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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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Board of Adjustment grants variance for Montopolis cottages
Tuesday, February 12, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano
The Board of Adjustment extended its benevolence to a small Montopolis property last night.
The board ultimately granted a variance which will allow the property owner to place two small cottages on the lot – located at 1204 Valdez Street, but not without strong words from Chair Jeff Jack enroute to the owners getting the variance.
“I don’t ever want to see a case like this again,” said Jack.
He made it clear that the approval of the variance wasn’t a given, despite the fact that they complied with the board’s request at their last meeting.
Because Board Member Fred McGhee had recused himself, as he is a member of the neighborhood association, it was necessary for all of the board members present to vote in favor of the variance in order for it to pass. Nora Salinas was absent, and Stuart Hampton was sitting in as an alternate. The board ultimately voted 6-0 in favor of the variance.
Bobbie Jo Cornelius of Site Specifics said that she had originally applied for a building permit in August of 2012, and placed the first house in order to get a jump on installing utilities. She then came to the Board of Adjustment to ask for a variance that would allow placement of the second cottage on the lot.
The variance allows construction of a secondary structure less than 15 feet behind the principal structure on the property.
“I don’t know how to send the message that we shouldn’t do it this way. We shouldn’t plot ourselves in by granting a building permit, where we then know that we’re going to have to go back and get a variance later to deal with it. I really hope that staff understands that and professionals that help people get through the process understand that’s not the way to do it,” said Jack.
Cornelius explained that since the last postponement, she had met with the Montopolis Neighborhood Association and Contact Team, and both organizations were in favor of the variance. Cornelius said that the neighborhood preferred the placement of two cottages on the land, as opposed to one, because they felt the change would support affordability in the area.
Both houses on the land are salvaged “Katrina Cottages” that are about 450 square feet.
Cornelius said that they had collaborated with the neighborhood to come up with a plan that placed one of the cottages as far forward as it could be placed, with the other already located at the rear of the lot, while preserving the trees that are currently on the lot.
The Board of Adjustment originally postponed the case in November of last year, asking that the applicant meet with the neighborhood, whose next meeting was in January.
When asked about a proposed design from the last meeting, Cornelius explained that arrangement blocked the back unit with the side of the front unit.
“The side of the unit is not nearly as cute as the front, and they didn’t like the look of it,” said Cornelius. The cottages are designed in a “shotgun style” and are long, narrow buildings with porches on the short front side.
Jack expressed frustration over staff approval of the location of the first cottage, which precluded placement of the second cottage without a variance. Cornelius explained that they did not need a variance; they just preferred the plan that needed one.
“There’s still a way to do it, we just lose two trees,” said Cornelius. She later conceded that they possibly could have preserved the trees and not needed a variance if they had located both cottages diagonally on the lot. “But the look of it is not anything the neighborhood would want,” said Cornelius.
“I appreciate that,” said Jack. “But the fact of the matter is you could have met the code.”
Jack said that he appreciated the strong arguments in favor the case made by his colleagues.
Board Member Michael Von Ohlen pointed out that they had sent the applicant away specifically to see what would fit in the neighborhood, and said that the city needed to preserve as many trees as they could, and prevent the area from being overbuilt, as is the case in other areas of the city.
Hampton was also supportive of the case. “Compared to many cases that come before this board without any neighborhood support, this proposal has the association support, the neighborhood plan contact team support, and it has a petition of support from the immediate neighbors… That’s a very strong piece of recommendation in my mind,” he concluded.
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