Wednesday, December 11, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Board of Adjustment seeks guidance on new Lake Austin rules

New Lake Austin rules hit members of the Board of Adjustment at their November meeting, causing general befuddlement.

After expressing confusion about why they were hearing the case, the board decided on a postponement until Jan. 13 for the variance for existing backfill behind a bulkhead at 3600, 3602 and 3604 Rivercrest Drive.

“We’re getting into – can I say – uncharted territory,” said Board Member Bryan King.

Chair Jeff Jack said that the case was a “totally different animal than what they had dealt with in the past” and expressed discomfort over how well they understood the technical aspects of the case in comparison to variances that deal with setbacks, encroachments, impervious cover and other topics more typically seen by the board.

In addition to the postponement, Board Member Melissa Hawthorne requested a briefing on waterfront variances in general, and what the changes might mean for the board, though she was unsure who should conduct the briefing.

Agent Jim Bennett, who was representing Ryan and Margaret Dumont, said he was “in the same boat” as some of the board members and staff as he was previously unaware that these variances now went before the Board of Adjustment.

He said that he was not opposed to a postponement, and would be interested in attending a briefing if it was open to the public.

“This is a new one for a lot of us,” said Bennett, who told the board that he had even checked with Planning and Development Review Director Greg Guernsey to make sure that the case should go before the board.

“I think historically things like this went to the Parks Board, Navigation Board, Corps of Engineers and Planning Commission to get there. However, now the process has changed, unbeknownst to a lot of people, and it now comes before the Board of Adjustment,” said Bennett. “With that confusion confessed, I now present my case to you.”

Bennett explained that the previous retaining wall was “creating a vortex of a collection of all sorts of items coming down the stream.” That retaining wall was replaced with another about six years ago.

Dumont is currently seeking a boat dock permit, but requires a variance to allow the bulkhead and backfill to stay in place

“With the lower levels (on the lake,) I’m sure that people are going to be moving their stuff out further, and I’m sure we’re going to be seeing more of these,” said Board Member Michael Von Ohlen, who said he would probably study up on the issue in the future.

Bennett explained that the amount that the boat dock is allowed to extend into the water is controlled by ordinance, and requires a separate city approval (which had been obtained.)

The property owners were seeking a variance for the backfill, not the wall, because the wall itself wasn’t claiming any of the lake, or changing the property line.

“We went over this with staff to determine what we need the variance for and we determined that the backfill is the trigger. The retaining wall in itself doesn’t need your approval,” said Bennett.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Board of Adjustment: The city's Board of Adjustment is a quasi-judicial body that decides on variances, special exceptions and can issue interpretations of code.

City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

Lake Austin Overlay: The Lake Austin Overlay includes land located within 1000 feet of Lake Austin. Properties within the overlay are subject to development and environmental regulations intended to protect the city's drinking water supply.

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