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Board of Adjustment postpones request to ease setbacks on lot

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

A variance request for an empty lot in South Austin was met with questions from the Board of Adjustment at a recent meeting.


Jennifer Garcia of Kimball Bruehl Garcia Estes was representing property owner Robert Lee, requesting a variance for a project slated at 2002 Glen Allen Street. In order to complete the project, the developers were seeking a variance reducing the compatibility setback for parking from 21 feet to 0 feet. Compatibility standards are in place because the property abuts single-family residences along the property line where the parking is proposed.


“Basically, what it has come down to is our restraints on this property,” said Garcia. “We have our zoning setbacks. We are required to keep heritage trees on site. We have retention requirements. We are required to have a 25-foot drive-off for fire access on a portion of the site. We have space requirements for multifamily use. We also have building setbacks required by compatibility. Therefore, looking at the proposed location, there is no other place to place the required parking.”


Developers plan to build an eight-unit multifamily residence on the 0.45 acre lot. Garcia explained that because of the size and constraints on the lot, the variance would be necessary. She told the board that preservation of 45-inch diameter and 36-inch diameter heritage Live Oaks and compatibility setbacks forced the project to the eastern side of the lot.


“If I lived next door, I wouldn’t want that,” said Board Member Brian King. “I just wouldn’t want cars slamming doors, parking, unloading groceries, what-have-you within inches of my property line. That’s why I can’t support this kind of zero-setback on parking.”


Board members questioned the need for a variance on land that was, currently, vacant.


Board Member Michael Von Ohlen called the land “a blank canvas.”


“You could paint any picture you want on it. If it does end up that you are trying to put too much paint on the, it’s not going to fly,” said Von Ohlen.


South Lamar Neighborhood Association opposed the change, explained Bruce Evans. He told the board that the neighborhood association generally did not support variances where adjacent neighbors were in opposition, as was the case here.


“I just think they are putting too much on a small lot,” said Evans. “They could just put fewer units there.”


Garcia said that though they were allowed 60 percent impervious cover on the site, they would only be building 57 percent impervious cover. She also noted they had withdrawn a request for a variance that would have allowed three stories, instead of the currently-allowed two stories.


“We feel that we are developing this site not to the maximum potential,” said Garcia. “If it was to the maximum potential I would try to put 60 percent impervious cover or ask for more or not place the buildings where we are placing them (and) not adhere to compatibility.”


“I feel that we are going with every part of code possible on such a narrow lot,” said Garcia. “I’m out of room.”


Evans said that the South Lamar neighborhood was experiencing flooding issues on West Bouldin Creek that had only been exacerbated by new development.


“I think that we are looking at a real tragedy, possibly, if we’re not real careful about water retention and detention,” said Evans.


The board postponed the request until its March meeting, and asked developers to work with the neighborhood. Board Members remarked on the fact that, though plans had been in the works since last spring, developers hadn’t reached out to the neighborhood until the Friday night prior to their Monday night meeting.


Some kind of resolution could be possible. I’m not sure,” said Board Member Fred McGhee. “There’s also some sort-of good faith issue in the sense that they didn’t approach the neighborhood until late into the process.”


Board Member Melissa Hawthorne stressed the importance of winning the neighborhood over.


“The neighborhood support would garner goodwill. On a blank piece of land, which is what you have, a hardship is very difficult,” said Hawthorne.

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