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Monday, November 27, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Barton Hills fence can’t stay

Dogs, hills and swimming holes might be the foundation of a good life in Central Texas, but they aren’t a good reason for a tall fence in Barton Hills, according to the city’s Board of Adjustment.

Bruce Moseley was asking for a variance that would allow him to maintain a 9-foot 1-inch fence at his 2801 Down Cove property. He told the Board of Adjustment at its latest meeting that the grade and slope of the road was “extreme” and explained that the allowed 6-foot fence would look “really awkward” and provide little privacy due to the topography.

“It doesn’t look like a taller-than-normal fence,” he said. “It just looks normal.”

Complicating matters, he explained, was the fact that his house is “about 100 yards” from the entrance to the Gus Fruh swimming hole and, on any given day, there are cars parked all along his street. “This is an extremely high-traffic street,” he said.

Board Member Melissa Hawthorne backed this up. As a neighbor, she said she had recently counted 120 cars in that two-block area in the middle of the week.

Additionally, explained Moseley, his dogs were able to jump over the 6-foot fence. “Half German shepherd, half border collie,” he explained. “They’re amazing dogs.”

Board Member Michael Von Ohlen said that in his 13 years on the board, he couldn’t think of a time it had approved a 7-foot fence without a health or safety issue as a reason for it to be that tall, let alone a 9-foot fence.

Instead, he suggested a variance for a 7-foot fence and a slight modification to the pergola so that it was not resting directly on the fence, but instead was a freestanding structure behind the fence.

“If your collie and shepherds can jump through that, they’re better than Rin Tin Tin,” he said.

As an alternative, Board Member Don Leighton-Burwell suggested the board allow an 8-foot fence with no pergola. Because the property is adjacent to city land, that fence height is permitted with permission from the city. However, the motion failed in a vote of 8-3 with board members Bryan King, Brooke Bailey and James Valadez voting in opposition.

A motion to allow for a 7-foot fence with a freestanding pergola also failed by the same margin: 8-3 with King, Bailey and Valadez again voting in opposition.

Bailey said she was having trouble with the hardship that Moseley provided. “All of Central Austin is hilly,” she said. “I’m just not seeing anything special here.”

She acknowledged that the variance seemed to have the support of neighbors, but worried that there seemed to be a number of neighbors also asking for the contact information for the contractor that built the fence. “If you get this, the other neighbor that is on a hilly lot is going to want the same thing,” she said. “I have a lot of heartburn about that.”

King could not shake his issues with the hardship. He reasoned that a hardship could be to keep something out, but not to keep something contained in the yard by the fence. “Your dog getting out is your responsibility,” he said.

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City of Austin Board of Adjustment: The city's Board of Adjustment is a quasi-judicial body that decides on variances, special exceptions and can issue interpretations of code.

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