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BoA tempers West Austin parking plan

Tuesday, October 6, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

A West Austin homeowner hoping to expand his house will also have to find room for a parking space, after a semi-successful visit to the Board of Adjustment.

Heidi Goebel, who is an architect (and former Board of Adjustment member), explained that in the time since owner Todd O’Neil bought the house at 809 Norwalk Lane in 2007, his family has expanded. Now, his family hoped to expand the house as well. In order to do that, O’Neil was requesting variances to reduce the street-side setback from 15 feet to 4 feet and 6 inches and to reduce the number of required parking spaces from two to zero.

Though O’Neil is planning construction on his lot, Goebel explained that none of the new construction required a variance. The variances all apply to existing, noncomplying additions to the house.

One of those noncompliant aspects is the current parking for the home. The parking does not meet city code because it is located in the right of way, but Goebel said the owner hoped to retain it, with the support of several neighbors. She explained that a utility pole, trees and drainage issues prevented relocation of the parking.

Blake Tollett, who is a member of the West Austin Neighborhood Group (and the Historic Landmark Commission), said the neighborhood did not oppose the setback variance but would like to see at least one on-site parking space.

Board members voted 7-1 to approve a modified version of the variances, which reduced the parking from two spaces to one. Board Member Don Leighton-Burwell voted in opposition, and Board Members Eric Goff and Melissa Neslund were absent.

Board Member Michael Von Ohlen said the parking variance presented a problem for him.

“I’m slowly going the same way with parking as I am with scenic roadways, and the same way I’m going with trams down to the lake – because we are growing so much, parking is getting where it’s really needed, really, really needed,” said Von Ohlen.

“I’m cool with one parking (space). … I cannot support no parking,” said Von Ohlen.

Goebel tried to convince the board that the existing parking was sufficient.

“Todd and his wife do get two cars parked here. It’s not ideal, but they do manage to get two cars off the street,” said Goebel. She explained that creating parking on the lot could mean removing trees or placing impervious cover at the high point of the lot, which could exacerbate existing drainage problems.

But some, including Leighton-Burwell, worried about parking in the right of way as a long-term fix.

“My concern is that you are parking cars in the public right of way. And if there is ever a public sidewalk put on Ninth Street … then those cars would be in violation of parking across the sidewalk,” said Leighton-Burwell.

Though board members did not specify where that parking space should be, there were several suggestions from the dais. Von Ohlen pointed out that, since a drainage fix was on the way for the lot, that parking space and its repercussions could be folded into the project. They also spotted what they thought could work as a carport on the lot.

Goebel warned that there was wooden framing in the structure, but board members said that problem could be solved by a shift in project priorities.

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