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Neighbors lose fight against metal building

Tuesday, May 19, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

There was sympathy on the dais, but last week District 10 residents lost a City Council appeal against a building constructed without a permit.

Though some Council members openly expressed regret about the decision, they voted 6-3-1 to deny the appeal. Council Members Leslie Pool, Ora Houston and Ann Kitchen voted in approval. Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo abstained, and Council Member Delia Garza was absent.

Council Member Pio Renteria made the motion to deny the appeal. He explained that the only question they were being asked to answer was whether the building is in compliance with code.

Assistant Director of Building Services Carl Wren said that, in his opinion, the building does comply with code.

Houston explained her vote, saying, “I understand how people come and build things in neighborhoods and don’t get permits. I know that’s not the issue, but I understand how that feels in neighborhoods, and it’s happening all over my district.”

Neighbors appealed a building permit at 3100 Highland Terrace West. The owner, Dallas Thompson, began construction in 2014 without a permit and was cited by Code Compliance as a result. He was additionally cited for operating a short-term rental without a license, although that citation was not included in the appeal. The property remains unlicensed for STR.

After receiving the citation, Thompson applied for and was issued a building permit. The Highlands Park West/Balcones Area Neighborhood Association appealed that permit and objected to the fact that Thompson did not go through the proper process. In February, the Building and Fire Code Board of Appeals ruled against the appeal, with conditions.

Residents maintain that the permit should be revoked because there was no documentation for the design of the foundation nor inspection of the foundation, the building violates accessory use regulations for traditional neighborhood development, a protected tree was cut down and it did not appear that a licensed contractor was constructing the driveway.

Wren explained that the accessory use regulations were not applicable to the neighborhood and that when construction has taken place without a permit, the city must inspect buildings (and foundations) forensically. He also said the contractor constructing the driveway is licensed.

Speaking on behalf of Thompson, attorney Terry Irion explained that since receiving a warning, Thompson had not used the property as an STR.

“He did start work without a permit,” said Irion. “It was a mistake, no question about it. And it is a mistake he has been paying for for quite some time. … He’s paid several fees and a fine, but more importantly he has been put under the incredible scrutiny of going through this process since January.”

Irion explained that a post-construction inspection of the foundation had shown it was sound, saying, “It’s not the correct way to go about it, but this does happen quite often, and there is a process.”

Resident Sam Haddad said neighbors had been trying to get the city’s attention since they noticed the code compliance issues. He explained that the city had a slow reaction to the violations and then failed to keep the neighborhood apprised about developments in the case.

“The thing that I find puzzling about this, throughout this process, is that the city has close to a dozen reasons why they should revoke this permit,” Haddad said. “But they only have one reason to grant it, which is, basically, (that) Mr. Thompson has filed an application. The city has gone out of their way to permit this individual to go forward with their project.”

Haddad asked Council members to consider Thompson’s pattern of behavior as an indication that he would create problems in the future. He pointed out that Thompson has burned brush in his backyard, despite complaints. He also noted that Thompson continues to operate an STR, unlicensed, despite being cited for its operation.

Additionally, Haddad said that Thompson has a building in an easement, and has modified the prefabricated metal building in question using a “suspicious” engineer, despite warnings that it should not be modified.

“He’s told people he is going to stop these things, but they just keep recurring,” said Haddad.

Neighbor Maggie Longley said that Thompson has repeatedly feigned ignorance of regulations, to the detriment of the community.

“What he has done is a form of condemnation of our property. Our values are going to go down if this is allowed,” said Longley.

Council Member Sheri Gallo said it was a difficult case for her, but noted that it came down to whether the structure complied with building codes.

“It breaks my heart,” said Gallo. “But I’m hearing from legal that’s the basis (on which) we have to make that decision. I’m sorry.”

Gallo then offered to work with and advocate for neighbors in the future if issues with the property arise, saying, “This is not going to end here.”

Haddad further argued that the construction ran afoul of neighborhood plat restrictions. However, Assistant City Attorney Brent Lloyd clarified that the city cannot enforce private deed restrictions.

Mayor Steve Adler said he did not think there was a choice about voting against the appeal. He pointed out that there may be a better forum for the private contractual dispute, such as court. He wished the parties “godspeed in getting the other issues resolved in the forums where they (can be) more appropriately resolved.”

“I’m not sure the city becomes the forum to litigate a bad neighbor,” said Adler.

There is currently a district court case pending over the deed restriction question.

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