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South Austin case closed, garage remains open

Thursday, January 15, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

A South Austin homeowner’s plea to retain a garage door ended this week at the Board of Adjustment.

Ginny Catania, who is the owner of 903 Ethel St., won her latest variance request. Though Catania had initially sought to retain the garage door that she added after buying the house, the amended request allows her to simply retain the remaining carport.

Previously, Catania had unsuccessfully asked for a floor-to-area ratio variance from the board and a waiver from City Council. Catania modified that request for Monday’s meeting, asking instead to retain the existing carport, which was in violation of city code despite having been approved by the city. Catania purchased the house from the contractor.

Brian Bowers, who is Catania’s neighbor, spoke on her behalf. Catania herself was at home caring for her chronically ill child. She erected the garage door after toys were stolen from her open carport.

“She’s kind of been through the wringer personally, and through this whole process,” said Bowers. “It’s a shame that this is happening at the expense of her security.”

Bowers added that Catania’s only recourse now was to build a fence.

“She’s got a ton of support from her neighbors. The (Zilker Neighborhood) association feels very strongly about what seems to be kind of a technicality from my personal perspective,” said Bowers. “I’m a neighbor in support of neighbors. I’m not going to speak to the code.”

In addition to changing the requested variance, Catania’s representative David Canscialosi also provided board members with a sealed engineer’s report that stated the west and north carport walls could not be made smaller. At their last meeting, board members suggested that opening the walls would allow Catania to retain the garage door without a variance.

Board Member Melissa Hawthorne said the case brought up the bigger problem of lots being developed “to the absolute edge.”

“We have a systemic problem here,” said Hawthorne.

“I mean, there’s not even room to put a stepping stone on some of these lots,” said Hawthorne. “There’s no buffer at all … I’m amazed.”

Board Member Michael Von Ohlen agreed, and said that it was important for developers and real estate agents to let homebuyers know what they were getting into.

“This isn’t a starter home that you are going to buy and add on to and build as your family grows,” said Von Ohlen. “They are building right up to the nth, nth end of where you can’t build anymore. And it’s not being conveyed to someone who is purchasing the home.”

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