Friday, September 25, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Griffin School wins variances, though protests lingered

The Griffin School has finally received its variances from the city of Austin’s Board of Adjustment.

Board members voted unanimously to amend a previous variance that decreased the minimum street width requirements for the school, which is located at 5000 Martin Ave., from 40 feet to about 27 feet, attaching a condition raising the cap on the number of its students from 68 to 125.

Board members Eric Goff and Melissa Neslund were absent for the vote.

There was a last-minute scuffle over whether the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, which supported the variances, should be party to the restrictive covenant, a disagreement that played out during a neighborhood association meeting held at the same time as the Board of Adjustment meeting.

The neighbors who opposed the variance argued that they should be listed as individual parties on the restrictive covenant. However, board members agreed that because the neighborhood association is an entity recognized by the city and elected by the neighborhood, they were the appropriate body to sign the covenant.

Board Member Michael Von Ohlen said, “The reason that I’m not comfortable putting those individual homeowners on as an independent organization is because, not being neighborhood representation as a whole, and an organization as a whole, that, to me, is a recipe for trouble.”

“People get very upset. Emotions get in the way. Emotions cloud judgment, and sometimes it can get petty,” Von Ohlen continued. “I think this is the best we are going to get right now. … After hearing this over and over and over again month after month and watching it transform, I think we’re where we need to move forward.”

The restrictive covenant includes promises to cap enrollment at 125 students, establish off-site parking, support residential permit parking in the surrounding neighborhood, establish parking permits for the school, hold outreach and education sessions about the school’s parking plans and establish a parking enforcement plan.

Elizabeth Arthur, one of the neighbors in disagreement with HPNA, said she moved into the neighborhood in August 2013, joined the association in September 2013 and was “shocked” that the group was supporting the variance. She asked the board to vote against the variance.

“This variance is not going to accomplish any of (HPNA’s) goals, so the fact that they voted for it, that doesn’t carry a lot of water with me. People that live close to it and are impacted — whose property values will decrease because of it — would like to be a part of this document. It’s not an unreasonable request,” said Arthur.

HPNA voted 45-4-2 to sign the restrictive covenant and recommend the variances.

Board Member William Burkhardt explained his reasoning for supporting the variances, directing his comments at Arthur.

“Unfortunately, I think that right now the Griffin School has acted in as good of a faith as they’re going to be able to act,” he said, though he expressed a belief that those nearby neighbors will “probably have to dog the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association to get any satisfaction if there is failure to perform.”

“You have my sympathies, but we gave you an opportunity and here we are,” said Burkhardt.

Earth After the Fall of Man” by Franz Rösel von Rosenhof – Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

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.

Husch Blackwell: The legal firm formerly Brown-McCaroll, a locally-based practice, before that entity was purchased by the national Husch-Blackwell. Practice areas include Real Estate and Development.

Hyde Park Neighborhood Association: Hyde Park is defined by West 38 Street to the south, West 51 Street to the north, Duval Street to the east, and Guadalupe Street to the west. Hyde Park contains two historic districts, the Hyde Park Historic District and the Shadow Lawn Historic District, and several other individual historic buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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