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BoA votes to protect ‘compatibility to nothing’

Monday, October 24, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

A recent Board of Adjustment variance case proved that sometimes rules are rules, even absent the reasons they were put in place.

William Faust, representing applicant Greg Smith before the board, explained that a small, vacant tract of residentially zoned land was preventing them from moving forward with their plans for development, because of compatibility standards. He said that they would have liked to rezone the nearby property from Single Family (SF-3) to Commercial zoning, but they “couldn’t figure out where the little SF-3 property was.” As a result, he was at the Board of Adjustment instead, hoping to get variances from height and setback compatibility standards in order to develop the properties at 2001 and 2003 South Lamar Blvd.

“We did everything in the world we could to not come here. But here we are,” said Faust.

Faust said that the small, vacant parcel would remain vacant. “There’s no way anyone will be able to use that property for anything,” he said. He also said that there was no clear reason why the tract was zoned single-family in the first place, saying, “It’s obvious to everybody that we talked to on staff and everywhere else that it’s a scrivener’s error of some kind or another. … Nobody has an answer as to why.”

Compatibility standards apply to some tracts that are zoned for more intense uses than their residential neighbors in order to protect those residential uses from close, oversized development. Faust explained that the lot triggering the standards in this case was in both a drainage easement and a floodplain, and that it most likely “wasn’t even a legal lot” because of its small size.

However, for the neighbors who opposed the variances, that was beside the point.

Lorraine Atherton with the Zilker Neighborhood Association said she saw no reason the current zoning and its restrictions would impact their plans, unless they wanted to build more than 50 feet in one small corner. “There’s so much lot, and they have such flexible zoning with the Vertical Mixed Use, that all they have to do is stay at 50 feet,” said Atherton. “It’s all impossible to review, since they haven’t decided what to build there.

“As far as the mapping error is concerned, ZNA has more experience than we care to recount with people who claim mapping and zoning errors. If it’s a real error, just go to the director of the department, and he has the authority to change it,” said Atherton.

Chair William Burkhardt said the case, to him, seemed clear cut, and he asked Atherton about her opposition. “This makes no sense to me,” he said. “What’s the situation here, that you are being so intractable?

“I think compatibility standards are an appropriate thing to have – I truly do. I just question whether you’re not undermining the benefit of them to places where they are really effective, to places like here, where they are really not,” said Burkhardt.

He found allies in most of the board members, including Board Member Rahm McDaniel.

“Are you saying that you’re asking us to maintain compatibility with the SF-3 for the purpose of preventing the development of the site?” asked McDaniel. “I’m sorry, I can’t protect the compatibility to nothing.”

Board members voted 7-3 to grant the variances, which was not enough to approve them. Board members Bryan King, Brooke Bailey and alternate Kelly Blume voted in opposition to granting the variances, and board members Melissa Neslund and Melissa Hawthorne were absent.

An attempt to take up the issue again was unsuccessful, although Faust could ask for reconsideration at a future meeting, where more board members would be in attendance and it might be easier to win the votes required to grant the variances.

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