Last month, we told you about 2006 Carpenter St., a home that recently changed hands and was then demolished. At that time, we suspected that the developers would have to go to zoning to construct a three story home. Passing by the property the other day, we realized that the owners didn’t, in fact, go to zoning after all. We also realized that the new home vaguely resembles Chichen Itza.

The building

A few blocks away

Why, you may ask, does this building resemble a pyramid at the top? It may come as a surprise, but the reason that this building looks like this has nothing to do with architecture and everything to do with the new zoning code.

As we’ve explained in the past, a provision of the still-fresh code requires an eight-foot setback for new three story homes on primarily two-story blocks. The intention here was to eliminate the toothy look that occurs on two-story blocks when three story homes sprout among older housing stock and to reduce the canyoning effect that we see with the addition of three story homes to often-narrower two-story blocks. Perhaps there were some other goals as well?

In an effort to avoid going to zoning here, the developers opted for a setback, producing the result you see above. The most unfortunate feature here, aside from the steps on the top, is that the top of the second floor doesn’t meet the cornices of the buildings on either side. Instead of maintaining the continuity of the block, the fluctuating cornice-line accentuates the taller home almost as significantly as a three story building without a setback. Here’s an example of a similar project on the 1700 block of Federal Street, across from the Sardine Bar. Doesn’t have the pyramid thing going on, but the “cornices” don’t align.

Better but still not ideal

One noble solution that we’ve seen to this problem is the use of a mansard roof to reduce the impact of a three story home on a two story block. When the mansard is slightly set back or angled, the third story is much less severe than in the case of a flat facade or a bay window. This strategy looks great on the 1500 block of Montrose Street.

Better than an eight-foot setback, no?

As the new zoning code is now about a year old, tweaking it to allow for homes that look like this on two-story blocks would seem like a wise move. Does this seem like a good idea? Or are we making too big of a deal about what are ultimately minor design details of the homes on Carpenter and Federal Streets?