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Board of Adjustment grants variance to allow home to remain

Monday, May 19, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Perseverance paid off at the Board of Adjustment, where after a postponement, a denial and a reconsideration, one East Austin homeowner ultimately won a variance that will allow his house to stay put.


Casey Weems returned to the board for reconsideration of his variance request for his home located at 403 San Saba Street. Weems moved the house to the lot after getting an initial setback variance from the board that allowed it to encroach into the setback. It was only after the house was in place that Weems realized it extended further into the setback than he had thought.


Upon returning to the board to get the extra 11 inches he needed, Weems ran into opposition that last month led to a denial from the board. (See Austin Monitor, April 22.) Finally, Monday night, the board reversed that decision on reconsideration, in a vote of 6-1, with Alternate Stuart Hampton voting in opposition. Board Member Michael Von Ohlen recused himself because he owns property within 300 feet of the house.


Weems explained that, without the variance, he would be forced to sell the property. He told the board that moving the house to the lot had been a costly, confusing experience that had left him strapped. He explained that shaving 11 inches off the back of the house wasn’t an option.


“Just thinking about it, why wouldn’t you support a project like this? It was costly to move the house. And not many people are going to try and do this, to move an old, 1928-built house onto a lot that is only 800 square feet,” said Weems.


Though neighbors Leon Hernandez and Gavino Fernandez remained in opposition to the variance, this time Weems also brought supporters from the neighborhood.


Roy Medrano, who has lived in the neighborhood for 64 years, asked the board to give Weems the variance, and questioned the opposition to the variance from other neighbors.


“It’s not a Hispanic neighborhood any more. Those days are gone – that was in my times. Now, everyone is buying those pieces of property,” said Medrano. “Just give him a break. He’s a nice guy.”


In addition to the support, Weems brought four certified letters that he had sent to Hernandez and Fernandez, offering to pay for mediation that could resolve the dispute. He received no reply. Weems also won support from the Cristo Rey Neighborhood Association and the Guadalupe Association for an Improved Neighborhood.


This work paid off, and won support from the board.


“This is a tough case, and what it really required was good faith on all sides, to negotiate, to mediate, and to come to some kind of agreement. In my judgment, you satisfied me that you tried to negotiate and mediate this dispute in good faith, but that good faith was not reciprocated,” said Board Member Fred McGhee.


As for his no vote, Hampton said that had the house been a new construction, it “wouldn’t even be close,” and it was the owner’s responsibility to know the city code and be in compliance with it, particularly because there is a neighborhood plan in place.

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