Monday, October 6, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Carport turned garage still out of code in Zilker

An attempt to expand the McMansion ordinance in the Zilker neighborhood fell flat at City Council last month.

David Cancialosi was representing the owners of 903 Ethel St., who were appealing the denial of a waiver at the Residential Design and Compatibility Commission. That waiver, if granted, would allow them to increase the maximum allowed floor-to-area ratio under the McMansion ordinance.

It wasn’t granted, with Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole and Council Members Mike Martinez, Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo voting against the appeal.

“This was not a city mistake,” said Morrison. “We have to be able to let our staff rely on what sealed diagrams are being submitted. I think it would be a bad step for the city to go forward and say this is OK.”

The house was built in 2013 along with a carport, which wasn’t factored in to McMansion calculations. Once purchased by Ginny Catania, a door was installed on the carport, turning it into a garage. Garages are included in floor-to-area ratio calculations, and the addition put the house out of compliance.

Daniel Word with the Planning and Development Review Department explained that, once the code violation was discovered, it was revealed that the original carport wasn’t in compliance, either, because it didn’t meet the requirement of being 80 percent open.

Morrison said the code in question was “very well thought out.” She explained that at the time the McMansion ordinance was written, people were building things and “willy nilly filling them in,” which added mass and scale to homes.

The Residential Design and Compatibility Commission voted 6-0 against the waiver and deferred the case to the Board of Adjustment, which Cancialosi said was inappropriate. He argued that, because the carport was used to satisfy the off-street parking requirement, it qualified for an additional exemption that would bring it into compliance.

He added that there was no “reasonable way to amend the building” to bring it into compliance.

Cancialosi explained that after some burglaries, Catania decided to enclose the carport. He said the waiver would remedy a “confusing permit application by the builder” and a permit applied in error.

“We feel the city has a responsibility to ensure development review and inspections are performed accurately,” said Cancialosi.

Cancialosi stressed that the garage door was installed by a professional, saying, “You’ll hear from folks who oppose this case who feel that she did it on purpose, to subvert the code … that’s simply not the case.”

“Who knows that you need a permit to install a garage door?” Cancialosi continued. “When the garage door is up, it’s a carport. When it’s down, it’s a garage. I think we’re kind of buried in a semantic, technical code interpretation.”

David King spoke on behalf of the Zilker Neighborhood Association, which supported the Residential Design and Compatibility Commission decision. King said there were “at least six other” cases in the neighborhood with similar issues.

“We are concerned that if you approve this waiver, that will set a precedent for other issues that are right behind this one,” said King.

King supported the variance being sought at the Board of Adjustment, but Cancialosi said, after a 70-page application to the Residential Design and Compatibility Commission, he wasn’t sure his client “had it in her to go to the Board of Adjustment.”

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

McMansion Ordinance (subchapter F): In 2006, Austin implemented the McMansion Ordinance in an attempt to limit the mass of new construction in some areas of the city. The ordinance does so by limiting things like floor-to-area ratio and impervious cover, as well as establishing design standards for larger homes.

Residential Design and Compatibility Commission: The city’s Residential Design and Compatibility Commission is tasked with making determinations on modification requests to certain building and structure design standards.

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