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Board of Adjustment postpones variance to enclose South Austin carport

Monday, April 28, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

A request for a garage in South Austin spiraled into a late-night philosophical discussion at the Board of Adjustment.


Allison Marshall was seeking a variance that would allow her to decrease her front yard setback so that she could enclose her carport at 2301 East Side Drive. The home is located in the South River City Neighborhood, just behind Curra’s Restaurant on Oltorf Drive.


Though the variance would decrease the front yard setback from 25 to 10 feet, Marshall explained that she did not plan to move the carport, which is already in the setback. However, the variance would allow her to enclose the carport, “primarily for security reasons.”


“The area has a robust amount of vehicle and foot traffic during the day and into the evening. Closing the carport would give me a better sense of security entering and exiting my car – especially at night,” said Marshall.


Marshall said that her neighbors had no problem with the plan but despite several efforts she had not been able to arrange a meeting with the South River City Citizens Zoning and Platting Committee. Marshall explained that she had lived in Houston up until the Wednesday before the meeting, which made getting to the meeting a challenge.


Marshall also had a challenge convincing board members that the variance was a necessity.


“What I’m trying to get myself oriented around is what is real and what is the part that you feel,” said Board Member Fred McGhee. “It’s one thing for someone to have the perception that they are unsafe. It’s another thing to actually substantiate that.”


“Basically, what is the rationale for your hardship?” asked McGhee.


Marshall explained that because of past experiences in Houston, where she was approached getting out of her car, she was in the habit of closing the garage door behind her before exiting her vehicle.


“I understand this is Austin,” said Marshall. “I do love the house. I love the area. But, in my circumstances – being single and living by myself – my feeling is that it’s better to be safe than sorry.”


“I think it will make me more comfortable,” said Marshall.


“We’re in a gray area now. There’s comfortable, then there’s safe,” said McGhee. “This is a subjective area. If safety was of paramount and primary concern for you, you could have gone to a gated community. You could have moved someplace where you have security.”


“I’m being rhetorical, but I’m also being substantive enough where I am going to make a motion to postpone,” said McGhee. “This neighborhood, I think, most of us know real well. I live and work in East Austin. This is not, as far as I can tell, an unsafe part of Austin… Perhaps you can create a case – something that’s more empirical that could demonstrate this is something you require.”


Chair Jeff Jack said that he understood Marshall’s concerns, but wasn’t sure that they met the requirements for a hardship under Board of Adjustment rules.


Board Member Sallie Burchett encouraged Marshall to look at the lot lines of her property for another argument for a garage that would be less subjective. McGhee agreed, and encouraged Marshall to “dance with this idea of hardship” and work with staff while the case was postponed.


“I think if you look at crime stats, there’s not going to be any data that substantiates that this is a crime-infested neighborhood,” said Jack. “It’s probably one of the safest neighborhoods in the city.”


The board postponed the case to its May 12 meeting.

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