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Friday, January 19, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Environmental Commission weighs options, recommends boat dock variance

It is always difficult to plan a project. However, conventional wisdom suggests that when three construction options exist, you pick the path of least resistance and do not select the choice that requires you to seek a variance from City Council. Unless of course, a variance would make the site environmentally superior to its current state.

“This is an interesting one,” noted Commissioner Hank Smith prior to the Environmental Commission approving a recommendation for variance. “If they wind up putting in a boat dock that meets the code, we might end up with something more detrimental to the lake.”

Amy and John Porter, the new owners of 1704 and 1706 Channel Road, came to the commission on Jan. 17 to request a recommendation for a variance that would allow them to cut an additional 4 feet into their existing boat slip for the accommodation of a modern-sized boat and two Jet Skis.

According to Janis Smith, a civil engineer who was representing the applicants, “The dock is too small to house modern boats.” As a result, they need to widen the existing slip.

A supplemental 4-foot cut would be allowed in an urban watershed, but because this property is situated on Lake Austin in a rural watershed, the total cut may not exceed 4 feet.

Watershed Protection Department staff told the commission that it was not in favor of recommending this variance for approval because there were other design options available that would not require a variance.

As the Porters own a double lot that carries a twofold entitlement for dock space, they are entitled to 1,200 square feet of dock. Smith presented the commission with the three project designs that would fulfill that entitlement. She said that the applicants find the two designs that do not require a variance to be inferior and, as such, are willing to make concessions to receive the Environmental Commission’s recommendation for their preferred plan.

Liz Johnston, environmental program coordinator at the Watershed Protection Department, noted, “I think they are doing more than what we would have technically required (under code).”

Already the applicants have given up 300 square feet of shore in favor of turning it into a wetland planting area with 106 shoreline plants. “A thriving wetland is not required by code,” said Smith, and she continued, “The mitigation design for our plan pulls out all the stops.”

In addition to returning some of the yard into wetland, the proposed project will replace the three trees that will need to be removed with 17 new ones, and most of the existing concrete bulkhead will be replaced with a limestone one.

The underwater concrete, which has shown up in aerial view photos since 1962, will not be moved because the engineers determined it to be integral to the stability of the current slip.

The culmination of all these improvements raises the flood plain rating from poor to excellent instead of merely from poor to good like the code requires.

Johnston, who presented the case to the commission, also noted that although it could not weigh into the commission’s consideration, “there is an aesthetic benefit” if the boat dock is constructed with the plan that the variance calls for.

At the vote, the commission passed a recommendation for the variance with Commissioner Linda Guerrero abstaining.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Environmental Commission: An advisory board to members of the Austin City Council. Its purview includes "all projects and programs which affect the quality of life for the citizens of Austin." In many cases, this includes development projects.

Lake Austin: Lake Austin is a water reservoir on the Colorado River, and the source of Austin's drinking water. It was created by the 1939 construction of the Tom Miller Dam and is managed by the Lower Colorado River Authority.

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