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Parking and character battle at BoA case

Thursday, March 24, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Is a lack of parking a neighborhood characteristic? In East Austin, maybe it is.

At the most recent meeting of the Board of Adjustment, George Rodenbusch was seeking a variance to reduce the number of required parking spaces from four to zero and change the use from single-family to triplex at 1014 E. Eighth St., which is within a half-mile radius of the Saltillo Transit Oriented Development.

Board members unanimously approved the variance, which will reduce the parking requirements to zero as long as the current structure and its use remain the same. Board Member Michael Von Ohlen was absent, and alternate Kelly Blume voted in his place.

The house in question is about 105 years old, according to Rodenbusch, who explained that it was converted to a triplex sometime before 1982. He purchased the house in 2013 and said that its use as a triplex was not a disturbance to the neighborhood.

Rodenbusch explained that the setback, a 34-inch-diameter heritage tree and the existing house are conspiring to make meeting the parking requirements impossible. The neighborhood does have residential parking permits, and the property’s perimeter has space for five cars.

The Organization of Central East Austin Neighborhoods, however, did not support the requested variance.

Tom Hatch, who lives in the neighborhood, told the board that parking is a huge issue. “And,” he said, “it’s getting huger and huger.”

“I totally support selective densification in our inner-city neighborhoods, but a triplex without adequate parking in our neighborhood – which has very few garages or carports – is not the right direction for that corner or our neighborhood, and I do not support anything that puts more cars on the street,” said Hatch. “The triplex is counter to its zoning; the parking is counter to regulations. … On a tight lot, two units are plenty.”

Rodenbusch disagreed, saying that there were “more than sufficient reserves of street parking” in the neighborhood and that the lack of parking was, in fact, in character for the neighborhood. He told the board that an ideal solution would be to grandfather the property and wasn’t sure what options were available to him to bring the property into compliance.

He explained that he had considered the possibility of providing some parking, but bringing the property completely up to code in terms of parking meant demolishing part of the house or encroaching on the root zone of the tree.

Board Member Melissa Neslund pointed out that the triplex had been in use for quite some time and questioned whether the current solution of nonconforming parking was causing problems.

“Obviously, this use has been functioning. There hasn’t been code-permitted parking, per se, but there is parking,” said Neslund. “I feel a worst-case scenario would be to demolish the house and build something a little bit more dense that you could get parking for.”

“Absolutely,” said Rodenbusch. “I could build a four-unit complex on that lot.”

Rodenbusch explained that, for years, tenants had jumped the curb to access parking strips (as there is no curb cut); in addition, he said, there was a curb cut with access to a single “barely usable” parking space. However, the city would not authorize a curb cut to the parking area because it does not conform with city code.

Though there was some talk of denying the variance as well as discussion about sanctifying the existing noncompliant parking, the board was ultimately mollified by the decision to limit the variance to the current setup. However, enough time passed before that compromise was struck to allow for a passionate speech from Board Member Rahm McDaniel.

“Once again, we are forced to choose between technical requirements of parking and code while putting affordable housing stock and heritage trees at risk,” said McDaniel. “It boggles my mind, in a city where we talk about how people are taking too many cars on the streets, you have a property that is ideally situated to encourage people to ride a bike or take the train, and we’re trying to shoehorn our way into providing parking spaces.”

Image and map courtesy of Google Maps.

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