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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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Board of Adjustment postpones tricky North University variance case
Monday, August 15, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano
It’s back to the drawing board for owners of a North University property seeking a solution to a tricky situation.
Applicants for the property, located at 201 East 34th Street & 3307 Helms Street, last week sought eight separate setback variances from the Board of Adjustment. The variances would ultimately allow the lot to be subdivided, a goal which had the “full and unanimous support” of the North University Neighborhood Association.
Currently, three houses – built in 1926, 1935, and 1946 – sit on one lot. They are legal non-conforming structures, with two separate owners who form a very small condo association.
Mary Ingle, who serves on the development review committee for North University Neighborhood Association, spoke in favor of granting the variances, calling it “the simplest solution to a somewhat complicated problem.” She noted that they were unable to remedy the problem when the neighborhood plan was written, and that the neighborhood was “absolutely opposed” to a city staff suggestion that the property be upzoned.
“We do have other situations in which people put three units on a single SF-3 lot. The problem we’ve had with the city on that is that they identify that as multifamily. Just across the street from this we lost an incredible house, because the city identified three buildings on the lot as multifamily,” said neighbor Robert Taylor. “We lost compatibility on that and we got a very dense condo on that lot because of that. This will take that problem away. These will then become conforming. Compatibility will then rule should it come up again on these properties.”
Taylor, a resident who has “worked on the historic character of the neighborhood for about three decades,” initially spoke in favor of the variances and eventual subdivision. Following the postponement, Taylor told In Fact Daily that he had changed his mind after listening to Board Member Jeff Jack.
Jack put a halt to the proceedings, unconvinced that the neighborhood had considered the ramifications of their actions.
“It appears from the map that there are quite a few lots of this size in the neighborhood. Have y’all considered the precedent of allowing a subdivision that essentially results in a substandard lot?” asked Jack.
“Those property owners could then turn around and come back and say, ‘I want to create a substandard lot on the back of my lot with alley access, and you could have that proliferate through the entire neighborhood,” said Jack “We have lots of alleys in Hyde Park, we have lots of opportunities…I see a huge barn door opening, and bulldozers running through it.”
Ingle responded that she hoped that the neighborhood plan would offer enough protection against similar subdivision in the future, though she acknowledged that she “may be naïve.”
The board voted unanimously, 7-0, to postpone the case in order for the neighborhood and applicants to consider the precedent that would be set by the subdivision and, as Jack put it, to, “make a much clearer statement of what it is that you are accomplishing here and why you are supporting it.”
Following the meeting, the applicant and neighbors were hopeful that they could work out a creative solution to the property’s woes that would not have unwanted consequences.
Ingle was clear that something must be done, both for the benefit of the owners of the property and the neighborhood.
“Ownership is really kind of a weird thing. The previous owner was extremely greedy and she really wanted MF3 and she wanted to tear down the houses and build an apartment building. We wouldn’t let her, and so we didn’t deal with the zoning with these three structures on it,” said Ingle. “People like to own their property, they like to own land, and the condo association doesn’t really allow that to work.”
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