'Quonset hut' ban stalls in Newton

A proposal to prohibit construction of new "quonset" huts in Newton not only missed the mark, if passed it can open the door to "quonset hut farms" in the city.

As a result, Newton City Council sent a zoning ordinance amendment concerning accessory structures back to city planners' drafting board.

Newton planning commission proposed a measure prohibits construction of accessory structures, including detached garages and carports in the front yard of a residential structure. The recommendation allows those types of buildings to be built in a side yard provided the building's size complied with certain proportionality requirements. In essence, an accessory building can't be larger than 30 percent of the size of the primary structure's first floor.

The height of accessory buildings was also limited to the height of the principle building's first floor, according to the proposal.

According to Newton planning commission minutes, the proposal originally arose out of appearance concerns about a metal corrugated building on North Ashe Avenue. The building, according to the minutes, was described as a "quonset hut."

However, while city planners aimed to curb such a creation on city residential lots, one Newton resident argued that the proposed zoning ordinance amendment failed to address appearance issues that spawned the change.

"I believe appearance was the primary driving concern," Newton resident William Powell said during a public hearing on the ordinance amendment earlier this month. "This does not, in any way, deal with the appearance factor. And in fact, the planning commission, even though they started out ... talking about appearance, the planning commission chose not to include architectural or appearance criteria in the ordinance."

While Powell commended city leaders for trying to "control certain things that do impact my land value," he said language in the ordinance could cause problems at a later time. He argued that under existing language, he can combine to land tracts and "start a quonset hut farm with multiple quonset huts" provided it met set-back requirements and complied with proportionality requirements of the proposal.

"If appearance is what motivated the conversation in the first place, you have done nothing with regards to appearance," he said. "That building could be rebuilt today, just smaller."

Council members conceded Powell's point, with Council member Wayne Dellinger citing additional issues related to large properties with agriculture-related buildings, such as barns or shelters.

"We have land where people have 25 acres if they have a 2,000--square-foot house and they are raising animals, I don't think they can build any (accessory structures) over 900 square feet," as the proposed ordinance states, Dellinger said, "but they could build 15-20 quonset huts on it. They could put as many as they want to."

"This is a situation where we are trying to help solve a problem, and we created more problems than what we have," he continued.

City Council sent the proposal back to the planning department with instructions to address lot size, tract size, number of accessory structures, appearance and whether farm use property has a bearing on additional buildings added to a residential lot in town.