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ZAP discusses Lake Austin accessibility

Thursday, February 5, 2015 by Kara Nuzback

An uncontested request to allow a new residential boat dock on Lake Austin prompted the Zoning and Platting Commission to discuss the difficulty property owners face when making lake access ways more accessible.

City staffer Liz Johnston said at the commission meeting Tuesday that the city enforces the same standard for all applicants seeking to build an access way from their homes to the lake — one per property — to minimize damage to the surrounding sensitive environmental features.

But Commissioner Rahm McDaniel argued, “Right now, it feels like the standard applies to everyone — as long as they can walk.”

McDaniel said city staff took issue with a similar case recently, in which the property owners sought approval of a variance to build a second access way in addition to the stairs that already existed. He questioned what would happen if other owners lost mobility and required access ways other than stairs to reach their boat docks.

Johnston said property owners can build stairlifts along the pre-existing staircases, or they must remove the staircase and replace it with a tram or other feature accessible to people with disabilities.

McDaniel noted that tearing up a set of stairs would do nothing to preserve the environmental features of the slope, especially when a new access way would then have to be constructed.

Commissioner Jackie Goodman asked Johnston if the city informs applicants about the difficulty in changing the access ways.

“Are they made aware in any way … that there’s only probably going to be one access allowed, and if they change the mode, they might have to tear up the stairs?” she said.

Johnston said the city does not warn applicants about what they might seek to do in the future; it responds only to the case at hand. She added that the applicants are made aware that they are constructing in an environmental buffer zone, however, and there are levels of review and protections associated with those buffers.

Vice Chair Patricia Seeger, who led the meeting in the absence of Chair Betty Baker, said the Zoning and Platting Commission is scheduled for a joint meeting with the Planning Commission and that she requested a discussion about boat docks. She said the discussion will hopefully give commissioners guidance in dealing with similar issues in the future.

The discussion stemmed from an application from Denise and Thomas Iles, owners of 2415 Big Horn Drive in the Lake Austin Watershed. The application, which city staff recommended and the commission approved 6-0, gives the Iles a variance to build a boat dock within a rimrock critical environmental feature buffer on the northern reaches of Lake Austin.

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