Monday, June 22, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

BoA torpedoes North Hyde Park ADU variance

As Austin’s accessory dwelling unit ordinance revision enters its second year, those in the city trying to build ADUs continue to have a hard time. That was certainly the case at the Board of Adjustment’s last meeting, during which one North Hyde Park homeowner learned that the very mention of ADUs can put off board members who have been dealing with the topic for two years.

John Walewski was asking for a variance for his home at 4514 Avenue B. He is in the process of building a 550-square-foot accessory dwelling unit (ADU) for his mother-in-law in his backyard and was asking that the required three parking spaces for the property be reduced to two. Board members denied the variance 3-4, however, with Chair Jeff Jack and Board Members Brian King and Michael Von Ohlen voting against it. In order for a variance to be granted, six members must vote in favor.

The North Hyde Park Neighborhood Conservation Combining District does not allow parking on more than 25 percent of any lot’s width. Walewski explained to the board that the presence of two heritage trees on the property, a narrow lot and the configuration of the current building made the variance necessary. He said he had previously come up with plans to incorporate three spaces on the property but that the first one had been shot down by city staff and the second would not be permitted within the Hyde Park Neighborhood Overlay.

The neighborhood contact team Hyde Park Neighborhood development review committee neither supports nor opposes the variance, but Walewski said he had the support of his immediate neighbors and everyone on his block, and he told the board he’d gathered about 20 letters of support and only one letter in opposition.

“We’re the narrowest lot on our block. The other lots on our block could do three parking (spaces) if they did an ADU,” said Walewski.

Although the ADU ordinance is currently being revised, Walewski said he believes even under the new ordinance he would be required to provide three parking spaces.

Board Member Bryan King expressed a distaste for the topic in general, saying he had an alternate meaning for the acronym “ADU” but “wouldn’t use it on the dais.”

Other board members seemed less put out by the idea of building a 550-square-foot-home for a mother-in-law. Board Member Sallie Burchett said she would support the variance if the owner agreed not to use the building as a short-term rental.

Walewski quickly agreed to the stipulation. Jack appreciated that but said short-term rentals in the city are “almost totally unenforceable right now.”

“We can’t even get a credible school to adhere to the rules, much less some future property owner,” said Jack. (He was most likely referring to an earlier case concerning the Griffin School.)

When board members suggested that Walewski could get around the parking requirements by building the ADU without a kitchen, he seemed uninterested in that option.

This story has been corrected

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

accessory dwelling units: This term refers to smaller, secondary units built on the property of a primary residence. Also known as ADUs, mother-in-law suites, granny flats, or garden apartments, among other things.

City of Austin Board of Adjustment: The city's Board of Adjustment is a quasi-judicial body that decides on variances, special exceptions and can issue interpretations of code.

North Austin: North Austin, roughly, is the area of the city north of Downtown Austin, between MoPac and IH-35.

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