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Board splits 3-2 on hard-fought issue

Tuesday, March 11, 2003 by

The battle over a “super duplex” in Hyde Park landed before the Board of Adjustment on Monday. The structure going up at 3207 Hampton Road is one that helped spur the City Council to adopt a moratorium on new duplex development while the staff works on a revamping duplex rules. (See In Fact Daily, Feb. 28, 2003.)

Neighbors of the proposed six-bedroom structure say it’s more like an apartment complex or rooming house than a traditional duplex. They sought a determination from the Board of Adjustment that the director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department and the building official with the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department had both erred in interpreting the city’s building code when they allowed the necessary permits for the structure. “This permit violates the compatibility requirements, both for use and the characteristics with single-family neighborhood characteristics,” said neighbor Ara Merjanian. “This project, in fact, is not compatible. The occupancy and use does conflict with compatibility standards . . . as does the overall footprint and scale. This is a huge project that is three or four times the single-family residential structures in the neighborhood, and that is the standard of compatibility they must apply.”

Neighbor David Mattax told board members that the structure would be more appropriately classified as a “group residential” use, which is not allowed under SF-3 zoning. “Essentially, they’re taking the developer’s word that it’s for duplex residential . . . therefore, it’s for duplex residential,” he said. “But that’s not what they should do. They should go in and look at what these projects actually are.”

Greg Guernsey of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department and Luci Gallahan with the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department were assigned to defend the position taken by the city. Guernsey explained that the building code’s definition of duplex could include the structure that neighbors found so offensive. “A duplex has two dwelling units, so by our codes they’re allowed six unrelated individuals per dwelling unit . . . Since there are two dwelling units per site, that would allow up to twelve people,” he said.

And while neighbors might find the proposed design of the building incompatible, Guernsey said it met city standards for setback, impervious cover and height. “You can build a single-family home the same size as this one, even in more restrictive districts,” he said. “There may be many out there who are opposed to its design or scale, but you could certainly build a duplex or single-family home of the same size in this zoning district.” Gallahan reminded board members that the staff faced several restrictions when making its decision on whether or not the building complied with city requirements. “We have met several times with the neighborhood people. We are sympathetic to their concerns,” she said. “However, we cannot take such issues into consideration when we’re reviewing an application for either single-family residence or duplex. The code is very clear. This is a zoning review. We look at zoning.”

After an executive session to consult with representatives from the city legal department, board members went directly to a vote. Board Member Frank Fuentes wanted to support the neighborhood’s request to have interpretation of the NPZD Director and the WPDR Building Official overturned. “Sufficient rules haven’t been written to define clearly what duplexes are, he said. “In theory, staff’s saying this is a duplex, but quite frankly it doesn’t look like a duplex. It doesn’t feel like a duplex; it doesn’t look like a duplex; it doesn’t smell like a duplex. I am in support of the applicant’s appeal. The reason I’m going to vote that way is because it just doesn’t feel right.”

Board Chair Herman Thun advised against voting based on emotion. “If that was my neighborhood, I’d be out in the audience with you for sure . . . until I took a look at what the case law was, and what the rules are. At that point, I would have a real problem between my head and my heart,” he said. “Which means I feel for the neighborhood. I know what you don’t want. You’re here, you stood up, you clapped . . . cheered . . . It’s pretty obvious . . . but in my judgment, the zoning rules are pretty clear. I don’t like it, I wish it wasn’t that way, but I can’t support this motion because I’m going to have to vote with my head on this one,” he said.

Fuentes’ motion to overturn the city’s interpretation was seconded by Vice chair Betty Edgemond. They were joined by Board Member Barbara Aybar in voting for the motion. Thun and Board Member Laurie Virkstis were opposed. Since the motion required four votes to pass, the measure failed. The neighborhood still has the option to apply to the board for a reconsideration of the decision.

Frate Barker Road still turns out some opposition

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Advisory Committee has begun the delicate process of rebalancing its representation and projects, now that the planning authority covers three entire counties.

Last month’s decision to expand CAMPO to include all of Hays, Williamson and Travis C ounties will likely necessitate an expansion and reconfiguration of the board membership to accurately reflect the region’s population. Last night, the board only got far enough to approve the addition of Rep. Dan Gattis (R-Georgetown).

Before a second representative from Hays County can be added to the board, the Joint Powers Agreement must be amended. Executive Director Michael Aulick pointed out that proportional representation might also mean fewer representatives from Travis County. Those potential changes will be presented at the next meeting.

New boundaries also denote new projects for the organization to oversee. A public hearing on the amended CAMPO 2025 Transportation Plan and the FY 2004-2008 Transportation Improvement Program was also scheduled last night. The amendments, updated with additional information on bike/pedestrian projects and fiscal implications, will be considered in April. Only two speakers signed up at last night’s hearing, and they came to protest the inclusion of Frate Barker in the existing CAMPO 2025 Plan—which was not a scheduled topic. Aulick added that CAMPO had no immediate plan to build Frate Barker, which the City of Austin has excluded from its roadway plan.

Major road projects in Williamson and Hays counties to be added to the CAMPO plan include additional lanes to I-35 between the Blanco River and SH 123, at a cost of $32 million; the construction of US 290 from RM 12 to the Hays-Travis boundary, at a cost of $125 million; and the portion of State Highway 130 from I-35 to CAMPO’s old northern boundary in Williamson County, at a cost of $349 million.

Other planned roadway improvements include widening State Highway 195 and rebuilding State Highway 29 in Williamson County; and construction of FM 110 and widening of State Highway 21 in Hays County. All of the projects up for hearing are already in the design phase at the Texas Department of Transportation, Aulick said.

The Transportation Improvement Plan includes immediate road projects, as well as $5.6 million in federal funding approved to study the San Antonio-Austin commuter rail corridor. The TIP also includes Capital Metro facilities such as the expansion of the North I-35 Park & Ride and the addition of various North Austin Capital Metro operating facilities. In addition, CAMPO will spend $276,000 to study congestion reduction in the region.

Colin Clark of the SOS Alliance protested the inclusion of the SH 45 South project— the section between MoPac and FM 1626—in the TIP. Clark pointed out that the project was likely to cross the Flint Ridge Cave, the second deepest and fifth longest cave in the state. Located in the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, it is home to at least two endangered insects. Under one proposed route, a third of the cave would be under concrete and the balance would lie in the path of petrochemical runoff.

Asked by Commissioner Gerald Daugherty whether there was any road in Southwest Travis County the coalition could support, Clark said SOSA’s first concern was to save Barton Springs and that any new road or road expansion would be viewed from that angle. Pressed by Daugherty, Clark admitted there was no project on the books in Southwest Travis County the group could support.

It was pointed out to Clark that the highway project was totally funded by state dollars, not CAMPO funds. Clark told the board that Aulick had informed SOSA that CAMPO had some discretion as to where TxDOT road funds would be spent. Clark said that whether or not the road went over a cave, the funds could probably be better spent on road projects other than State Highway 45, which passes over the recharge zone.

When asked if CAMPO could exercise discretion in the project funding, Aulick replied that he just didn’t know. He told the board he would have to get back to them with a more informed answer.

Airport bill on tap for this morning . . . The House Transportation Committee will address State Rep. Ron Wilson’s HB 483 today. That’s the bill that could reopen Mueller Airport for general aviation. Jim Walker with the Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition tells members the hearing is “no cause for alarm” and asks them to hold off on contacting their elected officials. A similar bill by Wilson during the last session of the legislature specifically excluded Mueller from being considered as the site of a general aviation airport. The House Transportation Committee meets at 8am in the Capitol extension, Room E2.012, aka House Hearing Room 11 . . . Transit meeting tonight . . . The City of Austin and Capital Metro will hold the first in a series of transit station planning workshops from 6 to 9pm tonight at the First English Lutheran Church, 3001 Whitis. This workshop will focus on transit stations planned for Guadalupe at 38th and 29th Streets. Tonight’s workshop is part of the Central Austin Combined Neighborhood Planning process . . . New candidate for Place 6 . . . UT student Arash Ebrahimi has appointed a campaign treasurer and begun the process of collecting signatures and funds to run for the seat held by Danny Thomas. The 21-year-old psychology student says he decided to run for office because of frustrations he and his friends were feeling about the political process. He has not previously been involved in city politics . . . Democrats to hear about ACC tax district . . . ACC Trustee Rafael Quintanilla and Guadalupe Sosa, president of the Southwood Neighborhood Association will discuss the proposed community college tax district at South Austin Democrats tonight. The group begins its meeting at 5pm at Rosie’s Tamale House, Oltorf and South Congress . . . SAD candidate forum . . . SAD President Jeff Jack says the group will hold a forum for City Council candidates from 6-9pm March 25 at Gardner Betts Center on South Congress . . . Zoning and Platting Commission meets tonight . . . Agape Christian Ministries is scheduled to return for a zoning change request. Last time, the applicant brought an unusually large but courteous group of supporters to the ZAP meeting. Neighbors have opposed the requested NO zoning, but staff has recommended the change . . . No delay, no problem . . . CAMPO’s Policy Advisory Committee unanimously approved a resolution last night to consider a freight rail line in the design of State Highway 130. Responding to a question by County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, Rep. Mike Krusee, the sponsor of the resolution, said the study would not delay the project . . . Boundary advisory group appointment put off . . . CAMPO has delayed approval of an advisory council on CAMPO’s boundary expansions. Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos had wanted to appoint a group that included Neal Kocurek of Envision Central Texas, Bill Hamilton of the Capital Area Planning Council, Howard Falkenberg of the Capital Area Transportation Coalition, Cliff Davis of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce; Glenn Gadbois of the Just Transportation Alliances and Melanie Oberlin of the Save Our Springs Alliance. Commissioner Gerald Daugherty said he could not support the slate and Commissioner Karen Sonleitner wanted more geographic and ethnic diversity on the panel. Vice Chair Greg Boatright delayed a vote until the absent Barrientos could respond to questions . . . Our mistake . . . The filing deadline for this May’s City Council elections is 5pm on Wednesday, March 19, not March 18 . . . No rehearing on condo project . . . Neighbors of 54 Rainey Street asked the Board of Adjustment last night reconsider two variances it approved for the project at its previous meeting, but the board voted 5-0 against taking up the case.

© 2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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