Council approves Windermere project

The latest chapter in Dr. Phil Merritt's efforts to build a new two-story home on an empty one-acre lot between Hampstead Road and Inverness Drive started Monday night with Mayor Donald Voss lifting a small a mountain of paperwork onto the council dais.

"This has become bigger than life, and this stack of documents proves it," Voss would say hours later after the council upheld, with new conditions, the Planning Commission's decision to allow Merritt's project to move forward.

Four neighbors had filed appeals to the commission's April decision and spoke to the council at length about concerns related to the size of the house, including potential impacts on views, privacy and property values.

"The master bathroom is bigger than my living room," said Cecilie Boysen. "We won't be able to sell our house," she worried, "because who wants to buy a house with another house looming in our backyard?"

Whether that'll actually be the case wasn't so clear, as Merritt provided illustrations showing his house all but completely concealed from Boysen's view by trees and other landscaping.

Some also expressed continued displeasure at the planned construction of Windermere Place, an undeveloped public street that Merritt had earlier won the right to build and have the city maintain in order to provide access from Inverness Drive.

"This is not about opposition to new development, it's about anxiety, really. We're not sure what this is going to do to our home," said Soren Madsen, who owns an adjoining property.

Council discussion focused on how to mitigate neighbors' concerns, leading the four voting — Councilman Steve Del Guerico recused himself from the hearing due to his law firm's relationship with an affected property owner — to request conditions beyond those imposed by the Planning Commission.

These included extending tree protections, reducing the size of Merritt's house by 800 square feet to 5,385 and giving the city final say over whether landscaping designed to limit impacts on neighbors is acceptable.

Merritt was unhappy at the house-size reduction, saying it would reduce his property value.

But, said Councilwoman Laura Olhasso, "I don't consider that a hardship. It's still 1,200 square feet above the [hillside development] guidelines."

At the suggestion of neighbor Sean McCarthy, council members agreed that City Hall would help mediate a discussion on construction of Windermere Place — in particular, whether Merritt would be willing to try to convert the roadway from a public street to a private drive in order to decrease its width and further protect existing trees.

"It's been a storied case, but at least we're moving forward," said Merritt after the decision. "That's the important thing."

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