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Cultural icon or not, panel says Airstream is still RV

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

They may have a dedicated following, but under city code Airstream trailers are still recreational vehicles, and parking one in your front yard comes with the same consequences.

Andrew Hutton is asking the Board of Adjustment for a variance from a section of the code that would require him to construct a 6-foot wood or masonry fence around an Airstream trailer that is located on his property at 5010 Strass Drive.

“Part of Austin’s identity, at this point, is somehow linked to these Airstreams,” said Hutton. “I do feel like this is an important part of Austin’s culture and identity. I’m just trying to further enhance and experience that.”

Currently the trailer is parked on, or near, the property line, according to Hutton. He explained that there was no legal way to fit the trailer in the backyard, and putting a fence in the front would encroach onto the streetscape and create something that did not fit the character of the neighborhood.

Hutton, who is a landscape architect, suggested adding additional vegetative screening instead of a fence.

Board of Adjustment members voted unanimously to postpone the case in the hope that a deal could be struck with the neighborhood that would allow the owner to move forward with establishing vegetative screening, even though that isn’t automatically allowed under code.

Board Member Sallie Burchett pointed out that an argument could be made that vegetative screening could be a superior means of screening the trailer, which is taller than the allowed 6-foot fence.

Hutton purchased the house, which is in the Shoalmont subdivision, in 2007. He said it was important to him to be sensitive to his neighbors, but that everyone he had talked to on his block had signed a form indicating they had no objections to leaving the trailer in the driveway.

Not everyone approved of the variance, however.

Allandale Neighborhood Association president Kata Carbone spoke on behalf of its executive committee. She said the committee had determined that the case did not present “a legitimate claim of hardship or unique circumstance” that warranted a variance from the code.

She added that many of the homes in the area didn’t have vehicular access to the backyard, and the circumstances in this case were not exceptional.

“Regardless of aesthetic appeal, RVs, boats, trailers and the like must be screened,” said Carbone. “Approving the variance would diminish the enforcement of other such code infractions.”

Betty Blomquist, who lives about a block away from Hutton, also spoke against the variance.

“I realize Austin is changing, but not always for the better,” said Blomquist. “You can call it a recreational vehicle, but it is essentially an extra bedroom and living quarters. If allowed, my neighbor could put one within 5 feet of my bedroom. If you can afford these extras, you can afford to put it out of sight, or move it out to the country, where there are no restrictions.”

Hutton said that initially he didn’t have a vehicle that could move his Airstream, but had since purchased a vehicle that could.

“It is my intention to use it as an RV at some point,” said Hutton. “But, again, I have a family and young child(ren) … so my hands are pretty full.”

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