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Sign Board, BOA approve

Monday, September 17, 2001 by

Variances for creativity

Church's sign, higher steeple easily approved

The members of the Unity Church of the Hills were rewarded for their architect’s creative signage last week. The Sign Review Board granted the church a variance allowing an archway over the property’s driveway to bear lettering up to 36 feet in height with the church’s name. The Board of Adjustment, which includes four of the five members of the SRB, also voted to allow the church to extend its steeple by 22 feet.

Melissa Whaley of Austin Permit Service represented the church, which has a new building at 9905 Anderson Mill Road. Whaley told the board, “There has been a lot of tree preservation on the site. It’s heavily wooded in front of the church, so you can't actually see the church from the road.” The idea is to erect an arch—which has already received approval—with the name of the church engraved on it. She said the arch would not hold light fixtures, but would be illuminated from below with spotlights. Otherwise, she said, “Nobody can find (the church.)” When Whaley asked church members to stand to show their support of the lettering, 30 to 40 people did so. No one spoke in opposition.

Architect Clovis Heimsath spoke glowingly of the arch itself and the creative siting of the church amongst the trees. He said members of the congregation “sat under the trees and said, ‘We want our church here.’ And the decision to make a monument statement that would be associated with the church would allow the church to be where it should be, so (the arch with the name) was discussed from the very beginning as a part of it.”

Vice Chair Betty Edgemond said she always reminds churches they are not McDonalds, and that she was very pleased to see that Heimsath had designed something she loves.

The lettering on signs is normally limited to 20 feet. But Whaley explained that the archway is 150 feet from the curb, making it more difficult to see the lettering. Chair Herman Thun, an architect, said the city has rules for signage because the board “can’t just look at a sign and then decide whether we like it or not. But this is a good example of what you can do to integrate signs, sculpture and monument.” He said he wished more businesses would see this type of design and integrate it into their buildings. “I applaud this client for listening and understanding what is possible,” he concluded. Edgemond made the motion to grant the variance and the board approved it unanimously.

A few minutes later, the same group, minus Bruce Shelton, convened as the Board of Adjustment and granted the church permission to build a 68-foot steeple. Current zoning regulations classify the steeple in the same category as parapets, chimneys and stairways.

Ron Scott, who introduced himself to the board as one of the church’s ministers, said church members had met with all neighbors whose property borders that of the church. “We have something like 27 or 28 who supported it and two or three who are opposed.”

Board Member Laurie Virkstis said, “C’mon, Betty” to Edgemond. Edgemond, who is from England, replied, “Well, I love steeples. I’m from the land of steeples.”

Thun made the motion to grant the variance based on appropriate findings of fact, including that “current zoning regulations do not provide sufficient flexibility” for the steeple because the hardship is unique to the property. The variance was granted on a vote of 4-0 with Board Member Frank Fuentes absent. A number of churches asking for variances to other regulations have had considerably more trouble before the board.

BOA grants more FAR

For prosecutors building

DANA head worried about parking problems

The Board of Adjustment has approved a variance to allow expansion of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association (TDCAA) headquarters at 1210 Nueces. The group is planning to add two additional floors to its existing two-story building near the Capitol and needed permission to deviate from the rules on floor-to-area ratio (FAR).

“They have run out of office space,” said Bill Hale, representing the TDCAA. “The whole first floor of the existing building is now a library with documents from 254 counties which they view and access every day.” Hale was filling in for architect Allan Nutt, who couldn’t attend the board meeting because he was unable to get back to town before the FAA instituted a nation-wide halt to air traffic.

No one spoke against the variance. Bennett Donovan of the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association offered the group’s “lukewarm support” along with concerns about the effect the building expansion would have on parking. “ Their plan is to lease 21 parking spaces in a pre-existing garage,” Donovan said. According to Donovan, the TDCAA had also pledged not to buy any neighboring building to convert to a parking garage. However, he wanted to see some type of binding agreement. “Our support is contingent on what we can achieve in terms of parking,” he said.

Board Chairman Herman Thun questioned Donovan about the relevance of the parking discussion. “There’s no request for any variance here on parking,” Thun said. Donovan agreed, saying “Maybe I shouldn’t even be in front of you.” Thun attempted to steer the discussion away from parking, telling board members, “parking is not an issue on the table this evening.” Donovan then reiterated his concerns about parking in the area.

The vote in favor of the variance was 4-0, with Board Member Frank Fuentes absent.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Memorial march . . . After a march down Congress Avenue, an estimated 800 to 1,000 Austinites rallied at the Capitol yesterday in memory of those lost last week and to affirm their support of their country. U.S. and Mexican flags waved in abundance during the event, and one of the speakers got a great response to his shout of Viva America! Council Member Raul Alvarez said he was very pleased that about 15 community groups, mostly Latino, came together for Sunday’s memorial march and rally. Sponsors included members of United Latino Artists, who cancelled their Diez y Seis celebration. Sunday’s events at Saltillo Plaza were canceled at the request of President Vicente Fox of Mexico. . . Planning ahead . . . Planned Parenthood won permission last week to go ahead with construction of a new facility at 201 E. Ben White Blvd. adjacent to a strip shopping center. The Board of Adjustment granted variances on setback to allow construction to continue on a site surrounded by commercial property . . . No City Council this week . . . The City Council is not scheduled to meet again until Sept. 27, but the Capital Metro Board plans to have a work session at 4 p.m. today . . . Contributions to New York firefighters’ families. . . Here’s the link to contribute directly (online or info for mailing check) to the families of firefighters lost in the line of duty last week. This fund is the only fund officially endorsed by the IAFF and the local union executive boards of the firefighters and fire officers.

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