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WANG turns up heat on homeowner

Friday, February 25, 2005 by

BOA considers fix for setback violation

Members of the West Austin Neighborhood Group (WANG) turned out in force at last week’s Board of Adjustment meeting to show their displeasure with a proposed setback variance. The variance request, made for a new home recently constructed at 2306 W. 8th Street, was postponed until March 14. That means WANG members will have two reasons to show up at next month’s meeting. This week, the BOA postponed until March another case involving their neighborhood.

The builder, Teo Gomez of Origin Homes, constructed a home with a detached two-story garage and accessory building within the 10-foot rear yard setback. While the builder’s representatives told the board that the encroachment was an honest mistake, neighbors maintained that it was the obligation of the company to abide by the city’s Land Development Code.

“This is their first home in the City of Austin,” explained agent John Joseph, Jr., who represented Gomez and Origin. “He was very concerned because of our cumbersome code.” Joseph said his client had done the best he could to lay out his plans for city staff when seeking a building permit, and noted that the structure had been completely finished and inspected multiple times. “Through honest mistakes that were made on our part and, I think, on the staff’s part in reviewing this, it was not caught until the structure was built,” Joseph said.

The garage is located at the appropriate setback for a one-story structure, but the fact that it is a two-story structure triggers a greater setback requirement. While the builder could have easily moved the garage from the five-foot setback line to the ten-foot setback line during the planning stage, Joseph said that tearing down and rebuilding the structure at this point would cost approximately $100,000.

Neighborhood representatives had little sympathy. “Origin Homes is a professional, experienced developer. Their project foreman is also an experienced professional. This is not a case of city error. It is incumbent upon the person pulling the building permit to draw the correct permit,” said Blake Tollett with WANG. “The city bases its inspection on that permit. In this case, the applicant has purposely built beyond the permit in contravention of the Land Development Code. The hardship is absolutely of the applicant’s own doing.”

The board received nine letters of opposition to granting the setback variance requested by the developer. “We are under a lot of pressure with smaller houses that have been there for as long as 70 years being replaced by much larger houses. We welcome our new neighbors, but we want them to play by the rules,” said Michael Guarino. “The LDC is very clear and accessible to all of us, it’s available on line. We’re very uncomfortable with this intrusion into the set-back.”

Board Member Frank Fuentes blamed at least of one error on the city staff, pointing to blueprints of the site that showed a two-story garage. “The builder has proven to me that he didn’t do this on purpose,” he said. “This body in the past has granted similar variances. I have no problem with it.”

But other members of the BOA did have problems with the request. “I believe that builders need to comply with the rules of the code and I will not vote for this,” said Board Member Barbara Aybar, who was joined by Board Member Betty Edgemond.

With two members of the five-member panel clearly opposed, Board Chair Herman Thun declined to take a motion on the variance request. Instead, the board decided to postpone the case until its March 14 meeting to allow time for the builder and his agent to meet with neighborhood representatives. Thun also suggested that he would only be in favor of granting the variance if the plumbing were removed from the building, rendering it unavailable for use as a separate garage apartment.

Housing options top list of TOD concerns

A second hearing on the city’s transit-oriented development ordinance was held at One Texas Center last night in response to a request by Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman to solicit additional input on the proposal before final Council approval. About a dozen people attended the meeting, most of them either landowners or advocates living around the seven proposed TOD sites. Audience members raised several issues during the two hour meeting.

Lori Renteria urged the Council to consider requiring 25 percent affordable housing around each transit station, rather than a cumulative 25 percent among all stations . The argument has been made that some stations have a limited amount of land, but Renteria said affordable housing could be a long-term goal.

Renteria also raised concerns about non-conforming uses. Around Saltillo Plaza, homeowners had fought to turn non-conforming homes into conforming homes in order to pull building permits. Those gains could be reversed, Renteria said.

East Austin resident Angela Miller stated her preference for single-family owner-occupied housing. The area around Saltillo Plaza has plenty of affordable housing, Miller said, but the neighborhood needs stability. City staff members pointed out the TOD ordinance does encourage single-family housing, but denser single-family housing on smaller lots. Owner-occupied housing is still a possibility.

One landowner in the area around the Northwest Park-and-Ride was concerned that the radius was too large. Denser development does not make sense in the area with little or no development. Planner Scott Whiteman pointed out that the size of the station plan’s radius could be adjusted during the station-planning process.

A Highland neighborhood resident also expressed his support for the city’s plan to relax the restrictions on auto repair around the North Lamar transit station. A number of auto repair uses already exist in the area, and residents are open to the use in the area.

The TOD ordinance will go back to Council next week. John Hodges, who oversees Capital Metro’s TOD efforts, said the ROMA design plan commissioned on Plaza Saltillo should be completed by the end of March. At that time the Capital Metro board will decide whether the plan is financially viable and whether the project should be sent out for Request for Proposals. Capital Metro also is considering a transit-oriented station plan around a node for Capital Metro’s express bus service in South Austin.

Notes from the campaign trail

Christian Archer and Mark Nathan, who helped elect Austin Mayor Will Wynn and Houston Mayor Bill White, are currently in San Antonio assisting mayoral candidate Phil Hardberger. Archer is acting as campaign manager, while Nathan plays part-time consultant. Nathan is running the campaigns of both Council Member Betty Dunkerley and Place 1 candidate Lee Leffingwell, so the time he has to devote to a hard fought race in the Alamo city is limited. Both elections are scheduled for May 7.

The race for Place 1 became a little more crowded Thursday, as Scott Williams filed both a designation of campaign treasurer and an application for a spot on the ballot. Williams, a first-time candidate, works for Travis County. Leffingwell is the only other candidate to file for the position so far, but Andrew Bucknall and James Paine have filed designation of treasurer documents. The deadline for filing for all seats is March 7.

Rosemary Ybarra, the elections specialist for the city clerk’s office, told In Fact Daily yesterday that city employees have completed sampling the signatures for Onward Austin’s bid to place an anti-smoking referendum before the voters. The results of their analysis have been sent to an expert the city hired to ensure that such petitions are properly validated. She said she expects a report today that will tell the city whether there are sufficient signatures.

Place 3 candidate Margot Clarke welcomed several dozen well-wishers to her new campaign headquarters on Burnet Road last night. Among those schmoozing were Jim Walker, Sabino and Lori Renteria, Helen Spear and Bob Warneke. Ms. Renteria said she is withholding her endorsement until after the weekend of April 30, when she has invited candidates to help build affordable housing in her East Austin neighborhood. Whoever lends the most assistance will get her endorsement, she said.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Art at City Hall . . . From all appearances, last night’s first City Hall art exhibit was a resounding success. Many of those attending had obviously missed City Hall’s grand opening last year, and there were as many who came to see the architecture as the assembled work of 77 Austin artists. Three floors of art and hundreds of visitors who didn’t come to complain about neighborhood zoning or any of the other mundane problems of urban life electrified the building and made Austin seem like the big city it is apparently going to become . . . Farewell party for Luckens today . . . Co-workers are hosting a retirement reception today for Ben Luckens, who has handled city annexations for years. The event is scheduled for Room 325 of One Texas Center from 3-5pm. Last week, Luckens was honored with a salute led by Mayor Will Wynn and City Manager Toby Futrell that included a resolution and video montage of top Luckens moments at various City Council meetings . . . Coyote confab . . . Council Member Brewster McCracken is sponsoring a neighborhood town hall meeting to discuss issues concerning Northwest Austin residents, including the City of Austin’s participation with Travis County in a cooperative program to control coyotes. The program is set for 7:30pm on March 1 at Murchison Middle School, 3700 North Hills Drive. The county’s wildlife biologist will provide an update and staff from animal control, the city’s 311 program and APD will be on hand to answer questions. For more information contact . . By popular demand . . . The Travis County Hospital District Board of Managers is debating where to hold its future meetings. Since they began meeting, the board has held the majority of its meetings in the Travis County Commissioners’ chambers on 11th street. But the district has inherited the Cesar Chavez building at 1111 Cesar Chavez, and there has been some sentiment to move the meetings there. However, that building does not have the facilities to televise the meetings on Cable Channel 17, and according to Board Member Donald Patrick, a large number of people have contacted the board saying they watch them regularly and don’t want to have to start attending the meetings in person. However, beginning in March, the district will have to start paying for county staff time to keep its weekly medical drama on the air. The board has voted to continue meeting at the Commissioners’ chambers, but will take up the matter again in a week or two when they have a better idea of what the costs will be. Stay tuned.. . Big Brothers bowling . . . Nearly 1,000 bowlers are expected to knock down a few pins for the Bowl for Kids’ Sake 2005 beginning at Highland Lanes tonight. The big bowling marathon is to benefit Big Brothers and Big Sisters programs in Central Texas and features bowlers from numerous Austin companies, local firefighters and Attorney General Greg Abbott. The organization says more bowlers are still needed. For more information and for specific bowling session times, contact the BBBS office at 472-5437 or visit the website at . . . Democratic women get together . . . The Texas Democratic Women will be holding their annual convention this weekend at the Radisson Hotel, Cesar Chavez at Congress. For more information visit their website at

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