The board’s chairman, Blake Sercye, questioned why the sides would come to an agreement by the December deadline when they haven’t been able to find common ground through months of debate. He said he’ll make a decision in the matter at the Dec. 21 meeting no matter what.
“There’s always hope” the two sides will forge an agreement by then, Diehlmann said. But she also said the association had been “unwilling to compromise” and had offered the family solutions they didn’t think would work, like building the garage underground.
The association’s actions made Diehlmann feel like “it’s just not a neighborhood for everybody,” she said. “It’s only a neighborhood for a select few.”
Alan Lougee, a member of the Old Town Triangle Association, told the board during the hearing that he thinks “the other side hasn’t been forthcoming” but that he’d work with them to come to an agreement before the next meeting. He told Sercye he’d meet with Diehlmann and Deakin’s family to see what they can work out.
About 11 neighbors sent the city letters in opposition to the project. Six neighbors had signed up to speak at the Friday meeting in opposition of the proposal, though they ultimately weren’t called upon since the continuance was granted.
Diehlmann and Deakin’s daughter, who they asked not to be named, said the process of trying to get the garage approved has been “a tad bit stressful.”
“It’s been very eye-opening,” said the teen, who has a degenerative condition. “… I never expected this kind of pushback.”
The girl is now writing a play about the experience for her school’s Diversity Week in January. The play will mirror what she and her family have gone through as they tried to make their new home accessible for her, she said. As for the ending: She said she’ll know that when the board makes a decision in December.
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