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BOA denies variances for Lake Austin tram

Monday, March 23, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Board of Adjustment rejected a request last week from a Lake Austin homeowner seeking to build a tram to a boat dock.

Chris Pacitti was seeking variances from the Land Development Code that would have allowed him to construct the tram to a proposed boat dock at his 70 Pascal Lane home. Board members denied the variances in a vote of 5-2, with Chair Jeff Jack and Board Member Stuart Hampton voting in opposition.

The case will also go to the Environmental Board for review. Armbrust and Brown attorney Richard Suttle, who was representing Pacitti, explained that they had been “caught in a bit of a loop” in that regard. Both panels wanted the case to go before the other first, but at that point there was no time to go to the Environmental Board first, he said.

Because the site plan has already had one extension — submitted under the prior Lake Austin regulations — Suttle said he did not think he would be able to get another. Though board members were moving toward a postponement, they changed their minds after Suttle pointed out that his case had already been postponed by the board for reasons other than his client’s wishes.

Jack seemed unmoved by Suttle’s explanation and stressed their need for input from the Environmental Board. Though board members attached an unusual condition that would have made their approval contingent on the Environmental Board’s approval, Jack still voted against the variances.

“You’ve had a whole year to resolve this,” said Jack.

Hampton said he didn’t see enough public support for the tram, and therefore couldn’t support it.

Suttle explained that, from the top of the house to the bottom of the lake, there is a 290-foot drop, and the tram was needed to gain access to the lake.

“There’s virtually no way, other than rappelling, to get down there,” said Suttle.

Board Member Michael Von Ohlen said that even though he was a “rappel master” himself, he didn’t have a problem with the variances. However, he wanted to make sure that he understood the environmental impact first.

Board Member Melissa Hawthorne agreed.

“Trams are very touchy,” said Hawthorne. “And we get hate mail.”

Von Ohlen referenced letters of opposition from neighbors. They said that Pacitti purchased the house with the knowledge that Rob Roy residents cannot build anything below a certain elevation.

Suttle pointed out that the people who are referencing the prohibition are not members of the Rob Roy Homeowners Association, but residents who live across the lake. He said that the restrictive covenant cited wasn’t relevant, as had been previously determined by city legal in a similar case in Rob Roy.

As for the Rob Roy HOA, Suttle said that he and Pacitti had visited the group for an architectural review and the members had agreed not to object to the project.

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