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Board rules former cat palace can stay

Friday, January 15, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

There was opposition from the neighborhood association, but that wasn’t enough to keep the Board of Adjustment from a unanimous decision to allow one Zilker neighborhood resident to keep her Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) in place in her backyard.

Tracy Perkins, who is the owner of 1502 Kinney Ave., rented the property for nine years before purchasing it in April 2013. She said that, during her time as a renter, she didn’t use the second building on the property; her landlord and neighbor did.

“He actually had pinball machines in there because I could hear him playing, so I knew it had electricity,” said Perkins. She explained that, after purchasing the property, she went into the building and realized there was also plumbing.

The previous owner, who is still her neighbor, relayed the history of the building to Perkins. He told her he had constructed it in 1989 “because they had Persian cats.”

“These cats lived large because they actually had an HVAC system,” said Perkins. “And he loved his wife so much, so he (installed) a toilet. So all (she) had to do was scoop and … flush.”

In February 2015, Perkins went to the Board of Adjustment to ask for a special exception for the building, which allowed her to retain the structure because it had been there since 1989. In August, she found out that special exception did not allow for a second sink, so she returned to the board to seek variances that would allow her to retain that sink as well.

Perkins was now seeking variances to decrease the side-yard setback by “less than the size of your hand” and decrease the rear setback by less than 6 inches.

Board of Adjustment members voted unanimously to approve the variances, though only “within the constraints of the Land Development Code.” In other words, if Perkins wants to expand her building, she will either have to come back for another variance or move her building.

Zilker Neighborhood Association member Lorraine Atherton spoke in opposition to the variance. She said that it appeared the structure “has been remodeled since a survey in 2013, which describes it as ‘a shed on wood skids.’” Atherton said that the special exemption was granted for a garage, not the shed, and said there was no way to know what the previous plumbing situation was, but that there was a permit to add a bathroom from August 2015.

“There’s just been nothing but confusion about this property,” said Atherton.

Atherton said she did not understand “why the structure can’t simply be moved a few inches, out of the setbacks, eliminating the need for variances.” She continued, “The problem is simply a matter of getting a plumber to reconnect the plumbing after the structure is moved.”

Perkins explained that she had not changed the footprint of the building since its purchase.

“After I purchased the property in April 2013, I painted the building from brown to, actually, a Smurf blue. Then that drove me nuts, and then I painted it the green you saw (earlier),” said Perkins. “I did not add anything to the exterior of the building; the building is how it was when I purchased it.” She explained that she had support from her immediate neighbors and verbal support from “Friends of Zilker Neighborhood,” even if it was not supported by ZNA.

“I’m a homeowner, and I’m asking for something reasonable,” said Perkins.

Since Perkins’ initial request, new accessory dwelling unit (ADU) regulations have gone into effect that allow small outbuildings in backyards, though they do not allow those buildings to be in established setbacks.

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