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BoA shoots down affordable housing variance in East Austin

Wednesday, July 13, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

An affordable housing project in Central East Austin had clear support from the Board of Adjustment. But, given the similarity to a case down the street that was rejected just hours before, board members struggled to articulate their support in a way that would not come back to haunt them on Monday night.

In the end, they voted 8-3 in favor of the variance, with board members Melissa Newland and Bryan King and Chair William Burkhardt voting no. That was not enough for the variance to be granted.

“It’s virtually identical to the other case, which is why we are suffering so much angst,” said Burkhardt. “I profoundly regret that I couldn’t support this. I truly wish you well on this.”

Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation Executive Director Mark Rogers spoke on behalf of the organization. It was looking to reduce the minimum allowed lot size from 5,750 square feet to 4,131 square feet. That reduction would allow the group to build a secondary apartment at 705 Lydia St.

Rogers explained that the variance had unanimous support from both the Guadalupe Association for an Improved Neighborhood (GAIN) and the Organization of Central East Austin Neighborhoods (OCEAN) as well as surrounding individual neighbors. No one spoke in opposition to the variance.

GNDC is a nonprofit that has been providing affordable housing in East Austin for the past 35 years, with a focus on those who have generational ties to the neighborhood. The variance would allow them to build two affordable homes, which would remain affordable for 99 years, be intended for those who earn 30 to 60 percent of the median family income and have rents between $300 and $900 per month.

“We have a waiting list of over 700 right now,” said Rogers. “The point is that what GNDC wants to do at 705 Lydia was allowed for 100 of the past 116 years, and it seems to comply with the intent of the current land development code. The mechanism for achieving this simply has not been defined.”

Rogers explained that they plan to build a one-story, 585-square-foot “alley flat” as the secondary apartment. The main home will be two stories and about 1,350 square feet.

Board members worked to justify the variance for the project, given a variance they rejected earlier in the night in a unanimous vote. In that case, Aileen and Lee Krasner were seeking a variance to reduce the allowed lot size from 5,750 feet to 5,098 feet in order to build a house and secondary dwelling unit.

Board Member Brooke Bailey said that she saw a difference between community benefit and personal benefit, and was willing to support the case. She also noted that the Lydia lot was not within the waterfront overlay like the previous case, which was a key difference for her.

King said that he saw the point but didn’t think that fact, or the distance from Transit-Oriented Development areas, actually constituted hardships. He worked to justify its approval based on the fact that this case was in an area that allowed for more impervious cover than the previous case, but ultimately erred on the side of treating all cases equally.

Burkhardt encouraged Rogers to return with a better hardship or a different plan.

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