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Thursday, February 21, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Board of Adjustment seeks neighborly consent for variance

There are occasions when even though the Board of Adjustment deems a request reasonable, procedure dictates that it is unable to approve the request.

Such a petition came before the BoA at its Feb. 11 meeting, when the homeowner of 7309 Bennett Ave. in the St. Johns neighborhood requested to convert the home into an accessory dwelling unit and construct a building in the backyard that would become the new primary residence. The idea, said Joshua Inscoe, who was representing the homeowner, is to “maintain the (architectural) integrity of the neighborhood.”

While the idea did not seem outlandish to the board members, they nevertheless expressed their hesitation to approve it due to the homeowner’s lack of hardship and the absence of any consent from the surrounding neighborhood.

“I’m going to have a little bit of a time with the hardship, but I think the fact that he’s maintaining the front home in order to maintain the area character of the neighborhood is a good thing,” said Board Member Michael Von Ohlen.

The existing home is just under 1,100 square feet and the homeowners, who are looking to expand the footprint of their living space, intend to replace the current garage with a 2,000-square-foot unit. In turn, Inscoe explained that the front home would become the ADU. He did not mention what the family’s future plans for the secondary structure would be.

Although no one present voiced an opinion either for or against the plan, it was not sufficient for the board members to determine that the neighborhood was on board with the plan.

“I see no indication that you’ve spoken to the neighbors or the neighborhood association. I see no signatures,” noted Board Member Brooke Bailey.

Inscoe explained that he had spoken to the head of the St. Johns Neighborhood Association, but that he had not contacted any of the adjacent neighbors.

Board Member Bailey explained that her concerns stemmed from past experiences where “I’ve seen some massive structures that are in somebody else’s backyard basically.” To offer more weight to this concern, Chair William Burkhardt noted that when looking at aerials of the neighborhood, there is not a tree in sight that could serve to block neighbors’ view of an additional structure should it encroach on the fence line.

At the same time, Board Member Bailey acknowledged that flipping the traditional layout and having the primary structure in the backyard can be a very successful arrangement.

Concluding that the application was not yet substantial enough for approval, the board unanimously voted to postpone the case to its March 11 meeting.

Board members requested that Inscoe return with a more legible elevation map, a site plan of the new construction and a legitimate hardship as to why the primary residence should be constructed behind the current home.

Burkhardt concluded that for the board to approve the variance, “You’ve got some work to do.”

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

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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