Victoria resident refuses to remove renegade driveway

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

April 22, 2014 at 11:02 p.m.
Updated April 22, 2014 at 11:23 p.m.

Ben Commerson, 49, of Victoria, built a second driveway to access his 1,200-square-foot shop, where he stores his boat, cars and motorcycles.

Ben Commerson, 49, of Victoria, built a second driveway to access his 1,200-square-foot shop, where he stores his boat, cars and motorcycles.   Tess Freeman for The Victoria Advocate

A Victoria homeowner could be fined $1,000 a day for a driveway that city leaders dubbed "illegal."

After Victoria City Council turned down a variance that would bend local policies on driveways, Ben Commerson, the man behind the concrete patch, says he has no plans to tear it out.

"I don't want to be an outlaw, but I'm not going to break that driveway," said Commerson, who lives on Brooks Road.

During the April 15 meeting, council members struggled with their unanimous decision to turn down the man's request, stemming from a driveway he built six months ago.

"If this had come to us (initially) as a variance, I probably would have supported it because it makes sense," said Mayor Paul Polasek. "Right across the street, it lines up with his neighbor's."

Dan McGinn, deputy director of the city's development services, said the issue started when Commerson pulled a permit a year ago to build a 1,200-square-foot workshop in his backyard.

The city granted permission for a temporary driveway to bring construction materials to the site, but before the final inspection, the temporary driveway had to be removed.

Commerson said he thought that meant he needed a permanent driveway, but city staff say he was informed that he needed the permit.

"If I knew I couldn't have the driveway, I never would have built the shop," Commerson said, adding that he would have spent the money on a family vacation instead.

He uses the shop, which is valued at $19,670, to park his boat, a car he is rebuilding, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and a four-wheeler. Without the driveway, he says the shop is unusable.

The home was annexed into the city in the 1970s, and Commerson purchased it in 1994, before the city changed its driveway policy in 1999.

Current rules limit the amount of driveways a residential property owner could install to each street the property fronts.

In Commerson's case, the home, which is in the middle of a block, can have only one driveway unless granted an exemption.

Not only did Commerson not have the proper permit to build the driveway, but he also did not have permission to have two and did not build it to city code.

He wants the city to give him options other than tearing it out - whether that's paying a fine or making changes to the driveway's slopes that would bring it into alignment with the city's building standards.

"Let me ask my neighbors if the driveway bothers them," he said. "Give me an option to keep and modify it."

He estimates he spent about $2,500 on the improvement, which made his home look like many others in the Northcrest Subdivision, including a home directly across the street with two driveways.

Councilman David Hagan called the situation "maddening."

"I just don't see how you allow that to move forward and not bring out that negative outcome" without sending a signal to those who don't follow the process, Hagan said.

He suggested there might be a punitive measure to let Commerson have the driveway, but he said there needs to be a penalty.

"Otherwise, why would anybody at all apply for a permit? It wouldn't make sense at all," Hagan said.

McGinn, with the planning services department, said the second driveway has to be removed within 30 days.

Under the direction of the City Council, his department is looking at whether the ordinance restricting driveways should be based on property size, not property frontage.

The mayor called the backstory to Commerson's building permit and lack of permit for the driveway "very suspect."

"I don't understand how he couldn't have known," Polasek said. "I'm sorry, but I hate to think he has to tear that out, but I don't know of any other recourse. ... That's an expensive driveway."

The planning commission and City Council unanimously voted to deny the variance.

"If he removed it, he could turn around, ask for a variance and redo it, but that's so wasteful," Polasek said.



Powered By AffectDigitalMedia