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[whitespace] Planners allow family's mini house to remain

Saratoga--A close vote of the Saratoga Planning Commission will allow Greg and Evelyn Barrett to keep their 168-square-foot playhouse, a miniature house, they had constructed in their yard for their 3-year-old twin daughters. On Dec. 13, the commission approved the playhouse by a vote of 4-3 with Commissioners Mary-Lynne Bernald, Chuck Page and Erna Jackman opposing.

The playhouse, which does not have a foundation, is set on cement blocks and is made of plywood, according to Evelyn Barrett. The peaked roof encloses a loft that one can reach by climbing a short ladder inside the structure. The fact that there is a place to climb made the playhouse attractive to the Barretts since they thought their daughters, as well as their 2-month-old son, would enjoy it.

But as the Barretts, who live at 19567 Miller Court, were having the playhouse constructed, one of their adjacent neighbors noticed and brought the issue up with the city. The playhouse at the time exceeded the city's height and setback requirements and also did not have a building permit. It had a peaked roof that was 12 feet at its highest point, and the building was set back only two and four feet from adjacent property lines. The Barretts had hired an out-of-town contractor who had no license to do work in Saratoga, according to City Planner Mark Connolly.

Greg Barrett said he did not check to see what the city's rules are on accessory structures before he had the playhouse erected. In order to make the playhouse legal, the Barretts had to go through the use permit process and win approval from the planning commission.

The commission approved a use permit for the house, but mandated that the Barretts lower the roof to a maximum of eight feet at the highest peak, and set the playhouse back at least six feet from all property lines. The Barretts also have to plant landscape screening for the neighbors.

These restrictions mean that the Barretts will have to have the house, which is prefabricated, rolled a couple of feet to the side and lower the roof by taking off the loft. According to Evelyn Barrett, the playhouse would cost more to take down than to modify, so she and her husband will have their contractor come back and chop four feet off the top of the structure. Barrett said she has not been able to contact the contractor, so she does not know how much this will cost. The playhouse itself cost the Barretts $10,000, she said.

Two neighbors, who live adjacent to the Barretts, spoke out against the playhouse at the commission meeting on Dec. 13. Ed McLaughlin said the playhouse is large enough to be a guesthouse and noted that the Barretts built the playhouse without checking the city code first. McLaughlin asked that the commission not approve the use permit for the playhouse, which he called unsightly, and suggested it be torn down.

According to the Barretts, the playhouse is strictly for their children to use for fun.

Neighbors John and Barbara Takahashi were unhappy with the playhouse, too, and said in a letter to the planning commission that the Barretts should comply with the 8-foot height limit. They said that their views had been destroyed because of the playhouse.
Kara Chalmers

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