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City-approved wellness center project not OK’d by BOA for second time

Tuesday, January 22, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Sometimes, one commission’s idea of a good project is not supported by another commission, which seemed to be the case for the project at 1800 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Sharon Shuppert, who owns the property and is a licensed acupuncturist, returned to the Board of Adjustment on Jan. 14 for a reconsideration of her proposed project. Last month, the board denied her request for a variance to reduce the setback requirement from 15 feet to five feet and allow three extra feet of height to the building to accommodate parking, saying that the lot was being overbuilt.

The project that Shuppert presented – with modifications to the plan per the board’s input last month – is an integrated acupuncture clinic that she is looking to operate with several licensed clinicians from the surrounding neighborhood. The project already passed the Planning Commission on consent approval and has the support of the neighborhood, according to Shuppert.

Still, even with her improved case, board members were unable to wholeheartedly show support for the project. “The lay of the land here … doesn’t feel very friendly in general,” said  Board Member Melissa Hawthorne. Indeed, when it came to a vote on the improved proposal, several members offered a “very, very reluctant yes,” but ultimately the motion failed, leaving Shuppert without a variance. Hawthorne noted that she had 10 days to ask for reconsideration.

Shuppert told the Austin Monitor that she intends to ask for a second reconsideration for her case. She said that having her own clinic was the “most important thing,” and that one way or another, she aims to achieve it.

Currently, the property has Multifamily – High Density (MF-5) zoning which allows for her to construct apartments. But Shuppert explained that her preference is to keep the existing house on the property and add additional office space onto the lot in order to help preserve neighborhood character. She did note that if she is unable to have the variance granted there is always the option to build a multifamily unit and use some of the space as a clinic. She pointed to the new Magnolia project across the street as a perfect example of the neighborhood character changing to accommodate multi-use, multifamily structures.

The Board of Adjustment explained that its reluctance to support this variance request stemmed from the lack of parking attached to the planned development. Plans indicated nine parking spaces for five apartments and 1,800 square feet of commercial space.

“I think the project is overbuilt. I think the parking is going to go back into the neighborhood,” said Board Member Don Leighton-Burwell. However, Shuppert noted that three out of the five employees live within walking distance of the site and that there should be plenty of parking during the day when residents leave for work. She also pointed out that Salina Street, which is adjacent to the lot, is a permitted parking zone and expressed her willingness to apply for parking permits in order to increase available parking by four slots.

While this explanation seemed to allay some of the board members’ concerns, there was one other concern that prevented them from approving the variance. “The other issue for me, though, is the back building taking away all light (from the next-door single-family home),” said Board Member Brooke Bailey. “I don’t like it.” Board Member Rahm McDaniel agreed, saying, “It’s that that takes it close to the line.”

Board Member Bryan King contended that with all the questions that remained unanswered, he was not comfortable granting the variance that would potentially overload the lot. “It’s more pounds than a five-pound back can hold,” he said.

At the vote, King, Leighton-Burwell and Board Member James Valadez voted against approving the variance, causing the motion to fail. Board Member Michael Von Ohlen was absent.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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