Property values are threatened! The Museum District Association's bylaws have been violated! The historic integrity of the Upper Fan is under siege! Over a carport? Not just any carport, but one that fronts Stuart Avenue and opens to the street, not the back alley as most neighborhood garages and residential parking spaces do. Roberta Crowell decided earlier this summer to build it next to her house, in the 3300 block, instead of the back alley because she didn't want to disturb a sprawling hackberry tree. She got the necessary permits from the city. She told her immediate neighbors. The contractor laid the concrete foundation and graded it with gravel. And the city agreed to cut the curb to allow cars to park there. Then all hell broke loose. E-mails. A note left on the windshield. Three-page anti-carport pamphlets. The Museum District Association brass started nosing around the property, asking questions. No one else is building carports, so why is she? Why not move it to the back? Why not just move altogether and build all the carports she wants in Hanover County? “People are upset about this,” says Robert Orlowski, head of zoning for the association. “The curb cut is going to take 23 feet and give exclusive views for her. Who is this person and why is the city bending over so far backwards to approve something that nobody else has?” Crowell has been living on Stuart for six years, and runs a small business selling health and beauty products from her home (Product spotlight: Try Vivix Cellular Anti-Aging Tonic, $100). She's from Georgia, and grew up around quaint little carports. This one has already cost her $25,000. It'll have stately columns that match those on her front porch, and the roof will be consistent with the house. Because it's not a “building structure” as defined by city code, apparently the carport didn't need approval from the Museum District Association, which oversees all new accessory-building designs in the district. So the association filed a zoning appeal, which caused the city to issue a stop-work order on the carport in July. It's about the historic integrity of the neighborhood, says local developer Ron Friedman, who attended last week's hearing. “This kind of development ruins historic neighborhoods,” he says. “She's not going to live forever.” In other words, the carport will still be there long after she dies, continuing to fray the historic fabric for generations. To no avail. Last week, the Board of Zoning Appeals ruled the association had no standing to file an appeal. Such filings must come from a nearby property owner. But it's not over. After the hearing, City Councilman Bruce Tyler rallied the troops in the hallway. Tyler's talking to the city attorney to find out if he has legal standing to challenge the carport. Until then, the carport lives. It's not necessarily a happy life. Rumors are incessant, including one that Crowell is an Amway distributor (she isn't). Early last week, Crowell found a note on a torn piece of orange paper in her windshield: “Why don't you think of the neighborhood and not just yourself,” it scolded. “It made me think,” Crowell says, “‘What adult could be so childish?’”
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