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Board of Adjustment refuses appeal of plans for Barton Hills home

Monday, August 12, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Barton Hills residents had no luck barring a house at the Board of Adjustment, where their appeal was rejected unanimously.


Concerned neighbors asked the board to weigh in on staff’s decision to approve a single-family residence at 2904 Rae Dell Avenue. Specifically, they questioned whether plans complied with the height requirements under the city’s McMansion Ordinance.


At the heart of their objection was the city’s classification of the roof as “pitched or hipped,” which subjects its measurement to roof-height averaging. Alma Kuttruff, who filed the appeal, argued that the roof should be classified as “other,” which would require it to be measured from its highest point. If the city measured the roof from its highest point, the house would be taller than code allowed.


Kuttruff also maintained that a front-facing flat roof be measured differently. 70 neighbors joined in to support the appeal, including 37 that lived within a 500-foot radius of the project.


The Board of Adjustment unanimously rejected the appeal at a special called meeting last week. With Melissa Hawthorne and Sallie Burchett absent, the board unanimously rejected the appeal at a special called meeting in late July. They agreed with staff that the roof was pitched, and pointed out that it was simply turned sideways.


“There’s clearly a groundswell of support in this neighborhood to oppose this project. But this interpretation of the case applies to not just this thing, but everybody in the city. So we have to take that into consideration,” said Board Member Bryan King. “This is not a compatible structure that is going in this neighborhood. It’s not. But, does it meet the code? I think it does.”


King suggested the city take a closer look at why, with all of the work that went in to creating the McMansion ordinance, such an incompatible structure was legal. Though the board didn’t take any action on that exploration, Chair Jeff Jack said he was taking the suggestion seriously.


“It’s kind of ironic how much of a struggle it was to get the McMansion Ordinance approved in the first place that limits it down to what we have before us tonight,” said Jack. “McMansion, as limiting as it is, isn’t necessarily consistent with what the older homes are.”


Attorney Kevin Childs spoke on behalf of the property owners Alicia Lyn and Kevin Kasprzak. He told the board that images superimposing the planned house over older houses in the neighborhood were, in his opinion, deceptive. He said that his clients had worked carefully with staff to ensure the project was compliant with McMansion guidelines, and noted the issue was a neighborhood that was dissatisfied with the outcome of following the McMansion rules.


“The idea that there is something complicated about the roof on this building is, frankly, preposterous,” said Childs. “It’s a French-influenced hipped roof with several dormers, and that’s all that it is.”


“Also, the idea that this is a three-story residence seems absurd to me as well. It’s sort of in-line to the suggestion that this building is unusual or uncharacteristic of a particular design. It’s a very straightforward French-influenced building,” said Childs. “And whether one likes this particular style of building or not is irrelevant for purposes of today. The fact of the matter is that this is a two-story building with an attic, which is entirely permissible under code.”


Board Alternate Stuart Hampton pointed out that, to his “common sense eyes,” the attic indeed looked like a living space. However, Jack pointed out that if the attic was compliant in terms of floor-to-area ratio, how they used it was a matter left up to deed restrictions.


Board Member Fred McGhee said he wasn’t unsympathetic to the concerns of the neighborhood. But he was less sympathetic towards an attempt to invoke private deed restrictions in the discussion. McGhee took time to speak against deed restrictions in the appeal that could include racial exclusion clauses.


“I think you made a mistake, with me, in putting that kind of language as part of your support for this appeal,” said McGhee.


“Barton Hills really needs to take a look in the mirror when it comes to these kinds of things,” said McGhee. “I say this as someone who now lives in East Austin and has worked on this issue a long time.”

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