Board of Con­struc­tion Ap­peals talks walls

The Weekly Vista - - News - KEITH BRYANT kbryant@nwadg.com

Bella Vista’s Board of Con­struc­tion Ap­peals met March 14 and dis­cussed po­ten­tial code re­vi­sions for stem, foun­da­tion and re­tain­ing walls.

Se­nior plan­ner Jen­nifer Bon­ner said that the code cur­rently views in­de­pen­dent re­tain­ing walls and house foun­da­tions dif­fer­ently. She looked at the dif­fer­ing re­quire­ments with build­ing in­spec­tor Troy Enochs.

Ad­just­ing this spe­cific part of code, Bon­ner said, could af­fect other parts of the city code, but those can be mod­i­fied once this is­sue is solved.

In­spec­tor Enochs said that, be­cause the city is full of hills and val­leys, homes are of­ten built on slopes, with very tall walls as part of the foun­da­tion. At this point, he said, the re­quire­ments are lax enough, even in com­par­i­son to a re­tain­ing wall built in the mid­dle of the yard, that a lot of these walls are sim­ply not built to the stan­dards he’d like to see.

“The ground moves so much here,” he said. “Within a few years you can come back and look at the cracks in the cin­der blocks.”

Seis­mic ac­tiv­ity, he said, is one con­cern, but so are high winds. A tor­nado, he said, could more eas­ily top­ple a build­ing with a poorly-built wall in its foun­da­tion.

A sin­gle fam­ily get­ting hurt be­cause of this, he said, would be a sig­nif­i­cant is­sue. Re­vis­ing the code, he said, could help to avoid prob­lems down the road.

Board mem­ber Manuel “Wade” Ha­gan said that he shopped around a great deal be­fore he bought a home, and he de­cided not to bother with any prop­er­ties with block foun­da­tions.

“Al­most ev­ery foun­da­tion I looked at was cracked,” Ha­gan said.

Chair­man Gary Young said that he’d like to see any wall taller than eight to 10 feet re­quire en­gi­neer­ing, a re­in­forced foun­da­tion and an­chor­ing at the top. More­over, he said, blocks need to be filled.

“Granted, it costs a lit­tle more for the de­vel­oper of that prop­erty,” he said. “But in the long haul, you end up with less prob­lems.”

Board mem­ber Tim Hull said that he was wor­ried about in­creas­ing costs. If this is something ab­nor­mal in North­west Ar­kan­sas, he said, it might not be ideal to do something that will make Bella Vista more ex­pen­sive to build in.

“I haven’t seen too many build­ings fall down lately,” he said. “I don’t like the idea of adding something that’s not typ­i­cal.”

Bon­ner said that there was no in­ten­tion of vot­ing on any­thing in that spe­cific meet­ing, but this was just the be­gin­ning of dis­cus­sion on wall re­quire­ments.

The board also de­nied a con­struc­tion-ex­cep­tion re­quest for 26 Water­side Lane, on which a deck was re­built with a pro­hib­ited style of guardrail.

The guardrail con­sisted of a se­ries of ca­bles stretched across the length of the deck be­neath the handrail. City code does not al­low for hor­i­zon­tal guardrails, Bon­ner said. Ad­di­tion­ally, she said, in this case, no­body ap­plied for a per­mit prior to start­ing con­struc­tion.

Had an ap­pli­ca­tion been filed, she said, city em­ploy­ees could have helped the prop­erty own­ers avoid this is­sue. More­over, she said, the per­mit fees will be dou­bled.

The orig­i­nal deck, she said, in­cluded hor­i­zon­tal guards, but that deck was grand­fa­thered in be­cause its ex­is­tence pre­dated the city.

Bon­ner said that it might be pos­si­ble to fix this with­out re­mov­ing the ca­bles by adding an­other wall of some sort, or running ad­di­tional, ver­ti­cal ca­bles fur­ther back. It boils down to the con­trac­tor, Ra­mon Gochi, find­ing a way to bring the deck to code and keep the prop­erty own­ers happy.

Young said this rule is in place be­cause hor­i­zon­tal guards can act as a lad­der, which can al­low a child to climb over the guard, which could prove dan­ger­ous.

Hull said he couldn’t see a way to make an ex­cep­tion for the deck in its cur­rent state.

“I un­der­stand that you’ve put a lot of work in it and that’s what the cus­tomer wants,” Hull told the Gochi, “but the code says specif­i­cally you can’t have them hor­i­zon­tal like that. I’m not see­ing a lot of wig­gle room on that.”

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