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BoA shoots down East Austin variance cluster

Tuesday, October 18, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

At the Board of Adjustment’s most recent meeting, the specters of short-term rentals and the Jumpolin piñata store did no favors for a group seeking variances in East Austin.

Chris French, who identified himself as the homeowner’s brother, explained that they were seeking variances for the property at 206 San Marcos St. He said the variances would allow the house on the property to remain “as is.” The home was built in 1908, and a shed on the property was built in 1950. The problem is that the shed was remodeled into a master suite and connected to the house in an unpermitted project that was finished a year and a half ago; without the variances, the home cannot get a Certificate of Occupancy.

“Unless we remove the remaining and much-needed off-street parking, we will be forced to remove part of the house in order to comply with current zoning regulations,” said French.

Those are the choices left on the table after board members voted unanimously to deny the variances to decrease the rear yard setback, decrease the side yard setback, increase the allowed impervious cover from 45 percent to 73 percent and increase the minimum lot size.

Marisa Perales, who was speaking as a neighbor and not as a representative of the Environmental Commission, which she chairs, said the case was “replete with misrepresentations and obfuscations.” She told the board that French’s standing was in question and that the corporation behind the variance request (93 Navasota Holdings LLC) “consists of the same individuals who were behind the demolition of the Jumpolin piñata store.”

“This case presents a prime example of disrespect for our zoning regulations, of our impervious cover regulations, of code compliance and of neighborhood plans,” said Perales. “It’s a request to allow the flouting of regulations just to maximize profits.”

Perales said that reporting by the Austin Chronicle on the corporation and its operation of short-term rentals first alerted city staff to the code violation on the property. She took issue with the hardship listed by the owner – that the expansion was necessary to accommodate “growing families,” which she pointed out were not, in fact, living at the house.

She also objected to a letter sent to neighbors by Chris French that suggested he, not 93 Navasota Holdings LLC, was the owner, and that the variance was needed for him to keep his house. She reminded the board that the home was being run as a Type 2 short-term rental and was owned by a corporation.

“There are disingenuous statements throughout this application,” said Perales. “This variance is necessary because of a violation that was caused by the applicant themselves by adding another bedroom. … The shed, perhaps, would have qualified for a hardship variance, but the shed is not what is (there).”

French said he wasn’t sure where the “evil corporation” information was coming from and that the house was, actually, just a little bit bigger than when it was purchased. He said there was a carport that was demolished and, in exchange, the structure between the shed and house was constructed. French said that the property was not, to his knowledge, currently listed on Airbnb.

Board Member Michael Von Ohlen explained his vote to French.

“I find it very hard to believe that, as a holding company, this is your first barbecue,” said Von Ohlen. “It gives me a lot of heartburn.”

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