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Boat dock variance dredges up concerns at the Board of Adjustment

Friday, February 15, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

There are occasions when, regardless of how a homeowner may redesign, reorient or reimagine a site, there is simply no option to make a project code-compliant. That still doesn’t mean that the request for a variance will be supported.

This scenario came up at the Feb. 11 meeting of the Board of Adjustment, pertaining to a discussion about a boat dock at 1515 Manana St. where a homeowner requested a variance to extend his dock from the allowable 30 feet to 44 feet.

The home currently has a 50-foot boat dock, whose length mystified even David Cancialosi, the president and owner of Permit Partners who was representing the homeowner on the case. As both Cancialosi and the homeowner acknowledged that 50 feet was a little more than the home required, they asked the board to replace the noncompliant dock “with a less noncompliant dock.”

The request was not met with the warmest welcome.

“To me, it sticks out in the water way too much,” said Board Member Bryan King.

According to Cancialosi, if the board does not grant the variance, the other option to create a usable dock is to dredge around 40 cubic yards of silt from the area in order to allow a boat to reach a code-compliant 30-foot dock. Due to the nature of the environment, any dredging that the homeowner performs will have to be repeated on a regular basis in order to prevent the silt from accumulating.

Dredging causes extensive environmental damage, so the city tries to discourage it by requiring variances. However, as Board Member Michael Von Ohlen noted, there are plenty of homeowners who dredge without the proper permitting only to come before city boards and commissions when they’re caught in the act.

That the owner of 1515 Manana asked before acting was a mark in his favor for Von Ohlen. “It carries weight for me that they’re asking for permission before they’re asking for forgiveness,” he said.

Nevertheless, when the other board members looked at the docks of the surrounding properties, this dock stood out.

“I just don’t understand how all these other boat docks can be compliant,” noted Board Member Brooke Bailey. She said that if the board granted this variance, she was worried it would give the house something none of the neighboring properties had.

After further investigation of the topography of the surrounding area, Board Member Don Leighton-Burwell explained the findings.

“Even though there is a lot of push and pull in terms of where the docks are, they are pretty much all at 487 based on the elevation,” he said. Despite the equitability of elevation, the board found further issues with the design. The extra length of the dock in question caused it to jut out into a shallow bend in the river that board members felt could potentially present a problem.

At the vote to approve the variance, Bailey, King, and Board Member James Valadez voted against the motion. As a result, the variance was denied.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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