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BOA grants variances, effectively denies house

Wednesday, June 10, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Board of Adjustment granted variances for one East Austin homeowner Monday night, but that doesn’t mean he will be able to build the home he wants.

William Scott Admire, who owns a house at 2012 Hamilton Ave., told the board that without a variance that lot is “useless.” He was requesting the same treatment that would be granted under small-lot amnesty — an increase in the allowed impervious cover and a decrease in the rear setback, from 10 feet to 5 feet. Admire was requesting these variances even though his lot is too small to qualify for the small-lot amnesty without them.

The board voted unanimously to approve Admire’s requested variances. However, it also added provisions that will prevent Admire from moving forward with plans to build a 1,589-square-foot two-story home on the lot. Though board members said they understood that some variances were needed to make the lot buildable, the idea that a house that size was necessary on a 2,227-square-foot lot left some cold.

Board Member Michael Von Ohlen stated unequivocally that he would not support a two-story home on the lot.

“To be quite frank with you, I do not believe that every lot in this frickin’ city needs to be built on,” said Von Ohlen. “Not every lot needs to be built on in this city, and that’s what’s happening to us now. That’s why we are having so many problems.”

The board limited future construction on the lot to one story and the floor-to-area ratio to 0.4. Those additions will constrict future building to a structure of 911 square feet.

Five years ago, the nonprofit organization that owned the lot was granted a variance that would have allowed it to build a 540-square-foot house. After that project was abandoned, the variance and its provisions expired. Admire planned to build a two-story house almost three times that size.

“If you look at new construction in the Blackshear-Prospect Hill neighborhood in the past 10 years, it’s almost exclusively two-story houses,” said Admire. “Small lots like this, in order to have a house that can support a family … you need to go two stories.

“I’d rather not have the subjective standards of another party imposed on this lot.”

Von Ohlen pointed out that once the house was built, Admire would have to live next to people who had opposed the project and said that he didn’t relish the thought of granting a variance for a tall fence to separate warring neighbors in the future. Instead, he urged Admire to work with his neighbors.

Though Admire has the support of the Blackshear-Prospect Hill Neighborhood Association, he does not have the backing of his adjacent neighbors, Helen Elliott, Julia Cuba Lewis and John Cuba Lewis. They told the board that they had not been present for the neighborhood vote on the variance.

Julia Cuba Lewis said she had spoken against the 2010 variance request as well. At the time she was concerned about the loss of sunlight in her yard and the negative impact a large, looming building next door could have on her property values.

Though she was initially disappointed that the board had granted a variance for the one-story house, after some time she realized the board had “made a very good decision in approving a variance for smart growth.” That 2010 variance stipulated that it would be in effect for 90 years, however, so she was surprised to see new plans and a variance request appear only five years later.

“The plan that Scott has is a large structure on a small piece of property,” Julia Cuba Lewis said. “We are in favor of a modest home being built on that property, but we (would be) negatively impacted by a home that is too large.”

Though Admire claims that the empty lot is an eyesore that is often filled with trash, John Cuba Lewis said the lot has been well maintained, with two exceptions. He allowed that the variance posting for Monday’s board hearing had fallen over at one point and lingered in the yard for several days. He also noticed the recent appearance of a mattress that featured prominently in Admire’s exhibit to the board.

“It has not been a blight,” he concluded.

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