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Board of Adjustment rejects variance for enclosed garage in South Austin

Monday, May 20, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Board of Adjustment showed no sympathy last week to a homeowner hoping to win a variance for a detached garage in South Austin.


Architect Randall Owen was seeking a variance that would allow him to retain a garage at 2005 Bluebonnet Lane, despite the fact that the property was permitted for a carport, not a full garage. The board voted unanimously in a vote of 7-0 to deny the request, with alternate Stuart Hampton in for Vice Chair Melissa Hawthorne.


Board Member Michael Von Ohlen was particularly annoyed that the garage was already constructed.


“It really chaps me a lot when people are coming in, and they have already constructed something, and they want to request a variance. If this was already designed and permitted as a carport, it’s almost a slap in my face,” said Von Ohlen. “It’s something that just eats at me.”


Von Ohlen continued, “Until we start denying these things, it’s going to continue.”


“I hope that word starts getting out. We really need to start denying these things. If somebody needs to pay out of their pocket to make this a carport, then so be it. Sometimes that’s the only way that we can get people’s attention,” said Von Ohlen.


For his part, project Owen said that he was unable to build the detached garage in the rear of the house due to a heritage pecan tree .


“I would argue that a detached garage in the front looks better than a carport,” said Owen, who acknowledged that the building permit was for a carport.


His neighbors disagreed.


Christine Winston, who is an adjacent neighbor, told the board that the house was a “towering structure over three properties,” that neighbors had been concerned about for a long time.


“Honestly, any sort of variance, anything in favor of these developers felt like too much,” said Winston. “We’re just concerned with a lot of things about it. It’s just kind of pushed the envelope. It’s kind of pushed the boundaries of taste and size and character for our neighborhood.”


Lorraine Atherton told the board that the Zilker Neighborhood Executive Committee was opposed to the variance.


“The builders are trying to squeeze too much house with too little parking onto these narrow lots. They don’t have room for driveways, and they don’t have room for the parking,” said Atherton. “Nobody is building detached garages anywhere in the neighborhood. Why these people suddenly think they need a detached garage is really a mystery.”


In order to bring the structure into compliance, the Board of Adjustment ruled that three sides must be open on the structure, despite a last-ditch attempt from the architect to allow two sides to remain.


“Whatever you were approved for, that’s what you can have. But to close it into a garage? I can’t support it. I won’t support it,” said Von Ohlen.

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