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Board of Adjustment to look at tram regulations on Lake Austin

Monday, March 17, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Board of Adjustment will take a closer look at whether trams should be allowed on Lake Austin, even if they have to take a longer route to get there.


The subject arose at last week’s board’s meeting when engineer Bruce Aupperle asked the board to grant a variance for a “pedestrian incline elevator” down to Lake Austin at  3961 Westlake Drive.


Though the code change that is sending some Lake Austin variances to the Board of Adjustment technically took place in 2010, the board has only recently begun hearing those variances. In this case, the board urged Aupperle to bring the request back as an interpretation case that would allow the board to interpret the code.


Chair Jeff Jack explained that, essentially, Aupperle was appealing staff’s interpretation. Staff denied the permit to build the tram in May 2013. Jack suggested that an interpretation case might be a better route than a request for a variance.


As part of the new regulations coming out of the Lake Austin Task Force recommendations, staff is suggesting that language in the code that they feel prohibits trams without a variance be clarified to explicitly prohibit trams on Lake Austin. That process is scheduled for a City Council public hearing April 17.


“Now’s the time for us to address this issue, before it’s finalized” said Board Member Michael Von Ohlen. “Because once it’s finalized we’re going to have this coming in front of us constantly. And as staff is developing those requirements, it would be good for them to have some direction as to what we deal with up here, having the lakefront variances.”


Board Member Bryan King agreed, saying that an interpretation would also allow for a staff presentation that would clarify their perspective. Unlike other city boards, the Board of Adjustment is a quasi-judicial board that does not receive staff recommendations for variances.


Aupperle told the board that he had been working on the project for three and a half years so far. He was requesting a variance that would allow his client, Rod Roberts, to build a 60-foot long tram that would climb 60 feet in elevation. He argued the tram would enable those with mobility problems to access the dock and pointed out that a path down to the water would have a much greater impact to the land.


Neighbor Timothy Kirkendall spoke in support of the tram, noting that there were already trams to the east and west of the property. He said that the prohibition on trams was, most likely, more relevant on the west end of the lake, where the cliffs were higher and the tracks more visible.


“I think we all get older and it’s a lot harder to get down there,” said Kirkendall. “I’m 40 and there’s 90 stairs that I have. Coming up, I’m out of breath. So, anybody older, I can understand why they would want this.”


Though the case was postponed so that it could be reposted with clearer posting language, it remains to be seen whether it will return as a variance request or as an interpretation case.

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