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Homeowners seek to preserve vegetation, lake view

Thursday, December 18, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

A fight over the value of invasive species ended in a postponement at the Board of Adjustment last week.

Ginger and John Mitchell are permitted to build a dock at their home on Lake Austin. But the places where they could build the dock without a variance would either kill the plants they love or block the view of the lake from their back patio. As a result, they are seeking a variance that would allow them to build a dock closer to the property line of their home at 8616 Big View Drive.

As a concession, the Mitchells have offered to voluntarily build a boat dock that is one story instead of the two-story dock that is allowed under code.

In the end, board members voted to postpone the case until February in order to allow the Mitchells to gather more information about the plants they hope to preserve.

“These plants only exist at our house. It’s special,” said Ginger Mitchell, who had a letter from an expert that said the Alocasia plants in her backyard were rare in the area and not easily transplanted.

Chair Jeff Jack disagreed.

“I’m very familiar with the plant. It’s typically called an elephant ear,” said Jack. “You realize the reason they are not all along the lakefront is that they are an invasive species in Texas? It’s not native to Texas. It’s a transplant. It doesn’t belong here.”

“By the way, you can transplant them,” Jack added. “They are very easy to transplant and they are very hardy. If you do the right thing, you can transplant them forever.”

Jack further argued that an obstructed view from their house was not considered a hardship.

“Whether it’s invasive or not — what difference does that make?” asked John Mitchell. “It’s beautiful.”

Ginger Mitchell said both of their adjacent neighbors support the variance and want to preserve the plants.

“They enjoy looking at them. We gather around and it’s a very simpatico thing,” said Ginger Mitchell. “They are hoping for a variance so that aquatic element can stay in place.”

She also pointed out that there was no negative effect to granting the variance, saying, “It doesn’t harm or hurt anybody, impair the use or change the character” of the area.

Board Member Sallie Burchett agreed, saying that clustering the docks in the way that the Mitchells had proposed had less of an impact to people on the lake, and she liked it.

“I see virtue in that, and I think that helps the area character and the way we want that to be,” said Burchett.

Ginger Mitchell said the Alocasia plants had been there and were blooming before they built their house eight years ago.

“They are exotic tropicals that grow organically … they draw butterflies, frogs, turtles — you name it,” she said. “But what’s unique is that they just don’t grow anywhere else in the water. They are nonexistent up and down the shoreline. There are all these retaining walls … on both sides of the lake that have no outcroppings, no natural elements in the water next to the shoreline.”

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