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Panel turns down homeowners’ request for another zoning variance

Friday, November 16, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Board of Adjustment made it clear Monday night that at least one West Austin couple has worn out their welcome for obtaining zoning variances.    


Jack and Ann Swingler, who own the property at 3801 Stevenson Avenue, were asking the Board of Adjustment to decrease the minimum front yard street setback from 25 to five feet to allow the construction of a carport. The West Austin Neighborhood Group (WANG) did not support the variance, which they saw as the third “garage-related” variance for the property.


The board voted 7-0 to deny the variance. “I think you’ve come back to the well one too many times,” Chair Jeff Jack said.     


WANG’s Blake Tollet told the board that while they had supported the first two variances, one of which decreased the front setback to allow construction of the garage in the first place, and the other to increase  the allowable floor-to-area ratio and explicitly asked the garage remain one floor and uninhabitable, they asked the board to deny this third variance.


“This is the third time, and to us that’s the crux. They’ve got a garage. If they need to store their vehicles they’ve got a garage for three vehicles,” said Tollet, who noted that there were no other carports like the one proposed on the block, and the neighborhood was concerned about setting a precedent.              


Tollet also noted that in 2004, the owners sited the exact same hardship to build the garage.      


Agent Jim Bennett put a positive spin on the number of previous variances, saying that they indicate a “uniqueness to the site.” He also questioned the visibility of the proposed carport.


“I don’t mean to imply that nobody’s going to see it, but it’s certainly going to be in a confined area where it’s not visible except, primarily, to those people across the street,” said Bennett. “Most people will not see this, except in a flash as they drive by. Or, if you are a slow walker, you certainly would see it.”


Spencer Nutting, who had lived across the street for the past 17 years, compared the house to the Winchester Mystery House (an historic San Jose, Calif., mansion with 160 rooms), saying, “This project seems to just keep going on and on and on. … I’m not letting it happen.”


Though Nutting alluded to more personal problems with the Swinglers, Tollet emphasized that that they had been good neighbors for the past 30-odd years.


Nutting went on to say that the Swinglers had turned a two-car garage into a three-car garage, and it wouldn’t surprise him if the carport was transformed into a six-car carport to support Jack Swingler’s hobby of collecting cars.


That may have cemented things for at least one car-collecting board member, who advised investing in car covers as he had.


“This one for me is pretty slam-dunk,” said Board Member Michael Von Ohlen. “I’ve got classic cars; I’ve got Harleys. I’ve got half of the garage that I get to tinker in and the rest is my wife’s. My cars sit outside under oak trees and cedar trees.”


“He’s got the benefit of his garage. We passed a variance so that he could have that garage. And I just don’t see the need or the reasonableness in granting a variance for a carport,” said Von Ohlen.

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