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Aurora ZBA

Laura Holland speaks during an Aurora zoning board of appeals public hearing Wednesday night about an area variance request for dock steps at a 327 Main St. home.

AURORA — Railroad history and court-made property lines complicate an Aurora resident's hope of adding stairs to her dock. 

During a regular zoning board of appeals meeting in the village of Aurora Wednesday night, a public hearing was held regarding Cynthia Koepp's request for an area variance at her 327 Main St. home. She is seeking a variance to be able to have access from her dock to her lakeshore property.

ZBA Chair Karen Hindenlang said history makes this variance a bit more unique. In the 19th century the railroad came to Aurora along the east side of Cayuga Lake, she said, and in the 1970s and 1980s when the railroad moved out, the company offered for homeowners to buy the 40 feet of land between the back of the homeowners' yards and the lake.

Laura Holland's property was one of the homes that took advantage of the 40 feet extension, Hindenlang said, but due to Wells College declining the offer to buy the land, the Holland property also acquired some of that railroad strip to the south and north of its property line, turning their property into a T-shaped lot.

Then, when people bought some of the college's properties about 20 years later, they didn't buy the railroad property from the neighbors, she said. Koepp's property is one of these.

Around 2007, Hindenlang said Koepp was involved with others in a lawsuit to gain access, via a 10-foot-wide easement, across the 40 feet of land to get access to the lake — as the homeowners owned the lakeshore property.

"In so doing, the judge created a new property line," Hindenlang said, adding that there is a village setback law that says structures can't be built within 10 feet of a property line.

Through this easement request, a dock with access to it was permitted to be built on Koepp's lakeshore property, but now this property line — without a variance — prohibits her from having a stair case from the dock to the shore.

Laura Holland, a neighbor (and ZBA member who recused herself from the variance matter), spoke against the staircase at the public hearing.

"The applicants have a 10 foot right-of-way through our property, within that right-of-way they may build an access structure to a dock and stairs. Outside of that right of way, it is simply our property line with all the zoning laws applying to it," Holland said."This is a peculiar property situation. However, the applicants were very aware of the restrictions ... before planning, acquiring a permit and building their dock. They could have planned and designed for the situation.

"You can't shoot yourself in the foot and then ask for a variance," she said, noting that variances should be granted when applicants are "hurt or constrained" by the law.

"Just over the cliff is where the easement ends," Koepp said. "The easement doesn't go past the railroad strip."

She said that the original plan for the dock including the stairs down to the lakeshore was approved by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. When the stairs posed an issue for the planning board, she went ahead and had the dock constructed and figured that a variance for the stairs could be obtained at a later date if necessary.

The dock itself isn't considered a structure as defined in the village's code, as it's not on the ground. But a staircase, which is on the ground, is considered a structure.

In the meantime, Koepp set out a temporary set of stairs to allow access to the lakeshore thinking it was the same equivalence as a portable ladder — not that it was a structure she was trying to sneak in without getting approval.

Hindenlang said that the ZBA is encouraged to explore all other alternatives before granting a variance. After about a 1.5 hour meeting, the public hearing was closed around 8:30 p.m. Hindenlang said she wanted to give Koepp more time to consider building a ladder instead of stairs or to perhaps look into buying the old railroad property. She also wanted to allow Koepp more time to get an official survey done, if needed, to prove all property lines.

The public hearing will resume at the next regular ZBA meeting April 10.

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Staff writer Megan Ehrhart can be reached at (315) 282-2244 or megan.ehrhart@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter @MeganEhrhart.

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Towns Reporter