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Board summarily rejects Lake Austin variances

Thursday, March 12, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Board of Adjustment pulled no punches Monday night, but it did knock out a pair of questionable variance requests.

Board members swiftly denied two Lake Austin impervious cover requests and brushed off a last-minute withdrawal request that could have allowed similar variance wishes to return to the board in the near future.

David Cancialosi was representing the property owner, Bryan Follett. His client was asking for an increase in the allowed impervious cover in order to tear down the existing homes at 5600 and 5602 Craggy Point on Lake Austin and build a new one.

Specifically, Follett was asking to increase the maximum impervious cover allowed on one slope from 10 percent to 21 percent and to increase the maximum impervious cover on another, steeper slope from the allowed 5 percent to 23 percent.

Follett would like to build 11,000 square feet of impervious coverage, which is less than the current 13,400 square feet on the lot.

Board Member Michael Von Ohlen said that although he appreciated the attempt to reduce the impervious cover on the lot, he had a “big issue with almost giving a blank check to something that is going to be proposed.”

“If you can afford $2 million a lot, you can afford an architect,” said Von Ohlen. “I’m not comfortable granting a variance on something where I’m not sure what is going to happen.”

Additionally, Von Ohlen explained that if the existing houses were demolished, Follett would have a clean slate. He said it was unlikely that the owner would be able to prove a hardship on an empty lot.

With sentiment against the variances piling up on the dais, Cancialosi asked to withdraw them. That would allow Follett to file similar variances, again, whenever he wished. As it stands now, Follett will have to wait one year to refile the variances or substantially similar ones.

The request wasn’t received well by Board Member Melissa Hawthorne, who pointed out that neighbors had been showing up to oppose the case since November. Von Ohlen agreed, saying he saw no reason a brand-new house couldn’t be built within code. He refused to withdraw his motion to deny the variances.

Board members voted 6-1 to deny the variance, with only Board Member Sallie Burchett voting in opposition. Burchett argued that granting withdrawal of the variance could allow the homeowner to compromise with the neighborhood on new plans.

Both sites are presently over the allowable impervious cover under current city regulations, and Cancialosi explained that the city will not issue remodel permits due to this legal, noncompliant status.

In fact, Cancialosi argued, a convergence of city regulations imposed a hardship on the site. He explained that, though the combined lot side was 104,000 square feet, under city code only 7,300 square feet of coverage would be allowed without a variance.

This logic did not sit well with Chair Jeff Jack who said, “Our code is not our problem. Our code is there for a lot of reasons, and it’s not a hardship. When you scrape a building and start from scratch, you can meet the code.”

Several neighbors spoke against the variances.

Neighbor Scott Elkin argued that the “hardship was on the other foot.” He said the impact of the proposed house would impose a hardship on Lake Austin and the neighborhood.

“It is a hardship to consider a McMansion expansion in our neighborhood,” said Elkin. “It would significantly affect the fabric and the character of our community.”

Elkin told the board that Follett had, in fact, purchased four properties on the cul-de-sac, and he questioned the transparency of his building plans. He noted that Follett had not participated in their neighborhood architectural review process.

Cancialosi explained that the neighborhood guidelines require a full set of architectural plans, and those would not be done until his client was sure he could get a variance. He said the new construction would have much better water-quality controls than what was currently on the lot.

Bill Anderson, who has lived on Lake Austin since 1992, also spoke against the house, which he called “excessively massive.” He provided data that showed the proposed residence was much larger than the surrounding homes, saying he worried that it could set a precedent of destroying smaller houses in order to build a large one across more than one lot.

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