Tuesday, January 21, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Board of Adjustment gets its feet wet with first Lake Austin ruling

The Board of Adjustment embraced its new role and made its first Lake Austin ruling last week, though some of the members continue to struggle with the practicalities.

 

The board voted in favor of a variance at 2921 Westlake Cove, which is owned by Jay and Martha Gamble. The Gambles were asking for a variance that would allow them to demolish their existing boat dock, modify the shoreline, and build a new boat dock. The board was specifically looking at the construction of the bulkhead. The proposed bulkhead would cross an existing slip, which would be filled and re-vegetated.

 

This was the first time the board has ruled on land capture variances on Lake Austin since the board was given the authority in 2010,. According to the section of the code that addresses Lake Austin, if there is a variance request on the lake that is not designated to go to a particular board or commission, it goes to the Board of Adjustment.

 

“We’re going to feel like speed bumps for a while,” said Board Member Michael Von Ohlen.

 

Board Member Melissa Hawthorne cast the lone vote of dissent.

 

“I don’t like the fact that we have these at this point. Because I really feel like, if there is an Environmental Board variance or something like that, that should actually happen first,” said Hawthorne.

 

Agent Jim Bennett, who was representing the Gambles, explained that the new bulkhead would not be encroaching into the public waterways or any other private property. Rather, said Bennett, the new bulkhead would replace the current, failing bulkhead, and close off an inlet that he referred to as a “trash collector.”

 

The bulkhead would allow the owners to fill in and re-vegetate that inlet.

 

Alternate Will Schnier questioned the purpose of filling the land, which he said seemed to be adding value to the property.

 

Because they want the land area and then they are going to come ask for a boat dock that sticks out into the water,” said Hawthorne.

 

Bennett disagreed with this assessment, saying the land couldn’t be counted toward setbacks, impervious cover or the like. He maintained that the purpose was solely to close off a slip that had become a magnet for trash.

 

At times, the board openly struggled with reading plans that have – up until now – been unfamiliar terrain. At issue was whether the line of the proposed bulkhead was within the Gambles’ property line, or whether the bulkhead and fill would recapture land from the lake. Ultimately, the board backed away from that point which was declared moot.

 

“The property line is not necessarily relevant to where the waterline was 10 years ago,” said Chair Jeff Jack.

 

Jack said that, without that information, the board was facing a problem, and would require documentation of where the water was10 years ago in their backup in the future.

 

The variance is the first of three similar cases that Bennett is slated to bring before the Board of Adjustment.

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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 Environmental Commission: An advisory board to members of the Austin City Council. Its purview includes "all projects and programs which affect the quality of life for the citizens of Austin." In many cases, this includes development projects.

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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