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Clarksville home gets its basement at the BoA

Wednesday, October 21, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Though not everyone was thrilled by the news, plans for a new home in Clarksville are moving forward as proposed after a variance from the Board of Adjustment.

Matt Fajkus, who is the architect for the project, spoke on behalf of Jennifer Parker, the owner of 806 Patterson Ave. He explained that they were requesting a variance for a basement exemption that would be allowed were it not for “an extreme topography site hardship.”

The board voted 8-0 to approve the variance, with Board Member Michael Von Ohlen and Eric Goff absent.

Fajkus said that the proposed home will be 2,400 square feet with an 871-square-foot basement. He explained that the slope from the back to the front of the site prevented the normal basement exemption, because the finished floor of the primary level was more than 3 feet above the intersection of the front yard setback line and the side property lines, though it is compliant in the back of the house.

The variance increases the allowed elevation of the first floor from 3 feet to 13.75 feet in the front of the house.

The design, said Fajkus, was compatible with neighboring houses, in terms of the elevation of the finished floors and front doors. He explained that the house could be permitted as is, and the only question was whether the basement could be occupied.

Board Member William Burkhardt, who worked on the McMansion Ordinance, agreed that the massing – the building’s general shape and size – would be allowed with or without the basement.

“It won’t make a bit of difference to the front elevation of the house. … It is one of those irreconcilable situations, but it does comply with the intent of the ordinance to some extent. You are going to see a mass there anyway, with a downward-sloping lot,” said Burkhardt.

Board Member Brooke Bailey pointed out that the current design does voluntarily comply with the other setbacks on the street, saying, “They could move it way forward on that lot, and do a lot of things that they are not really doing.”

Though Fajkus had signatures of approval in hand from some neighbors, not everyone was pleased by the plan.

Jake Sullivan, who has lived in Old West Austin for the past 45 years, lives behind the house in question. He opposes the variance, although he originally supported it. He pointed out that a number of homes in the neighborhood were undergoing remodeling and said, “If we’re giving away 871 square feet, there will be others that will be asking for it.”

“Build a house, live your life, enjoy the neighborhood, but do it within the code without variances,” said Sullivan.

Steve Wilson, who owns property behind Parker’s, spoke in opposition to the variance. He said that there was no hardship in not building the basement and the variance would instead “allow for overbuilding of the lot” in direct contradiction to the McMansion Ordinance. He noted that, from the street, the residence would be a three-story house.

“The fact that the hardship appears to be building a bigger house can be solved within the building code by simply buying a bigger lot,” said Wilson.

Wilson also objected to the excavation that would be required to build the house and expressed concern that the project could destabilize the hillside, calling it “high-risk construction.”

Parker told the board that they had designed a house to be in keeping with the look of the neighborhood. She explained that she has lived in Austin for 20 years and intended to live in the house for the next 15 years, until her four sons were in college.

“We’re the house that the kids like to come to, and given that there is this energy-efficient space underneath the original footprint of the home, it just seems like it would be well-utilized for us to help raise our boys,” said Parker.

This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that Board Member Eric Goff was not absent. He has yet to take his oath of office.

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