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Lack of notification brings case back to BoA

Monday, June 17, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

After the Board of Adjustment quickly approved a variance with hearty support last month to allow an increase in building height from 40 to 50 feet for the construction of a cultural center, the property at 810½ San Marcos St. came back before the board on a technicality.

The Guadalupe Association for an Improved Neighborhood requested a reconsideration of the variance based on the fact that members never received notification the hearing was going to take place on May 13.

“I am stunned to see everyone here claiming they never got a notification,” Chair William Burkhardt said, in response to eight written affidavits and citizens in attendance, who under oath swore that they had not been notified about last month’s hearing.

Last month, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas presented their plan to turn the single-family home on San Marcos Street into a cultural center. The plan had the support of district representative Natasha Harper-Madison as well as dozens of members from the organization. No one showed up in opposition to the variance request at the time.

In a letter from the Organization of Central East Austin Neighborhoods, President Nate Jones explained the rationale for the reconsideration request. “Had they been able that evening to provide you the background, analysis and perspective laid out in their May 22 letter, you may have reached a different conclusion,” the letter said.

Board Member Rahm McDaniel pointed out that even if notices weren’t issued, there are meeting minutes from a discussion held between Mark Rogers, the executive director of the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation, and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas at the offices of the GNDC on April 25 that said, “We indicated that we were scheduled for a hearing in front of the Board of Adjustment on Monday, May 13, to discuss an application for a variance for the height of our building.”

Rogers was at the meeting of the Board of Adjustment and testified that he had never seen the memorandum with the meeting minutes, but that he remembered the meeting. At that meeting, he said, “no date was being discussed – under oath – to my recollection.”

He explained that he only found out about the May hearing when he received an email from a neighbor alerting him. Although he came to City Hall, he arrived too late to offer testimony.

Despite a request for reconsideration of the variance, Rogers maintained that “we have no opposition to the idea of a cultural center here.” He explained that while GAIN was in support of the project, they felt strongly that the designs should be compatible with the NCCD. He pointed out that designs from 2013 show a building that has underground components in order to comply with NCCD regulations. The regulations limit the height of the building on that property to 40 feet.

Although Board Member Michael Von Ohlen called a 10-foot difference in height “de minimis,” other board members felt differently.

Calling the height regulations set by the NCCD arbitrary, “seems to be overstating it by an order of magnitude,” said Board Member Darryl Pruett. “This is the complete opposite of arbitrary.” As such, he felt that the neighborhood combined district plan regulations should be weighted accordingly.

However, McDaniel felt that rehearing the case would effectively be starting from scratch, and would merely “reframe the same set of facts because I don’t think the fact pattern has changed.”

The board seemed to agree with McDaniel’s sentiment, and after a failed vote to postpone the case, they voted 6-4 to deny reconsideration of the variance. Board members Von Ohlen, Kelly Blume, Martha Gonzalez and Yasmine Smith voted against the motion. Board Member Melissa Hawthorne was absent.

As for the notification issue, staff assured the board members and the public that notification had been sent out.

Rogers never denied it had. In fact, he had a hunch that they were simply incorrectly informed. He told the board that he had received a notification, but it was for a West Austin case that went before the Planning Commission that same week.

“I can’t explain the notification issue. That’s a shame,” said Burkhardt.

Map courtesy of Google Maps.

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