Board of Construction Appeals talks walls
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.”