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Board of Adjustment fails to grant ‘ugly’ variance

Thursday, September 13, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

On occasion, members of a neighborhood find a redevelopment project to be such an eyesore that they use it as their case as to why it shouldn’t be built in the first place.

“We don’t need any more ugly. We’ve got a lot of it,” Mary Ingle, past president of the Austin Neighborhoods Council who was speaking on behalf of the North University neighborhood, told the Board of Adjustment at its Sept. 10 meeting.

Gregg Andrulis, who was representing the proposed project at 2713 Hemphill Park, explained that even though he and the developers are aware that they lack the neighborhood’s support to construct the three-story apartment above surface-level parking, they are choosing to push the project forward anyway.

He argued that the variance request is not a question of aesthetics so much as practicality. The applicant, he explained, should receive the variance due to the hardship of the “unusually small lot size” in a high-density area. He noted that although the lot size prevents redevelopment for multifamily, already there are two existing structures on the property that are being used as duplexes.

Ingle pointed out that the Multi-Family Residence – High Density (MF-5) zoning requires a lot to be 8,000 square feet in order to accommodate the scale of the proposed project. The lot in question is 7,763 square feet according to the Travis Central Appraisal District. To get around this, she suggested that the applicant aggregate its current property with another in order to reach the minimum lot size to build without a variance.

Both the neighborhood and the board members were wary of the project design, which shows parking at street level and the three-story building constructed above. Board Member Melissa Hawthorne was dubious, calling it a “building on stilts.” However, Andrulis argued, “If we can’t park underneath the structure, there is no project.” He noted that there are several buildings within 300 feet of 2713 Hemphill that have the same design of a building raised above surface parking.

After weighing both sides of the argument, Board Member Michael Von Ohlen said that he couldn’t support “bulldogging.” He suggested that the commission postpone the hearing until October in order to give the applicant time to work with the neighborhood to design a multifamily unit that would have its support. “I don’t have much empathy for anyone who is going to come in and disrupt the neighborhood after they’ve met with them,” he said.

The board voted unanimously to postpone the hearing until October.

Rendering by Architectural2, courtesy of the city of Austin.

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