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No special exceptions for East Austin special exception

Tuesday, August 23, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Angry neighbors were no match for strange coincidences at the Board of Adjustment earlier this month.

Nanette DiNunzio was seeking a special exception that would allow her to retain her garage, which – because it is in the 5-foot setback – would not normally be compliant with city code. She argued that a special exception was warranted given how long the structure had been on the property.

She told the board that she had purchased the property at 3104 E. 13th St. in 2006. At the time, she said, the garage had been listed since 1952 as a “detached garage” in Travis Central Appraisal District records. “That’s the evidence that it’s always been a garage,” she said, in response to a neighbor’s insistence that the structure was, in fact, a carport.

Thomas Henderson had purchased the home next door to DiNunzio from his mother in 1995. He produced photographs of the structure in question. “Well, lookee there – there’s a carport,” he said.

Though DiNunzio’s request had the support of the McKinley Heights and Homewood Heights Neighborhood associations, Henderson strongly disagreed.

“I have built seven or eight homes in this town. I’ve built a football stadium. I know how to get permits,” said Henderson. “Coming to the city is for permits and permission. It is not for forgiveness.”

Henderson also showed a picture of what he deemed “camouflage” designed to obscure what is on the property. DiNunzio clarified that it is not camouflage but natural foliage and a tarp. That tarp, she said, was hung because she and her husband were “uncomfortable with the amount of watching and scrutiny from their bedroom window into our backyard. It’s just become kind of an uncomfortable situation.”

It was clear that the tension between the neighbors went beyond the one structure when Henderson explained his problems with DeNunzio’s husband.

“He’s a rude neighbor,” said Henderson. “He’s got a nasty, raggedy fence leaning against my fence.”

Board members explained that in this particular case, their hands were fairly tied. Special exceptions are granted in cases when structures have been on a property for at least 10 years and have passed a health and safety inspection, and the structure met the criteria in this case. In the end, board members voted unanimously to grant the special exception and stressed their lack of discretion in denying a request that met the requirements of the code.

Earlier, the board had been moving toward postponing the case due to the dispute over dates. However, Board Member James Valadez was able to clear up the dispute. During the meeting, he discovered through an internet search that in 2003, the structure had indeed been listed as a “carport”; however, when it sold on Aug. 8, 2006 – coincidentally, exactly 10 years to the day prior to the meeting – it was listed as a “garage.”

After that, the board members’ apparent pending consensus sparked outrage in the chambers, as Henderson complained loudly about the fact that the structure was built 4 feet into his easement.

“I feel for the neighbors. I feel for Mr. Henderson about the way this went down,” said Board Member Michael Von Ohlen after the vote. “But the law is the law. It is what it is.”

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