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BoA says impervious cover can stay

Tuesday, July 7, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Though it attached lectures and conditions, the Board of Adjustment has ruled that a Brykerwoods home can keep its impervious cover.

The owners of a house at 1800 West 29th St. were seeking a variance to allow the current 53 percent impervious cover to remain, though only 45 percent is allowed under city code.

Board members voted to grant the variance 6-1, with Chair Jeff Jack voting in opposition. The variance came with two conditions. The first stipulated that there be no additional construction on the property. The second requires that the homeowners add rainwater harvesting, sized by an engineer to account for the difference between the allowed and existing impervious cover.

Heather Jones spoke on behalf of the homeowners, Tom and Christine Suehs. She explained that they remodeled the home, including the front porch, shortly after purchasing it in 2008.

In 2014, they remodeled once again, adding a screened porch and office nook and converting a garage into a closed carport. At that time, an inspection revealed that they were over the allowed impervious cover.

Jones explained that the home has been over the allowed impervious cover since at least 1987. The oldest survey shows the property at 51 percent impervious cover.

Jones explained that removal of the walkway and driveway was not an option because the family’s daughter is disabled, and removing either path would “make it nearly impossible for her to navigate around her home.”

The city approved plans that called for construction of a ribbon driveway, but that was not what was built. That didn’t sit well with some board members.

“I sure as heck don’t like the fact that you just felt it was the best thing for you to do, so you went ahead and built what you wanted versus what was submitted,” said Board Member Michael Von Ohlen. “I’m a contractor, and that’s a no-go in my book.”

However, Von Ohlen said he could empathize with the situation, though the board could not consider the daughter’s disability when ruling on the variance.

Jack said he appreciated that the agreement included rainwater harvesting but could not vote in favor of the variance. “When you’ve got a permit, you’ve got to stick to it. That’s it,” he said.

Tom Suehs told the board that he and his wife have lived in Austin for more than 40 years, and they only wanted to maintain the impervious cover that has existed for several decades. Suehs noted that their house was one of the few that has been remodeled in a way that preserves its historic character.

“In retrospect, it might have been more efficient – and, I guarantee, more cost-effective – for us to have demolished this 1939 house and built a big box that maximized impervious cover,” said Suehs. “It appears to us that if the city is serious about preserving these older homes and neighborhoods, then certain zoning requirements like impervious coverage need to be flexible.”

He said that the second remodel of the porch was necessary because the house sits on underground springs. They moved it out of reach of flood waters. Similarly, they converted their garage to a carport to allow water to drain out of the back.

The variance is necessary to bring the house into compliance and allow the homeowners to close the permits from their most recent round of remodeling.

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