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Owners await Board of Adjustment ruling to build second dwelling

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Two Austinites hoping to build another dwelling on their land will have to wait a bit longer to find out whether they have the required variance from the Board of Adjustment.

Gregory Brooks and Neal B. Kassanoff are seeking a variance to build a second dwelling on their 4201 Wilshire Parkway property, which is located near the Cherrywood neighborhood.

The proposed building complies with other code requirements, except that it is a dwelling instead of another structure, like a garage. Code requires that a second dwelling be located at least 15 feet behind the principal structure.

The owners are seeking the variance due to the location of the main house at the rear of the oddly-shaped property, the historic nature of the house, and the location of a heritage tree on the lot.

“We feel like this is within our rights to build; there is simply the issue of whether we can use this as a second dwelling,” said Brooks.

Whether the board will allow that use remains to be seen. They postponed the case in order to allow the owners to work with neighbors who oppose the variance.

Brooks and Kassanoff came with a cadre of neighborhood supporters including one who had driven in from Northern Louisiana to attend the meeting.

“I’m in favor of anybody doing good work to their house to improve the value of it. There are lots of people in the neighborhood that don’t paint, don’t landscape and don’t do roofing jobs. This was a house that was built in 1948, so they need to update the house,” said neighbor Dan Brotman.

Brooks explained that he understood obtaining a variance was “a difficult route to go,” but said they had given it a lot of thought.

“The lot is large enough that, as I understand it, we could have a second address. It’s very difficult to have all of this space and have to look at finding an exception to be able to do a secondary dwelling,” said Brooks.

The project also faced opposition from neighbors.

Nancy Leshikar, whose mother owns a nearby house, spoke on behalf of “nine property owners who are vehemently opposed to the addition of this second residence.”

“It essentially changes the nature of Wilshire Parkway,” said Leshikar, who went on to explain that the cul-de-sac was comprised of small stone cottages.

“When you talk about more density – the most density we could really afford is another dog or a cat,” said Leshikar. “And you’d have to shoe ‘em in there with a shoehorn.”

Leshikar also told the board that parking was tight on the Parkway, and had even compromised emergency vehicle access on occasion.

“I can verify that my mother has single-handedly accounted for three accidents on the Parkway, just by pulling out of her driveway and backing into a car that’s parked across the street,” said Leshikar. “It’s a very narrow parkway.”

“The parkway is a very special, historical place. My parents have owned their property for 47 years. Other people on the parkway have lived there for 47 years, and it’s a very close-knit community,” said Leshikar.

She explained that additional building on the portion of the lot toward Airport Boulevard would be preferred.

Brooks said that they would be meeting with the Historic Landmark Commission as well, and suggested that discussion about the character and appropriateness of the project would best be saved for that audience.

“Since I’m a historic preservation professional, I might as well speak to some of those issues now,” said Board Member Fred McGhee, who declared the property had no formal historic preservation issues that could influence the board’s decision.

McGhee said that while he had “great regard” for a neighbor who opposed the project because it would block her view, he wasn’t sure that outweighed the rights of the applicant to enjoy his property.

“I would suggest that you guys dig a little deeper in your repertoire, and come up with something that would be a little stronger,” said McGhee.

Brooks said he would very much like to discuss the project with neighbors that opposed it, and had tried to reach out previously.

Board Member Melissa Hawthorne pointed out that the house was on a very large lot, and there might be other options for building.

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