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BOA sides with staff on neighborhood appeal

Monday, December 22, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Plans for a home at 2015 Goodrich Ave. will go on after the Board of Adjustment ruled against a neighborhood appeal earlier this month.

Before the appeal reached the earlier hearing, three of the neighborhood’s other complaints had been resolved. The remaining issue of the appeal was whether the home’s attic exemption complied with the requirements of city code. Though the city said that it did, members of the Zilker Neighborhood Association disagreed and appealed the decision.

The neighborhood’s appeal stated the attic was not exempt because the dormers were not contained within the roof structure and added mass to the building, and a third-floor deck was accessible from the attic, which meant the attic was a third floor, not a habitable attic.

In the end, the board voted to uphold staff’s decision in a vote of 4-3, with Board Members Will Schneir, Vincent Harding, Ricardo DeCamps and Chair Jeff Jack voting in favor of upholding staff’s decision and Board Members Stuart Hampton, Sallie Burchett and Melissa Hawthorne voting in opposition

Burchett said she couldn’t get past the fact that the dormers — and any dormer — adds mass to the building. But the majority of the board found that the appeal did not meet the standards required to overturn a ruling by city staff.

At the beginning of the meeting, Jack offered to recuse himself because the house is located in the Zilker neighborhood, where he resides. He explained that though it was not technically required, he would be willing to do so. However, because that would reduce the number of voting members to six, he heard the case and voted. Developer Vance Cobb of South Austin Development Group LLC told the board he had no objection to Jack hearing the case.

Lorraine Atherton spoke on behalf of the Zilker Neighborhood Association. She said the house would be about 2,900 square feet without the dormers and 3,170 square feet with them. The neighborhood maintained that, as built, the attic should be included in the floor-to-area, or FAR, ratio calculations.

“We’re not asking that the city ban attic dormers, only that … the habitable space under them be counted toward the FAR,” said Atherton. “If they want to include dormers, they simply have to make some other portion of the house smaller.”

Jeff Overman designed the house in question and spoke on behalf of Cobb. He said the project met all city code, including the McMansion ordinance. According to Overman, that included the attic dormers, which had been discussed with city staff.

Overman disputed the idea that the roof dormers were “massive” and said they increased the roof height by only 4 feet, and didn’t increase the building height at all. He also pointed out that the code allows for dormers that are not fully contained in the roof.

Craig Parker, who lives in the Zilker neighborhood, asked the board to uphold the ruling by the city. He said he didn’t see the reasoning behind dormer approval being based on whether the attic was habitable if it didn’t change the overall size of the building.

“I would ask you to please stand on the side of reason in allowing the dormer,” said Parker. “If you are allowing a dormer whether you have a habitable space or not, you should allow it to have habitable space underneath it as well.”

Home Builders Association of Greater Austin Vice President for Public Policy Harry Savio said that to determine the structure wasn’t a dormer would effectively be a change in the rules, and state statute protects the builder against changes like that.

“It should come as no surprise that citizens of Austin are not happy with permitting processes that exist here,” said Savio. “The architect, the applicant, the staff all felt that this plan was in compliance with the codes. My point being that, given the difficulty, given the complexity, the overwhelming burden ought to be on the appellant.”

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