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BoA strikes a balance in West Austin

Thursday, November 12, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

“Please let my mom have her screened-in porch.”

Gavin Clarkson offered up that plea at Monday night’s Board of Adjustment meeting. His mother, Atelia Clarkson, is seeking a variance to decrease the side setback at her 2005 Tower Drive home from five feet to zero feet, increase the allowed impervious cover from 45 percent to 62.4 percent, increase the allowed floor-to-area ratio (known as FAR) from 0.4-to-1 to 0.635-to-1 and allow for an addition within the setback plane.

Taking into account some unique circumstances of the property, Board of Adjustment members agreed to treat the two lots owned by Atelia Clarkson as one lot, eliminating the need for all variances but the FAR. That motion passed unanimously with Michael Benaglio absent for the vote.

Though the board attempted to strike a compromise on the FAR variance – limiting it to 0.416-to-1 instead of the original request – that motion failed with board members James Valadez, Melissa Neslund and Don Leighton-Burwell voting in opposition.

The Clarksons purchased a portion of a lot next door to their main lot in the 1990s. The remainder of the next door lot is owned by the city, and a deed restricts building on it. The lots weren’t combined after the Clarksons’ purchase because the remaining, city-owned portion would not be a legal tract.

Jim Bennett, who was representing the owner, stressed the site’s unique situation. He explained that, if the board recognized the main tract and the partial tract as one tract owned by the family, “all the variances go away” except the FAR variance. They are developing the lot under a unified development agreement.

Gavin Clarkson spoke on his mother’s behalf, and explained the reason for the request. “It was always my father’s plan that my mom would move into this house after my father passed,” he said. “And one of the things that my dad always promised my mom was that when it was built, when she would move into it, she would be able to have a screened-in porch.”

It’s that porch and an expansion of the master bedroom that are now causing problems. The bedroom expansion, explained Gavin Clarkson, was to allow his mother to have a larger closet. “She has a few clothes,” he said.

Gavin Clarkson described the additions as “filling two voids” in the house, creating a “contiguous line along two sides” instead of adding to the bulk of the building. However, some board members, like Leighton-Burwell, had difficulty with the request for increased FAR.

“Just because someone wants something, and it may give them a bigger garage or closet or whatever, it doesn’t necessarily compel us to say, ‘yes, there is a hardship.’”

He was unmoved by an arguement by Board Member Michael Von Ohlen that the odd shape of the lot constituted a hardship.

Blake Tollett spoke on behalf of the West Austin Neighborhood Group. He said that it was reasonable to combine the two lots and eliminate the variance requests, and the group doesn’t oppose any of the variances that would be addressed through that shift.

However, the group does oppose the FAR request, he said. Tollet explained that the neighborhood sees the project as new construction, and it is “very difficult to support” that increase. He pointed out that under the allowed FAR, the family could still build about 400 square feet.

That, said Bennett, “would make a skinny porch.”

Image courtesy of ATXN

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