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Variances rejected on East Austin property

Friday, November 12, 2010 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Board of Adjustment agreed unanimously this week to reject two variance requests for a contentious East Side property located at 2206 East 14th Street.

 

David Cancialosi, who spoke on behalf of property owner Jeff Lewis, opened the proceedings with a timeline of mistakes made by the City of Austin. He argued that the errors constitute hardship and led to the need for variances that would increase the maximum floor-to-area ratio and impervious coverage limit for the property.

 

The proceedings focused on the property’s garage, which came under particular fire for being possibly unable to function as a garage. John McDonald, head of residential review for the city, told In Fact Daily that the property had presented a problem from “the first meeting and first visit to find out that what was on the ground wasn’t actually what was approved.”

 

The property is currently leased by group home A New Entry. However, Cancialosi said, “There is no intent to turn this into a group home of any sort. We’re just renting rooms as allowed by duplex regulations and no more.”

 

“So it’s just a bunch of roommates that are ex-felons?” asked Vice-Chair Clarke Hammond. “That have kind of grouped together? I don’t know if there’s any way you could spin that. It’s a halfway house.”

 

Cancialosi stressed that business is not conducted on the site, that the residents are simply tenants, and that those tenants could change when the New Entry lease is up. “We might have six or seven college kids living there,” he said. “We just don’t know.”

 

Skepticism surrounded the idea that the property was designed to be a recreational area. “After looking at this drawing that we have here, it looks very clear to me that it’s being set up for additional residential use,” said Board Member Michael von Ohlen.

 

“This is a case where we really need to take a stand and say this kind of construction in our neighborhood is not okay,” said Sarah Searcy, chair of the Chestnut Neighborhood Plan Contact Team. “It’s not in compliance with current zoning, and it’s also not really in compliance with our neighborhood plan.”

 

The fact that the garage is located on an unpaved alley with a steeply inclined driveway led opponents to say it can’t be utilized to shelter cars. Additionally, there was some argument over whether the building is two or three stories high.

 

Neighbors insisted that the structure is three stories and provided documentation to that effect. Cancialosi maintained this is not the case. “It’s just an attic,” he told In Fact Daily.

 

After Hammond said the case had become “a debate free fall,” the board voted to reject the variance requests.

 

Asked if she was satisfied with the board’s determination, Searcy said, “It’s not over yet. They’ve been fighting this for a long time, and their options are to either demolish it or to bring the ceilings down . . . and they don’t like either of those options.

 

“They told us they would go to court. That may have been an idle threat.”

 

Cancialosi told In Fact Daily, “I’m surprised by the lack of emphasis on the city’s obvious, blatant mistakes. I’m surprised that the city Board of Adjustment commissioners really didn’t take our word and our compromises seriously to say that the second floor would never be used for habitable purposes. They basically said, ‘We don’t believe you.’ “

 

Cancialosi also expressed displeasure with the lack of attention paid to the impervious cover variance.

 

“I wish they had put more emphasis on the merits of the case,” he said. “Frankly, neighborhood opposition, or neighbor opposition from a single neighbor, doesn’t hold much water in terms of actual, factual determination of a decision by a commission.”

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