Residents say official uses power to obtain favors from city government
by Hilary Butschek
August 14, 2014 04:00 AM | 3243 views | 4 4 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sarah Kruger, at the lectern, reads from prepared notes she made as her neighbors from the Forest Hills neighborhood listen behind her. Several neighbors came to the Marietta City Council meeting Wednesday night to voice complaints about a house renovation project by general contractor Grif Chalfant, who also serves Ward 1 as a city council member. <br>Staff/Jeff Stanton
Sarah Kruger, at the lectern, reads from prepared notes she made as her neighbors from the Forest Hills neighborhood listen behind her. Several neighbors came to the Marietta City Council meeting Wednesday night to voice complaints about a house renovation project by general contractor Grif Chalfant, who also serves Ward 1 as a city council member.
Staff/Jeff Stanton
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MARIETTA — About 20 residents of a local historic neighborhood gathered to speak out against the actions and character of Councilman Grif Chalfant during Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

Members of the Forest Hills Neighborhood Association attended a Board of Zoning Appeals meeting in July to accuse Chalfant of using his power as a public figure to get favors from the city government in relation to his work as a general contractor, and the residents attended the council meeting to repeat their accusations. Chalfant denies the claims. Complaints against Chalfant revolve around two homes the councilman is remodeling in the Forest

Hills neighborhood, located off of Marietta Parkway, which were built in violation of city code but later approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals. Now that Chalfant has variances for his properties, they are allowed to remain as built.

Members of the association spoke at the meeting because they wanted to make their concerns about the homes known to the council, said Diane Carter, vice president of the Forest Hills Neighborhood Association.

Yet Chalfant said the council could not take any action on the issues the residents have.

Sarah Kruger, who lives on Hunt Street, which is beside one home Chalfant is remodeling, spoke at the meeting Wednesday.

“We’re not pleased with his performance as a leader in the city government,” Kruger said.

Chalfant maintained that his buildings were built outside of city code as a result of a mistake, not a favor.

“I’m not sure what (the residents speaking at the meeting) were trying to do,” Chalfant said.

The Forest Hills Neighborhood Association previously spoke against Chalfant at the Board of Zoning Appeals meeting on July 28.

At that meeting, the Board of Zoning Appeals granted Chalfant two variances to allow homes he was remodeling to stand, even though they were built too high and too close to neighboring houses, according to city code.

Kruger said she wasn’t satisfied with the approval of the variances.

“(The Board of Zoning Appeal’s) reason (for granting the variance) was ... the city made a mistake, we’re going to approve the variances, which, to us, is a very poor representation of the city,” Kruger said.

Another resident, Joanne Wood, who lives on Vance Circle in the neighborhood, said she wanted to let the city know this situation proved their system for approving building plans was not working.

“The variance process should exist for justifiable exceptions, not as a forgiveness process for incompetence and error,” Wood said. “The city is not doing its job and the process is broken.”

Mayor Steve Tumlin and the other council members sat quietly while residents denounced Chalfant. Tumlin thanked each resident for speaking, and Doug Haynie, the city’s attorney, once interrupted applause in response to one resident’s speech, saying applause and expressions of approval or dismissal are not allowed from the audience.

Carter said at the meeting that the members of the group would remember Chalfant’s actions come election time.

“We want to go on the record just to let the City Council know how important this is to our city and to our community. They are the ones who appoint the Board of Zoning Appeals,” Carter said.

One variance Chalfant was granted in July 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 the limit of 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.

Haynie said everything Chalfant did was in compliance with the law, and residents could not file a successful ethics complaint.

Carter said she knows she can’t change what has been done, but she wanted her concerns on the record. In the future, she plans to garner enough support to vote Chalfant out of his position on the council, she said.

Comments
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Diane Carter
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August 15, 2014
Chalfant has been a builder for 40 years, he has a GA state license. He has to have continuing education to keep that license. He has been a city councilman for 9 years. In our own city’s language, at the bottom of the Variance Application in the “Required Information” section, it states that the applicant is to include, and I quote, a: “Letter describing the reason for the variance request, stating why strict adherence to the code would result in a particular hardship (as distinguished from a mere inconvenience or desire to make more money).” And his only reasoning for doing what he did was that, "he didn't know the rules." We showed the council facts and ordinances regarding all the variance he filed. And they ignored everything and forgave him for his lame excuse, “I didn’t know” and gave him his after-the-fact variances.

Attorney Doug Haynie was quoted as saying, “That is the board’s job. 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.”

In response to that quote, we argue that if the city followed their processes, and if the city’s charge is to enforce the spirit and intent of the overall variance process, the city should recognize that stating ‘the variance process addresses errors’ is not in line with the intent of the process. In fact, the City should recognize that by Mr. Haynie’s sheer acknowledgement of the fact that this is what this process has become, the city is not doing its job and the process is broken.

The variance process should exist for justifiable exceptions, not as a forgiveness process for incompetence and error.
Diane Carter
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August 15, 2014
While Council Grif Chalfant, owner of CPC General Contractors, lost his variance for the carport at 253 N Forest. He did add on to the back corner of the structure, which was not on his building permit. He should have filed a variance request on the addition. I wonder if we brought this to the city’s attention, if they would bring it to the attention of CPC General Contractors? Do you think the odds would be in the Forest Hills communities favor of getting the city to require that Council Chalfant file an “after-the-fact” variance on something not listed on his building permit for 253 N Forest? Or would they just say, "He didn't know. It's okay. We forgive he. Let it be. Quoting a MDJ article from August 8, 2014, Chalfant said, he can’t be expected to know every rule about building.

Just add this to the running list of mistakes across all three properties in the Forest Hills community proudly built and renovated by CPC General Contractors, owned and operated by Grif Chalfant, Marietta City Councilman.
angry911
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August 14, 2014
Mr. Chalfant certainly could fix the issue if he wanted to. The easiest way out is to not do anything.... sometimes donig the RIGHT thing is the hardest thing to do. If Mr. Chalfant had applied for the variances needed for this structure in the first place, we would NOT be where we are now. AND Mr. Chalfant, and experienced General Contractor for 40 years, most certainly knew that variances were needed. He chose to let the building inspectors tell him he needed them. Luckily for him, they missed it - he could get away with it.... or so he thought.

SHAME ON YOU MR. CHALFANT!!! SHAME ON YOUR BUILDING PLAN INSPECTORS!!!

YOU DON'T HAVE TO LIVE WITH THIS - WE DO.
fill goldsteins hole
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August 14, 2014
Perhaps Sir Chalfant could be employed by Sir Phillip to build a too-tall building on the Square in Goldstein's Hole, and they could approve it by mistake, after the fact, as well.
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