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BOA rejects variance for Bouldin duplex

Monday, September 18, 2006 by

The Board of Adjustment has denied, for the second time, a height variance for a nearly-completed duplex at 616 W. Monroe. The developer had received a building permit from the city for a three-story duplex on that lot in the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood and passed several inspections during the construction process before being notified that the permit had been issued in error, since the city code now limits duplexes to two stories. That change to the code was made during the debate over new regulations for “super duplexes.”

Agent Jim Bennett, representing the Cobalt Companies LLC, filed for a reconsideration of the Board’s previous rejection of the variance request. He said his client should have been able to rely on the permit issued by the city staff charged with having knowledge of the city’s regulations. “In going through the process, somewhere you have to be reasonably assured that you’re going to build what the city has issued a permit for,” Bennett said. “Based on case law…there is sufficient legal evidence to grant the variance.”

The case in question, Board of Adjustment vs. McBride (1984) stemmed from a dispute in Corpus Christi. A more recent Dallas case, Board of Adjustment vs. Doug Vanesko, addresses similar issues.

Neighbors argued that their neighborhood should not be forced to pay the price for the city’s mistake in issuing the permit. The structure in question was quite clearly a “super duplex,” said Cory Walton with the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association, and inappropriate for the area. “That goes back to the very reason the ‘super duplex’ ordinance was put into place in the first place, and that is doubling up…tripling up residents in a single dwelling.”

“It does not fit with the neighborhood,” Piper Becker said of the 35-foot tall structure. “What we’re looking at are two homes that are going for $500,000 each. That’s the issue. It’s the money that they’re looking for. It’s horrible what’s happening, to see the destruction that this neighborhood is going through.”

While Becker and other neighbors argued that it would be fair to expect the developer to follow the city’s rules, Bennett countered the fair thing would be for the city to stand by the integrity of its permitting process.

“It is horrible, it’s horrible that you get a permit and submit your plans…and you get through construction and then you can’t finish the project,” he said. “At some point in this development process, you have to feel you have the surety to build what’s been drawn, what’s been reviewed, and what’s been permitted.”

Some members of the Board clearly sided with Bennett. “I sympathize with the neighborhood…but what scares me to death is that any citizen can go and pull a permit, and today we could say ‘it’s not really a permit.’ That scares me to no end,” said Board Chairman Frank Fuentes. “I’m scared of the dangerous precedent that we will set.”

Fuentes found support from several other Board Members, including Herman Thun and Michael Van Ohlen, but was not able to convince Betty Edgemond or Bryan King. The developers should have known better than to take their design to the city for approval in the fist place, said King, and should have realized the city staff’s mistake after the permit had been approved.

“There was so much controversy over this ordinance, it was not a secret by any means,” King said. “It was common knowledge to anybody in this town what was going on with the ‘super duplexes’, and the limits that were set. This violates those limits.” While King conceded that “the city did make an error, they did issue the permit, but it still goes against that ordinance that is two years old.”

A majority of the Board supported a motion by Michael Von Ohlen to grant the variance. But under the Board’s rules, a majority is not enough, so the motion failed despite the support of five of the panel’s seven members. Board Members Bryan King and Betty Edgemond were opposed.

The developer now has several options. Neighborhood residents suggested modifying the third floor into a loft, thereby complying with the code provision stipulating a maximum of two stories for a duplex without changing the exterior of the structure. But agent Bennett said that would likely not be feasible given the interior layout of the building. Another option is to build a berm around the first floor, now designed as a garage, and instead classify it as a basement. A third option would be to remove one of the two kitchens in the structure, which would convert it into a single-family dwelling instead of a duplex and eliminate the need for a variance. Finally, the developer has the right to contest the Board’s ruling through a lawsuit in district court.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

McMansions meetings today . . . The City Council earlier this summer adopted new Residential Design and Compatibility Standards. The new standards apply to single-family and similar construction and additions within a limited area of the City (generally, greater Central Austin). The new regulations will go into effect on Oct. 1. The city is sponsoring two public meetings today on the new Residential Design and Compatibility Standards One meeting is at 2pm in Council Chambers at City Hall; the other is at 6:30pm in the 3rd floor conference room at One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Rd. The afternoon meeting will be geared towards those in the development community while the evening meeting will be more general. For more information about these new residential standards, please visit: www.cityofaustin.org/zoning/sf_regs.htm. . . . Meetings . . . The Saltillo District Redevelopment Project Community Advisory Group meets at 9:30m at the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corp., 1000 Lydia St. . . . The Urban Renewal Board meets at 6pm in the Street-Jones Building . . . CAMPO Growth Workshop today . . . The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) is seeking public input on its new effort to develop a draft "Regional Growth Concept" that will help guide the spending of transportation dollars in Central Texas and potentially impact Central Texans' quality of life for decades to come. The Regional Growth Concept encompasses five counties-Williamson, Travis, Hays, Bastrop, and Caldwell counties-and would encourage the creation of "activity centers" in the region, areas where residents would have ready access to transportation, employment, recreation, shopping, and other needs. The Growth Concept includes a map developed by CAMPO that includes about 40 activity centers in the affected counties. These activity centers would function as smaller versions of downtown-type development. A goal of the Growth Concept is to get more people out of their cars and into buses or other forms of transportation, including bicycles and walking. CAMPO plans a meeting at 6pm today at the Joe C. Thompson Center on the UT Campus. For details on the Growth Concept, including the map and implementation strategies, visit CAMPO's Web site at www.campotexas.org. Also on CAMPO's Web site is a link to a survey CAMPO has developed to gain public input. More than 150 Central Texans have already taken the online survey which includes eight questions. Those interested can access the survey directly at www.surveymonkey.com/campo. . . . Redeemer gets postponement . . . Following Tuesday night's ruling by the Planning Commission on the variance request from the Redeemer Presbyterian Church for the proposed site of their new sanctuary, the Board of Adjustment granted a 90 day postponement to the church in a related case. The Planning Commission's ruling on the height of the building and a request to build an 80-foot bell tower, said Richard Suttle, required the church to re-evaluate its proposed design. "It could affect what this variance would look like," he said. He requested a 60-day delay to review those plans and meet with neighborhood representatives. After hearing from a member of the Rosewood and Upper Boggy Creek neighborhood groups that they supported the postponement, the Board voted unanimously to reschedule the matter for Dec. 11. Board Member Betty Edgemond wanted it noted that she "very reluctantly" voted to delay. "When you keep putting your case on," she told Suttle, "It knocks someone else's case off.

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