CUYAHOGA FALLS -- Construction of two houses underway on Magnolia Avenue was made possible after a court settlement between the nonprofit and the city which had denied the necessary variances to build them.

The homes are being built side-by-side at 741 and 749 Magnolia Ave., Cuyahoga Falls. They are the city's first homes to be built by Habitat for Humanity.

"The City of Cuyahoga Falls is grateful for the opportunity to work with Habitat for Humanity as the organization begins construction of two new homes at 741 and 749 Magnolia Ave.," city Law Director Russ Balthis said. "Habitat applied for a variance through the Board of Zoning Appeals to build detached garages, which would have been 88 square feet smaller than permitted by the General Development Code."

Balthis said Habitat's variance request was initially denied. "While the administrative appeal was pending in the Common Pleas Court, the city and Habitat reached an amicable resolution," he said. "The parties agreed that an accessory structure would be constructed on each parcel to enable adequate storage, thereby protecting and stabilizing property values."

"We are really happy to finally be constructing the homes for our two partner families," said Rochelle Sibbio, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Summit County. "We started in May and will wrap up sometime around Thanksgiving."

Sibbio said Habitat is planning another project on School Street in the fall.

Earlier this year, the city and Habitat for Humanity of Summit County agreed to a consent judgement entry handed down by Summit County Common Pleas Judge Alison Breaux. The agreement brought resolution to an administrative appeal filed last summer by Habitat in response to a decision by the city's planning department to deny the group's request for variances to build the homes.

In the judgment, the city agreed to grant Habitat a modification of the city's General Development Code to allow for the proposed development "because the purposes behind the underlying Code requirements at issue here are met but physical barriers for strict compliance exist."

Habitat bought the property to build two modest single-family homes with attached 312-square-foot 1.5 car garages, in accordance with Habitat's standard construction guidelines and utilizing a city grant, according to court records.

Habitat of Summit County received $17,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding from the city, Nick Sugar, senior planner for the city, told the Board of Zoning Appeals last summer. Sugar said the planning department denied the application because the city's general development code requires new single-family homes built in the city have at least a 20-foot by 20-foot or 400-square-foot two-car garage.

Habitat for Humanity's bylaws prohibit two-car garages because the organization considers them a "luxury," Sugar said. When the planning department denied the application, Habitat filed an administrative appeal, he said. The appeal went before the city's Board of Zoning Appeals which upheld the planning department's decision by a vote of 5-0 on July 27, 2016.

According to court records, Habitat conducted a lot split to comply with the code, established new boundaries, demolished existing structures and removed trees in "anticipation of the development." Given the configuration of the property boundaries and Habitat's standard construction plans, the court said, it would "violate Habitat's policy to construct a home with a larger 400-square-foot garage."

The city agrees to reimburse Habitat up to a total of $5,000 for the material costs of the accessory structures, while Habitat will cover the labor associated with constructing the accessory structures, the court records state.

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