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Building a foot too far could put East Austin resident out of bounds

Friday, March 14, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

What initially seemed like a small mistake could ultimately prove costly for one East Austin homeowner.


Eastside resident Cayce Weems returned to the Board of Adjustment  Monday asking for rear and side street setback for his house at 403 San Saba Street. Weems had previously gotten a variance for the house in December 2013, but the initial calculations were off by 11 inches. So, with the house already built, Weems returned to the board.


“There was no margin of tolerance of error. The survey I used to build the site plan was a few inches off, the house drop was a few inches off, the house itself was a few inches off,” said Weems. “You add it all up, and it’s 11 inches over what I had approved here.”


At the meeting, Weems was met with opposition from Gavino Fernandez and Leon Hernandez. They showed pictures of the house, saying that Weems had added on to the back of the house already in the setback to build a laundry room. This addition was “about a foot and half” away from the rear property line, according to Hernandez. Additionally, an air conditioning unit had been placed close to Hernandez’s house. He said that the noise from the unit kept him awake at night, and the placement was not compliant with city code.


Hernandez, who is the president of the Buena Vista Neighborhood Association as well as living next-door to the house, said that he had been opposing the house “since day one.”


Board members expressed frustration that Weems had built into what the granted variance allowed. Chair Jeff Jack pointed out that the addition of the rear laundry shed had extended the house about 3 feet further into the setback.


Weems said that he thought there was an allowance for the back step encroachment, but the board clarified that a storage shed (or laundry room) did not qualify for that allowance. Weems would need another variance to keep it, but he said the structure was movable.


“He didn’t do his homework,” said Board Member Bryan King. “It just seems sloppy, sloppy, sloppy and we’re cleaning up his messes.”


Though Weems was amenable to moving the back shed and air conditioning unit, he will still have to work with the neighborhood, which was reluctant to support a variance for the extra 11 inches.


Hernandez said that he wasn’t suggesting that the house should be torn down.


“I’m suggesting that it should be in compliance. There was a house there before, and I had no problems with it. It was a smaller house,” said Hernandez.


Fernandez said he was worried about the bigger issue of precedence.


“We know a lot of people in our neighborhood who have been told, ‘you need to tear that down (or) you need to remove that’,” said Fernandez. “I’m not a carpenter. But 11 inches might mean an adjustment or cutting… The house is built and here we are.”


Weems said that Hernandez had originally given him full approval for the variance, but had changed his mind after speaking with Fernandez.


For now, the board has postponed consideration of the variance, in the hopes that a deal can be struck between the homeowner and the neighborhood.


“The piers are drilled. The house is there. That structure needs to come off the back, that air conditioning unit probably needs to move. I think that y’all need to work it out and come back with a solution,” said Board Member Melissa Hawthorne.


The Board voted 6-0 to postpone the case with Board Member Michael Von Ohlen recused.

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