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The City Journals

Taller garages and sheds OK’d in Murray

Aug 11, 2021 12:08PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Detached garages and sheds have been approved to reach 20-foot heights in Murray. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

Sheds, detached garages, and other accessory structures can now be built a little taller, by at least four feet. The Murray City Council, at the July 6 council meeting, approved tweaks to the current city code, allowing for residents to increase the height of such buildings from 16 to 20 feet.

While the height change may not seem like such a big deal for some, the elevation change can impact backyard views or intrude on a neighbor’s privacy. In addition, many detached structures can sit closer to property boundaries than what primary residences are allowed.

The code change was prompted by Murray resident Brad Lambert, who submitted an application requesting a text amendment to allow all residential accessory structures (detached garages) to be constructed to a height of 20 feet.

Murray City Community and Economic Development Zoning Division Supervisor Jared Hall told the council, “The existing language limit is the height in two ways. If the height of your home is 16 feet or more, then you can have 20 feet in height, but if you’re less than 20 feet, you’re limited to 16 feet for the height of the accessory structures. Mr. Lambert’s proposed amendment was to change that to just be 20 feet overall in height regardless.”

According to Hall, after reviewing Lambert’s and others’ situations in the city, the CED felt that a straightforward height allowance of 20 feet to cover all structures was sufficient. As a result, Murray measures to the peak of the roof, the tallest point, while other cities do the mid-point of the pitch.

“That height didn’t feel out of proportion with other codes….It creates a situation where homeowners have better access to using their property for larger things like RVs, campers, and things that need to be put inside. So, we felt like it was a good trade-off,” Hall said.

Garages and other accessory structures will still be limited to cover no more than 25% of a bare yard area. So, in essence, the size of someone’s backyard with the combination of all their accessory structures, sheds, and garages cannot cover more than 25% of the surface area.

“Where you’re going to see this particular regulation have an impact is not really in newer parts of the city where the homes are usually taller than…20 feet. You’re going to see it in the older sections of the city. So, these sections that were built during the 1950s and 1960s where they might have 13-, 14-, or 15-foot residential heights,” Hall said. “The change that the council approved about a year ago was because so many homes were limited in height to where you couldn’t build taller than the home, and there’d be a 13- or 14-foot home, and you couldn’t use a kit from Costco to put a shed in your backyard because it was just a little taller than that.”

However, not all garages and sheds come with pitched roofs. For example, the ordinance could allow for a garage with 20-foot-tall walls instead of a slope pitched roof. This type of situation concerns Kathryn Litchfield, a design-build professional and a neighbor to Lambert

“You can have a box that’s 20 feet high. You’re not specifying any slopes, and you’re not specifying any side heights,” Litchfield told the council. “What you’re allowing, one foot off the property line, the person that impacts the most is the neighbor. When I moved in it was quite impactful….Every city in our valley has taken great pains, and they’re all outlined here to make modifications so that you don’t come across a wall 20-feet high off your property.” 

“If my concern is the worst-case scenario, then yeah, 20-foot structures all around a backyard…and they’re all flat-roofed. I just don’t see that happening. So, I don’t think the code needs to be written for that absolute worst-case scenario. It’s not likely to happen, but it could happen; it’s always potential,” Hall said. “Without getting into the entire substructure of the zoning code, we do not write for the worst-case scenario. If you did [that], it would just say ‘no anything, anywhere.’ Period.”

The amendment passed 4 to 1, with City Councilor Rosalba Dominguez voting against it.