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Thursday, January 18, 2018 by Joseph Caterine

Flag lot variance request revived after failed approval

Having already been postponed once before, a plat application for a new subdivision in West Austin was postponed again by the Zoning and Platting Commission at its Jan. 2 meeting after a motion to approve failed to pass.

Two of the three existing single-family homes located on the 1.98 acres at 1401 Allen Road will be demolished under the proposed plan that will divide the property into five lots, two of them being flag lots (so called for the “flagpole” extension of the lot). Agent Michael Rivera explained at the meeting that the design had included flag lots with rear access to relieve traffic on Allen Road.

Members of the Easy Street Neighborhood Association had asked for a postponement at the Oct. 17 commission meeting, citing safety, environmental, and neighborhood character problems. However, association president Jo Ann Howard submitted a letter to the commission in time for the Jan. 2 hearing that said the neighborhood had established restrictive covenants with the developers that assuaged those concerns.

“The flag configuration would allow less driveways onto Allen Road and is preferable to the alternative of 4 smaller lots adjacent to Allen Road which would be allowed under the current zoning,” the letter says.

City Council passed an ordinance in 2012 that imposed restrictions on subdividing into flag lots, motivated by the example of the Allandale neighborhood where the number of funny-shaped lots had begun to hamper compatibility. However, during CodeNEXT discussions last July, staff intimated that the land use code rewrite may backpedal that ordinance’s regulations.

Case Manager Don Perryman clarified that reviewers do not weigh whether or not flag lots are necessary to make a project. “The staff is reactionary. We really don’t design. We react to the plans that are submitted, and we evaluate a flag lot development basically on the criteria in the code,” Perryman said at the meeting.

Commissioner Betsy Greenberg inquired as to why all the existing houses could not be preserved. Rivera explained that the two smaller houses did not fit into the proposed lot demarcations, and he also said that more trees could be saved under this design.

Even though the neighborhood association had said that it had reached a compromise in terms of safety issues with the subdivision, ZAP Chair Jolene Kiolbassa said that she still could not support the variance request. “I don’t see a problem with 50-foot-wide lots there. Everybody would have access to Allen Road, and there would be access for fire trucks and (emergency vehicles),” she said.

The motion to approve staff’s recommendation failed 5-2, with Kiolbassa and Greenberg dissenting and commissioners Dustin Breithaupt, Yvette Flores, Sunil Lavani and Abigail Tatkow absent. Before the commission got started on the next agenda item, Perryman interrupted to say that the applicant wanted to ask if the vote could be rescinded and postponed to a meeting where more commissioners would be in attendance.

Greenberg said that she thought the request was fair. “For me, I voted against it because I feel like it wasn’t the only option and I don’t like flag lots,” she said, “but if there were 11 people here, the outcome would likely be different.”

The vote was unanimously rescinded and the case postponed to the Jan. 16 meeting, although that meeting was canceled due to inclement weather.

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City of Austin Zoning and Platting Commission: The City of Austin's Zoning and Platting Commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

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