Entry Stairs


The City of Norfolk was inexplicably reluctant to allow the entry stairs to the house at 532 Mowbray Arch to encroach on the three foot side setback, even though many houses along the rest of the block, long the rest of the street, and in the rest of the neighborhood have stairs and other features that encroach on their setbacks, many even encroaching into the public right of way.

When the owners requested that the City Planning Commission allow a mere six square feet of their stairs to encroach into the setback, they were refused on the grounds that this would not be possible without a zoning variance and that a variance could not be justified. In addition to this abuse, they had to put up with the questionable rhetoric of one commissioner, though later, any mention of this rhetoric or its rebuttal by one of the owners failed to appear in the official record of the meeting.

The owners decided that, if necessary, they would challenge the blatant unfairness of the Commission's stance in court. But then the City informed the owners that its position on the entry stairs had been a mistake, that it could allow such a routine encroachment after all, and at its next meeting the Planning Commission approved the change for the stair location.


Some Examples of Entry Stairs in Ghent

Newer Houses

The house below at 530 Mowbray Arch was built in 1979. It is located right next door to 532 Mowbray Arch, and the City has determined the average front yard setback on this block of Mowbray Arch to be 15 feet. Yet note the stepped-up brick walkway, tapered brick retaining wall, and landscaping and plantings, all of which extend all the way to the sidewalk:


The entry stairs to this house built in 2012 seem to reach very close to the front property line, certainly within the front-yard setback:


An impressive matching pair of entry stairs on these adjoining houses built in 1981 — and both sets of stairs encroaching on the 17-20 foot front-yard setback:


The entry stairs in this example (a house built in 1988) and all the following examples plainly encroach on the front setback. Often the house itself (as in this example) encroaches too, since front setbacks are supposed to be 17-20 feet:













In the example below, a house built in 1988, the side stairs and landing (background in the alley) encroach on the three-foot side-yard setback:


Older Houses

The house at 542 Mowbray Arch was built in 1904. It is located right across Mill Street from 532 Mowbray Arch. Note the steps at the end of its front walkway that abut the sidewalk. Note too the Mill Street side of this house that encroaches on the three-foot side setback:


The house at 531 Warren Crescent was built in 1908. It is located across Mill Street from 532 Mowbray Arch. Note the block bulkhead that abuts the sidewalk and walkway steps at the property line: