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Board gives duplex owners chance to make peace with neighborhood

Tuesday, October 16, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

Hoping a second postponement might do the trick, the Austin Board of Adjustment unanimously opted to give the would-be builders of a Cherrywood duplex another chance to work things out with the neighborhood.


John Kinney, who owns the 3305 Lafayette Ave. property, has paused construction on his duplex since June. He has asked for a variance related to his garages.


The city initially approved a building permit for the duplex, but the neighborhood subsequently discovered the placement of the two garages was in violation of their neighborhood plan. The city ordered a halt to the construction just a few days after the foundation was poured.


A second appearance by Kinney showed that not much progress had been made since August, when the case was last before the board.


Though Board Member Michael Von Ohlen said he was “about a hair away from just outright denying it,” he moved to postpone the case and give the owner one more chance to work with the neighborhood.


The neighborhood association maintains that there is a way to complete the project, even with the foundation in place, and still adhere to city code and the neighborhood plan. Von Ohlen agreed, saying that, based on his experience as a contractor, he felt that plans could be adjusted. Specifically, the Kinneys’ garages would violate The Upper Boggy Creek Neighborhood Plan, which states that a parking structure with an entrance that faces the front yard may not be closer to the front lot line than the home’s building façade.


Jules Kniolek, who is a designer, builder and resident of Cherrywood, volunteered to help the Kinneys come up with a new plan that would meet code and design guidelines.


“It’s my opinion that this project could be redesigned without additional cost,” Kniolek said.


Architect Girard Kinney (no relation to John Kinney), a member of the Cherrywood Neighborhood Association steering committee, told the board that while the neighborhood had hoped they would be able to come up with a plan in the past month, the owners hadn’t facilitated communication between the neighborhood and the design team.


Cherrywood resident Emily Schwartz said, “To grant this particular variance would be a bad precedent. I think that the owners have had the attitude that they can do whatever they want with their property, which of course is not true.”


“We are a neighborhood that has a code, and I believe that it should be upheld,” said Schwartz. “They should be more flexible in dealing with the neighborhood association, because we have tried to accommodate them, but they have been unyielding and I think the variance would just vindicate their behavior.”


John Kinney said that the lack of cooperation with the neighborhood “is not among the list of relevant issues” before the Board of Adjustment. “It’s an obvious attempt to create bias,” he said. “Why not address the relevant issues rather than come up here and throw bias bombs?”


He said that they were unwilling to adopt suggestions that were made so far, as they would not work, but if a feasible suggestion were made, they would have adopted it. He explained that it had had a hard time reaching Kniolek, the Cherrywood designer and architect who offered services. 


John Kinney explained that the local architect he used only looked over plans purchased from a design firm in Oregon so he was no longer available to speak with the neighborhood.


Von Ohlen said that it was very likely that he would need an architect available during the construction, even beyond this variance process. He also asked the neighborhood to return with specific plans they could look at when the case comes back.


“Anybody who’s smart enough to do property investment in this town should also know that they need to check with these neighborhood associations and make sure that there’s no outside deed limitations, and that they do conform to the neighborhood,” said Von Ohlen.


The board asked the neighborhood to return with written plans that they think could work at the board’s next meeting, even if a meeting between the two sides couldn’t be arranged.


“If the neighborhood believes there are alternative ways to do this, that’s a strong indication that the variance isn’t necessary,” said Chair Jeff Jack. “(But) we don’t want to see a non-workable alternative. Something’s got to be actually doable when you come back with an alternative.”

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