The city can change the rule that limits the decks

A challenge to Evanston’s deck restrictions may result in a change in city rules that now restrict their size.

These rules assume that decks – even those with spacing between deck boards – are impermeable and introduce drains into the sewer system by preventing water that falls on them from seeping into the ground.

But attorney Anthony Hind, who represents the owners of a home at 2327 Park Place, northwest Evanston, challenged that theory during a Zoning Board of Appeal hearing earlier this week.

Hind of Central Law Group in Evanston says it’s a matter of common sense – when it comes to decks with gaps between the slats and a permeable surface below the deck, water moves between the slats and falls within inches of the spot Randrops would have hit the ground anyway and would then have plunged into the ground.

After hearing from Hind and city employees, the ZBA agreed to continue the topic until the next board meeting on Tuesday, July 21st.

The city’s zone code sets limits on the amount of impervious surface on a property. In addition to decks, the number of square meters of a building as well as paved walkways and driveways and similar surfaces are also taken into account. The limit is 45 percent impermeable surface in the R1 zone and higher in other zones.

Other communities disagree on whether to treat decks as impermeable or permeable surfaces. Many, including Charlotte, NC and surrounding Mecklinburg County as well as the state of Maryland, say they are permeable, while communities in other areas like North Central Wisconsin are split on the issue.

At least one group of academic researchers have concluded that wooden decks are permeable, including Bruce Ferguson of the University of Georgia, who literally wrote the book on porous paving materials.

Damir Latinovic, the city’s planning and zone manager, says the type of surface beneath a deck can have a huge impact on the city’s permeability. Many decks have gravel underneath, he says, and the city code calls gravel areas impermeable.

There is no question, however, that different cities classify decks differently, Latinovic says, and the zone code may need to be refined or changed.

Now that the code is a break in the impermeable surface rules for permeable paving stones and similar products, it should possibly also apply to decks, Latinovic added.

He said more action on the matter could be taken in the next month or two.

In the meantime, Hind hopes that with some changes to its clients’ plans, the deck project will be approved at the next ZBA meeting without actually having to address the larger issue.

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