Thursday, February 19, 2015 by Kara Nuzback

ZAP shoots down variances for Far West parcel

The Zoning and Platting Commission took a hard stance against several requested environmental variances that would allow an Austin resident to build a 3,500-square-foot home on a steep slope at 4316 Far West Blvd.

Property owner Ali Tabrizi sought to build a single-family home on the parcel located within the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone and the Drinking Water Protection Zone. At the commission meeting Tuesday, Tabrizi requested four variances: one to allow construction of a building on a slope greater than 25 percent, a second to build a driveway on a slope greater than 15 percent, a third to cut the buffer zone around a critical environmental feature in half and a fourth to extend the allowance for impervious cover from 30 percent of the net site area to 293 percent.

“It is true, this land is steep,” Tabrizi said. But, he noted, he bought the land after seeing a nearby parcel developed on a slope using man-made columns to stabilize the structure. “That project was approved by the City of Austin,” he said.

Tabrizi said he contracted with the engineering firm that designed this structure. He also said the tax value of the property is $22,500, and he has invested a significant amount into the design of the project and in city fees.

“I’m basically in this for over $91,000,” Tabrizi said.

Jim Dymkowski, specialist senior of the Planning and Development Review Department, said the critical environmental feature on the property is a seep — a place where water reaches the ground’s surface from an underground aquifer. He also noted the property is located on a huge slope, and its development would negatively impact water quality in the Bull Creek Watershed.

“Staff does not recommend approval of any of the four environmental requests,” Dymkowski said.

Tabrizi countered that stormwater runoff has already caused erosion on the property and promised to install a water quality pond to filter the runoff.

“Whatever logic and science allows me to do … I’ll be happy to do that,” he said.

Tabrizi’s attorney, Terrence Irion, said two 24-inch storm sewer pipes located just outside the property lines are illegally pouring dirty stormwater onto Tabrizi’s property.

“The city does not have a drainage easement,” Irion said.

Iron told the commission that it wasn’t fair for the city to drain stormwater and collect taxes on the property, but refuse to allow Tabrizi to build a home on it.

“He has come up with what I believe is a very sensitive design for this property,” Irion said. “We ask that you approve the variances or redirect this back to the residential review section.”

Irion said the parcel is leftover from a tract of land that the Planning Commission configured into three surrounding plats in the 1970s and 1980s.

“It is not a recorded plat,” he continued. “It was configured by default by the actions of the Planning Commission. … They allowed it to be assigned a separate tax parcel.”

Commission Vice Chair Patricia Seeger said the assessed value of the property — $22,000 — and Tabrizi’s purchase price — between $50,000 and $75,000 — is so much lower than surrounding properties that one can infer its potential for development. Seeger also said Tabrizi bought the property knowing its condition.

“I just cannot support these variances,” she said.

Irion argued that the property sold for less than surrounding properties because it would require the owner to pay three to four times as much to build a foundation.

Commissioner Gabriel Rojas agreed with Seeger that the price of the lot is a sign that it should not be developed. He said the lot is not legally platted and could set a precedent for similar high-slope properties.

Rojas added that it’s not the commission’s responsibility to ensure everyone who buys property gets value from it.

Seeger made a motion to deny all four variances. The motion passed unanimously, with all commissioners present.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

City of Austin Zoning and Platting Commission: The City of Austin's Zoning and Platting Commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

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