Residents claim city favoring councilman
by Hilary Butschek
August 08, 2014 04:00 AM | 4384 views | 10 10 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Grif Chalfant, general contractor and Marietta city councilman, stands in front of a home he is renovating for a California investor. Neighbors say they are upset Chalfant received a zoning variance for the kind of construction work to be done. <br>Staff/Jeff Stanton
Grif Chalfant, general contractor and Marietta city councilman, stands in front of a home he is renovating for a California investor. Neighbors say they are upset Chalfant received a zoning variance for the kind of construction work to be done.
Staff/Jeff Stanton
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MARIETTA — Members of a neighborhood association are in uproar after they say a Marietta councilman’s day job interfered with his role to serve the public.

Councilman Grif Chalfant was told by the city’s code enforcement department two homes he is renovating as a general contractor in the Forest Hills neighborhood off Marietta Parkway are not up to code. One home was too tall and too close to the neighboring house, and another home had a carport that was not included in the plans.

The city’s code enforcement department told Chalfant he could request a variance from the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals to remedy the situation, he said.

When he requested it, the board granted the variance, which means Chalfant is allowed to keep the homes as they are, despite what the code stipulates.

Residents of Forest Hills, a 60-home neighborhood, say Chalfant’s influence as a member of the City Council allows him to ask for favors others working in construction wouldn’t be granted.

Chalfant said the violations of code were simply a mistake.

“It is absolutely the truth that no special favors were asked for because I’m a councilman. I don’t need the job that bad,” Chalfant said.

Laura Caro, president of the Forest Hills Neighborhood Association, said she thinks the Board of Zoning Appeals ignored facts when making the decision to grant the variance and let personal relationships with Chalfant get in the way.

“It’s really hard to rationalize the decision that was made by the zoning board. It seems like it was a favor,” Caro said.

Diane Carter, a co-president of the Forest Hills Neighborhood Association, said the modern look of the new homes doesn’t fit in with the rest of the neighborhood.

“We’re furious with the decision the city made. There’s been no attempt to explain the decision,” Carter said.

One variance Chalfant was granted allowed the home on Hunt Street to stand higher than the code allows. Chalfant’s building is 41.5 feet high, which is 6.5 feet higher than it is allowed to be. The limit is 35 feet.

The variance also allowed for the house to be closer to the neighboring house than is normally allowed. Chalfant said the houses are supposed to be five feet apart, but his house is within two feet of the neighboring property line.

A second variance allowed the home on North Forest Street to have an attached carport that he did not specify he was going to add in one portion of the plans.

Doug Haynie, the city attorney, said exceptions are frequently made so buildings can be built outside city code requirements.

“That is (the board’s) job,” Haynie said. “They meet monthly. Every month they approve or disapprove a request for a variance that is based on an innocent mistake or any kind of mistake. They address those every single month.”

Haynie said Chalfant’s actions were within the law, and no one should be able to file a successful ethics complaint against the councilman.

“Any elected official with the city of Marietta is given all of the rights and privileges of a private citizen. If they are exercising their rights as a public citizen, it’s not in violation of the ethics code,” Haynie said.

When James Mills, the vice chair of the Board of Zoning Appeals, was considering the variance at the July 28 meeting, he focused on why the building had been built in violation of the code.

Mills wanted to know at the meeting, “How did this get by the city?”

The Board of Zoning Appeals discovered the plans for the home submitted to the city had been approved by the city’s planning and zoning department as well as the Planning Commission despite violations of city code inherent in portions of the plans.

“It was approved in error,” said Rusty Roth, the city’s planning and zoning manager.

Mills, who ran the meeting because the chairman, James Lowman, was absent, would not comment on the variances after the meeting.

Chalfant said the mistake that led to building the homes out of code was a combination of errors by everyone involved.

Chalfant said the building company, California-based Paragon Investors, and an architect company, Marietta-based Olah Design Group, worked on the plans. He was hired by Paragon Investors and was responsible for turning in the plans to the city.

When Chalfant submitted the plans, the city’s planning and zoning department approved them even though they did not meet code, Roth said. When the plans were approved a year ago, the city gave Chalfant the go ahead to start building.

“I received my (building) permits, and I started to build,” Chalfant said.

Chalfant admitted the plans were not up to code, but he said no one in particular was to blame for it.

“It’s a combination of maybe I should have caught it. The architect should have caught it. The city planning and zoning should have caught it. We all should have caught it. We’re all at fault here,” Chalfant said.

Chalfant said he has spent about $200,000 on each home in the past year while renovating them.

Carter, the HOA co-president, said Chalfant, who has been in the construction business for 40 years, should have known better than to build a home that wasn’t within city regulations.

“(Builders) have to have a license and an education to be able to build in the state of Georgia. So, I would say he has to know what he’s doing,” Carter said.

Chalfant said he can’t be expected to know every rule about building in every city.

“I build in many different municipalities and each one of them does it a little differently, and I just didn’t catch it and neither did the staff,” Chalfant said.

Comments
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Public Enema
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August 09, 2014
I purchased new tires for my car today. The tire company wanted to charge me a disposal fee for the old tires. Instead of paying the fee, I am going to burn them in the yard of my Marietta home. I don't know whether that is allowed in the city of Marietta, but if it isn't I will simply ask for forgiveness.
Angry911
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August 09, 2014
How is it that the builder could get away with saying he didn't know about the height restrictions when he was a part of those that re-wrote the zoning regulations for height when Goldberg tried to build on the square?

How convenient that at the zoning meeting both the City and the builder claim they "made a mistake" !! Now no one is at fault and no one takes the blame and can be held responsible to change it!! So all agree the building I'd 6.5' too high but it is approved to stay due to a mistake despite the visual damage to the neighborhood, neighboring property values??

Was that zoning meeting just a dog and pony show? They had their strategy worked out prior to the meeting?
smartlass101
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August 08, 2014
The builder told the Marietta city's planning and zoning board he was unaware of the ordinances concerning the height and width restrictions of the house he is building on Hunt St. When asked by a reporter "You didn't check in advance to see how high it should be built or how wide it should be built?" the builder responded, "I didn't check every little thing." Height and width are not "little things". Examples of little things are nickel vs bronze fixtures or white vs cream trim color.
ann ryan
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August 08, 2014
This definitely does NOT pass the smell test! The appearance of impropriety should be avoided at all costs, especially when the individual is an elected official. Of course, an elected official has rights as a private citizen, but Councilman Chalfant has too much experience as a builder to make so many gross errors. His excuse that he does not know all the codes for every city where he builds is LAME. Ignorance of the law is not an acceptable defense.
Joseph Pond
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August 09, 2014
He should at least know the Code of the city that he is a member of their City Council. He expects us to follow the Laws and Code Changes and he votes on; he should do the same!

If he doesn't need the job, I suggest that he resign and let someone who cares about the job do it.
NailOnTheHead
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August 09, 2014
"Ignorance of the law is not an acceptable defense." We agree.The argument was made to the BZA board asking them to deny all 4 variances based on Chalfant's "I didn't know", plus his 40 years experience, adding his 8 years as a city councilman ... it just doesn't add up. Yet five people on the board of BZA basically said, it's ok, you didn't know, we dropped the ball, so instead of correcting two wrongs, we'll add a third wrong and grant your request.

The board gave a Whitlock Ave home owner a harder time over the slate chips she wanted to use in her driveway than they gave Chalfant. They were more interested in questioning Chalfant on how much money he had invested into the properties than the violations that required the variances.
concerned20
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August 08, 2014
This article incorrectly list Olah Design Group as Architects. Olah Design are draftsmen and have no certification as architects. Architects are required to have an accredited degree followed by monitored internship and ultimately extensive testing to earn the title. Even after certification they are required to complete continuing education every year to maintain their certification. If the developers had hired an actual architect,these problems would have been avoided.
NailOnTheHead
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August 08, 2014
Agreed. If you visit their web site, you get is a gallery of photos. No information and no details. Only a “contact us” form. Who deals with blind companies in 2014?
Rhett Writer
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August 08, 2014
"A professional builder, a professional architectural firm and alleged professional employees of the city building department all overlooked a number of code violations, and it is nobody's fault?"

Excuse me, but that is the fishiest story I have heard since the IRS "accidentally erased two year's of Lois Lerner's Emails", just after they were subpoeneed.
NailOnTheHead
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August 08, 2014
It is time for change. Time to clean house. Nepotism is running tooooooo deep in Marietta and it is unacceptable. Zoning regulations must promote the good of all the people in the community rather than further the desires of a particular group or person, and the power cannot be invoked to further private interests that conflict with the rights of the public. Marietta City developed a set of codes and ordinances designed to help ensure the safety and integrity of its neighborhoods, businesses, and properties. It failed!
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