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Homeowner's project caught in Building Code changes

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 by

Board of Adjustment sympathetic to applicant

In a case where Austin Building Code proved to be a moving target, the city’s Board of Adjustment granted a variance last week to a homeowner seeking to relocate a home over an existing garage to construct a two-story residence.

According to Melissa Hawthorne, agent for homeowner Kerry Price, bad timing and city staff’s confusion led Price to begin construction on an 848-square foot addition to the garage on his property at 2007 La Casa Dr., when the revised building code limits such structures to 550 square feet.

“He began planning the project before any of the changes took place,” said Hawthorne. “The City Council changed the ordinance on November 18, and he applied for his permit on December 10 without knowing the change had been made. Had he known the rules were changing, he would have done something else. It’s really just a case of bad timing.”

Hawthorne said Price had already framed out much of the sec ond story when, in June, a city inspector told him there was a problem with his permit.

“He was proceeding under the assumption that everything was OK,” she said. “The city had approved his plans, and inspectors had been out to the property in April and May, and had s aid nothing. But in June, they red-tagged it because of the change in the code.”

Board Chair Frank Fuentes asked a series of questions to staff and the applicant to determine if the project was in compliance with all regulations prior to November 18. He was assured that it complied with all regulations regarding easements, setbacks, parking, height restrictions and other rules in place at the time.

One person spoke against granting the variance. David Williams, who owns the property next door at 2005 La Casa, said he had major concerns about drainage from the project, which he says will flow onto his property. Williams was also concerned about how adding another residence would affect his privacy and parking in the area.

Hawthorne said the owner would be providing on-site parking for any tenants, and that he would work with his neighbors on solving any privacy issues. As for drainage, modifications were being made to the site that would control any drainage from the area and send it into the street.

During debate over the variance, Board Member Barbara Aybar noted that despite the change in the code, the owner was given a valid permit to build the structure planned on the site, and had already gone to a great deal of work and expense on the project, believing in good faith that it had been approved.

The balance of the board agreed, and voted unanimously to approve the variance.

County refuses demand to move boat ramps

Windsurfing group opposes changing rules too

Lake Travis property owner Bob Barstow, at odds with Travis County over boat ramps for Windy Point Park for close to three decades, did not gain much ground with his latest appeal at last week’s Commissioners Court meeting.

A court order, signed in 1986, provides Barstow with some easement rights for access over Lower Colorado River Authority land so he could launch boats onto Lake Travis. The order was highly specific: Barstow was neither allowed to loiter nor disrupt other swimming and boating activities at the county’s Bob Wentz Park. Travis County operates the busy facility on Comanche Trail about three miles west of Ranch Road 620 off the LCRA’s land.

Barstow, who spoke to county commissioners in June, was back last week to plead his case for moving boat ramps and improving signs at the park. Barstow insists that the county built a boat ramp in a location that he considers unsafe, raising the risk for his own park. In response, Barstow told commissioners in June he would exercise his property rights to increase his business by launching motorboats.

County staff provided a careful presentation last week about the terms of the agreement signed in 1986, along with information about a new ramp and “no wake” zone created in the last year to try to minimize traffic problems. Barstow said he never agreed to the regulations or the ramp, which he called a fifth-rate ramp using private dollars, saying it increased safety problems in the cove.

“The devil with the regulations. You can’t manage this by regulations that set aside and ignore my property rights,” Barstow said. “You must make your regulations to comply with the property rights, and the reason that you must do so is because the District Cour t ordered you to do so, to not interfere in any way with easement uses.”

Barstow wants to put a launch on the north side of the park, which was opposed by both county staff and the windsurfing community. Barstow, in fact, faced strong opposition from the Austin Windsurfing Club. Vice President Ron Hensley said history had taught the club that Barstow used every concession to advance his own causes.

“Every time he does something, we have to think, ‘How’s he going to use this in the future to create a further untenable situation?’” Hensley said.

The only real support Barstow got from commissioners was a promise to review the markers in the area to make sure they worked properly. No other decisions were made.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Still no new City Council committees . . . The City Council postponed naming members to the new Land Use Subcommittee last week because they did not yet have a written description of the topics the new committee would be considering. They also postponed until next week naming a new committee to look at emerging technologies, a particular interest of Council Member Jennifer Kim. Council Member Brewster McCracken initiated the idea for the land use committee and had hoped to get that moving last month. But it will have to wait until after the August 18 meeting. On August 4, the Council decided to disband the Health Care Subcommittee before they learned that that committee would be involved in screening applicants for the Travis County Hospital District Board. Board member Victoria Hsu has resigned effective Sept 1 . . . Today’s meetings . . . City Council Audit and Finance Committee will meet at 10:30am in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall. Members will hear results of the city auditor’s work on administration of the hotel occupancy tax as well as delivery of emergency medical services. Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas has joined this committee. The City Council MBE/WBE Committee is scheduled to meet at 6pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall also. Council Member Jennifer Kim has joined this committee . . . The Planning Commission is scheduled to meet at 6pm in Council Chambers and the Robert Mueller Municipal Advisory Commission is set to meet at 6pm in Room 105 of Waller Creek Plaza. In Fact Daily reported erroneously Monday, as did the City website, that this group was meeting last night . . . The Bond Advisory Committee’s Open Space Subcommittee will meet at 4pm in room 1034 at City Hall. The Airport Advisory Commission will meet at 5pm in ABIA Room 160 . . . Morgan chosen for IIA Board . . . City Auditor Stephen Morgan has been elected to the Board of Directors of the Institute of Internal Auditors. Morgan will serve a two-year term, serving as an advocate for the profession of internal auditing. The group has more than 100,000 members world-wide . . . Environmentalists seeking tourists, business travelers . . . The Move AMD campaign announced yesterday that members would hold up signs urging AMD CEO Hector Ruiz to change his mind about moving the company headquarters to a site on the Barton Springs Watershe d. According to Colin Clark of the SOS Alliance, those in the campaign will visit Austin-Bergstrom International Airport this afternoon to advertise their concerns to business travelers and tourists. . . . Landfill expansion protest . . . The Texas Campaign for the Environment will join neighbors in Northeast Travis County in opposition to the county’s contract with the BFI landfill on Giles Road. Instead of a proposed expansion, the group will speak in favor of a relocation of the BFI landfill during citizens’ communications at the county commissioners meeting in the morning. That will be followed by a press conference on the foyer outside the meeting room, around 9:30am. . . . Conservation Award nominations . . . Seeking nominees . . . The Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District is accepting nominations for its 2005 Conservation Awards. The District presents these awards to deserving individuals, organizations, companies and/or agencies that have invested considerable effort towards the protection and conservation of water resources in the B arton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer. Awards will be given in the following categories: Water Conservation, Water Quality Protection, Education, Research, and Innovation. The deadline is August 31. For more information and nomination forms, call 282-8441, or go to

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