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Board rules tree-shielding carport must go

Tuesday, February 17, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

A Cherrywood resident who hoped to save both his cars and his trees found no fix at the Board of Adjustment.

Adrian Young, who owns the house at 3216 Lafayette Ave., was seeking a variance to reduce the setback from 15 feet to zero feet in order to maintain a carport. Unfortunately, said Young, his unpermitted carport was mistakenly built into the setback, despite spanning his existing driveway.

He told board members that he had constructed the carport to protect himself and his property from damage caused by his trees, which he wants to preserve. Young provided images and testimony about the damage caused by his old-growth cedar elm trees, which are falling apart.

In a letter, Young wrote: “The carport is also an effort to save these beautiful old tress that have been compromised by the drought Austin has been in since at least 2008. My wife and I are retired seniors, on a fixed income and cannot afford to have our cars ruined by trees. At the same time, we would dearly hate to lose any of the cedar elms.”

Chair Jeff Jack and Board Member Bryan King voted against the variance, which was enough for it to be denied.

Before casting his vote in support of the variance, Board Member Michael Von Ohlen said that he saw it as a health and safety issue. He also pointed out how hard it is, logistically, to legally remove trees in Austin.

Board Member Ricardo De Camps noted the “gnarly damage” in Young’s pictures. He asked whether it would be preferable to get permission to remove the trees.

“Not in my opinion,” said Young. “I’ve been there since 1983, and it’s more than sentimental value attached to my trees. They are probably the oldest-growth trees in the neighborhood. I’ve had two down. … We’ve resolved at this point that we are going to try and put off cutting these trees as long as we can.”

Young acknowledged there would probably be “some point of no return” at which time they would have to remove the trees. But for now, he is trying to forestall their removal, despite the fact that falling trees have recently caused damage to his roof and power lines, in addition to the ongoing car damage.

“I just think these trees are trying to tell you something,” said De Camps.

“They are,” said Young. “It’s kind of a scary situation … but the three that are over my driveway are beautiful old trees, and I haven’t had too many problems with them yet, other than a few limbs falling.”

When questioned, Young stated that he had spent time and money trying to keep the trees healthy during the drought.

Young does have a garage, but it was modified before he purchased the house and cannot hold two cars as originally designed. Modifying it, he said, would be a bigger project than the carport’s construction. He added that pulling cars into the garage every day instead of using the driveway seemed impractical.

Jack worried about the precedent of allowing people to construct a carport because of a driveway’s proximity to trees.

“People could get hurt any time, any place, anywhere in the city from something falling on them,” said Jack. “We can mitigate risk. But it’s not going to help somebody sitting on your patio.”

Young countered that it could protect someone in the driveway “big time.”

“Let’s mitigate it where we can, when all I’m doing is putting a carport in my own driveway,” said Young.

The Cherrywood Neighborhood Association supported the variance for the carport. Many neighbors wrote to express their support for the variance, and no one spoke in opposition.


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