Monday, September 17, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Board of Adjustment postpones Travis Heights ADU case, again

Citing neighborly discord, the Board of Adjustment postponed for the third time a variance request to treat an already-standing 1930s bungalow as an accessory dwelling unit.

In a creative solution to add more density and square footage to a lot, architect Norma Yancey designed a plan to flip-flop the traditional scenario of the main residence in the front of the lot and an accessory dwelling unit in the back. Already the property at 1219 Bickler Road has a 1,050-square-foot 1930s bungalow. However, instead of expanding the square footage of that building to add more living space, Yancey requested that the bungalow be treated as an accessory dwelling unit under code and presented plans to build a two-story 2,500-square-foot house in the back of the 10,518-square-foot lot as the main residence, were the variance to pass.

“By keeping the bungalow, we are able to keep that historic presence,” she explained.

Several neighbors, however, felt differently. “A lot of us have … accessory dwellings on our lots. We all complied with city regulations and codes,” said Kathy Rodondo, who lives across the street. Another neighbor, Thano Hasiotis, agreed saying, “This would have a devastating impact on our street and neighborhood.”

Both these neighbors said that they were not given ample notification to attend the neighborhood meeting where Yancey presented the design of the house. Yancey told the board she met with no opposition at the neighborhood meeting and the design passed “with a healthy majority.”

At the Board of Adjustment hearing, the conflict rested on the fact that the property would house two full-sized homes, not one home and one ADU. Rodondo said that although it would serve to promote density in the neighborhood, she did not support density at that scale. “I don’t want to see it become Southern California,” she told the board.

Yancey explained that the project is designed this way to keep the 1,050-square-foot bungalow untouched as a residence for the family’s daughter. The current design is within the prescribed floor area ratio and impervious cover limits.

“I have a real problem with it in the first place. I don’t like the flip of primary and secondary,” said Chair William Burkhardt. Board Member Don Leighton-Burwell also agreed, saying that there are no guarantees that the original bungalow would stay if the variance was granted. If the homeowner chose, he could demolish the bungalow and redevelop on the same footprint with no variance.

“I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve heard people say Mama’s moving in the front … and it (becomes) a short-term rental,” said Board Member Michael Von Ohlen.

Still, because the homeowner could both demolish and/or move the bungalow from its original location without a variance, Board Member Rahm McDaniel noted that if the board wanted to preserve the historical character of the neighborhood streetscape it would be prudent to allow the variance. “Doing what they want seems like it’s in some way in the public interest,” he said.

Rodondo told the Austin Monitor that the homeowners just put new doors and windows on the bungalow. “They’re not moving that house,” she said.

Although the neighborhood had voted not to oppose the variance, the board asked the architect to go back and see if a middle ground could be found that the neighborhood could agree on. As for the board’s dubious feelings about the project, “We have to also weigh out … what can be done and what we would like to see done in order to preserve the character,” said Von Ohlen. “No one is 100 percent happy.”

The board voted to again postpone the hearing to its Oct. 8 meeting. Leighton-Burwell voted against the motion and Board Member Melissa Hawthorne was off the dais for the vote.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

accessory dwelling units: This term refers to smaller, secondary units built on the property of a primary residence. Also known as ADUs, mother-in-law suites, granny flats, or garden apartments, among other things.

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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