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Board of Adjustment does not approve variance to ‘preserve neighborhood character’

Monday, March 25, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

The desire to build a house is not a sufficient reason to receive a variance, in the eyes of the Board of Adjustment.

After having his case postponed at the February meeting of the Board of Adjustment, Joshua Inscoe, who was representing the homeowner of 7309 Bennett Ave. in the St. Johns neighborhood, returned before the board on March 11. For the second time, he presented his request for a variance to convert the original home on the property into an accessory dwelling unit and construct a building in the backyard that would become the new primary residence.

At the previous hearing, board members postponed the request in order for Inscoe to amass evidence that could justify a reasonable hardship for his request. However, at this month’s gathering, Board Member Bryan King said, “I don’t see anything new other than we want to build a house which doesn’t much have a hardship.”

Inscoe argued that while he did not update the paperwork that was presented to the board, the hardship has to do with the grading of the lot, which slopes from front to back. He explained that if the homeowners built the two-story structure they desired on the front portion of the property, it would take the home above the allowable building height, which is 35 feet in single-family zoning.

His principal argument, however, remained that constructing a larger main structure behind the existing home would preserve the neighborhood character – an important consideration for the Board of Adjustment.

“One of the reasons that I support the hardship finding is what is noted of the area character,” said Board Member Eric Goff. “Maintaining that area character is kind of essential to that particular design choice.”

For Board Member Ada Corral, however, the design presented a manufactured need for a variance. According to her, the structures could have been thought out in a code-compliant manner with an addition to the original structure and an ADU in the back.

Regardless, Chair William Burkhardt noted that whatever design is constructed, “Ultimately it’s not going to save the streetscape.” Several houses on the street have already been updated in a manner that no longer contributes to area character.

The board made a motion to approve the variance request with a stipulation that should the original structure be rebuilt it will not exceed the permitted ADU footprint size of 1,100 feet. At the vote, the motion failed, with King, Corral, Burkhardt, and board members Don Leighton-Burwell and James Valadez voting against the approval. Board members Rahm McDaniel, Christopher Covo and Brooke Bailey were absent.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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