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Mixed vibes surround Bouldin carport variance

Tuesday, May 30, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

It takes more than heat and birds to justify a carport in this town. Heat and birds are just a part of life in Austin, Texas.

That was the lesson at the Board of Adjustment for Aaron McGarry, who owns the home at 2210 S. Second St. McGarry is asking to reduce the front setback from 25 feet to 1.5 feet and the side setback from 5 feet to 1 foot to maintain a carport that was built in 2014.

He explained that most of the homes in Bouldin Creek do have carports, but the 1953 home’s small lot size made it impossible to comply with current setback requirements. The reduced setback would place the carport about 10.5 feet from the street.

McGarry said that he had gotten support from his neighbors prior to constructing the carport, which he did not realize was out of compliance until the Code Department issued a notice of violation. He said that he was told by the city they didn’t need a permit to construct the carport, and the contractor he had worked with did not verify this information and “clearly did not know what he was doing.”

“Once we got the notice of violation from Code Enforcement, we figured out we were in pretty big trouble,” he said.

Board Member Michael Von Ohlen, who is a contractor, explained it is the homeowner’s responsibility to determine whether a permit needs to be pulled. “We will pull a permit when we are told,” he said. “To throw him under the bus isn’t going to work tonight.”

Erin McGann, who lives around the corner from McGarry, spoke in support of the carport and confirmed it fit in with the neighborhood’s current “vibe.”

“I was stunned to hear this carport was going to be contested. It absolutely fits in with the whole area,” she said. “We do need carports in Texas, because it does tend to destroy your cars.”

“Plus, we have birds that eat purple berries and they poop on your car. Your car turns purple. It’s really fabulous,” said McGann.

Though there was no one to speak against the variance request at the meeting, there were several anonymous forms against the variance in the board’s backup. The fact that they were anonymous is unusual, but all stated they feared retaliation, with one neighbor citing a listserv conversation about the carport that had been “alarming and vindictive.”

To get a variance from city code, homeowners must prove they have a unique hardship. In this case, the hardships of lot size and limited street parking due to the home’s proximity to South First Street didn’t cut it for Von Ohlen.

“The fact that birds eat purple grapes is not a hardship,” he added. “And Texas heat has been Texas heat since Mother Nature came along and Texas was created.”

Chair William Burkhardt constructed a doomsday scenario for McGarry, asking what he would think if his neighbor asked for the same variance. “But maybe he didn’t want to do what you’ve done,” he said. “Maybe he wanted to build a wall.”

“What’s your attitude towards setbacks in the first place?” asked Burkhardt, who said the distinction between McGarry’s carport and a more enclosed structure was “semantics, at this point, in the city’s definition of what a carport is.”

“It could very well be a full-blown structure … (and) with what you are espousing, you could see that on every property on every block of every neighborhood. Then I think that would have some impact on neighborhood character.”

Though McGarry wasn’t required to solve that problem, board members did make it clear that he will need to establish a better hardship when he returns to the board. Board members voted unanimously to postpone the case until June 12.

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