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Board of Adjustment denies case in consideration of trees

Thursday, July 11, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

On Monday night, trees became the centerpiece of a dock variance discussion at the Board of Adjustment.

The property at 2710 Scenic Drive currently has a half-constructed boat dock, big enough for only one boat, that the new property owners were hoping to widen. They asked the board for a variance to reduce the interior setback requirement from a neighbor’s lot from 10 feet to 0 feet.

As it stands, the dock on the property is a 16.5-foot-wide, single-slip dock. However, David Cancialosi, who was representing the applicant, pointed out that code allows for a dock to be the width of 20 percent of a property’s shoreline, which in this case is 24.5 feet wide.

However, construction needs to account for other code restrictions, including cut-and-fill and environmental concerns that can limit the width. As such, not every property can expand to two slips.

“There’s no ‘by right’ parts of the ordinance,” said Board Member Don Leighton-Burwell. “It’s just what people want today.”

Beyond board members’ questions about the entitlement of having a dock at full width, the encroachment into the setback was opposed by the next-door neighbor.

“There’s been a lot of discussion with that owner. They are aware of what we are doing. They do oppose a zero-foot setback. They do not oppose a 4-foot setback,” said Cancialosi.

He pointed out that even using the full entitlement for expansion, the property owner would not need to come up to the zero lot line. At maximum width, the dock would remain 1.5 feet away from the edge of the neighboring property line.

Cancialosi explained to the board that the choice to encroach into the interior setback on the south side of the lot is due to protected trees lining the shoreline to the north of the dock; in particular, a 44-inch cypress tree with a critical root zone.

“That tree obviously is something we do not want to encroach into any further,” Cancialosi said.

Board Member Kelly Blume noted in the photos that there appears to be a protected tree just south of the neighbor’s property line, which she said could potentially pose similar development restrictions as the tree located on the north side of the dock.

Cancialosi said his research had not looked into the tree and the bearing it would have on development, since it is not located on the property in question.

“I think there’s some unanswered questions,” Board Member Michael Von Ohlen said.

Other board members agreed that they would require more answers to be able to vote, so there was a motion to postpone the case for more information. In an initial motion to postpone the case, board members asked for more information about the neighboring tree as well as the neighbor’s thoughts on having a dock 1.5 feet away from his property line.

However, Leighton-Burwell made a substitute motion to deny the variance, which passed 6-4. Board members Ada Corral, Melissa Hawthorne, Michael Von Ohlen and Yasmine Smith voted against the motion.

“There’s no hardship here,” Leighton-Burwell told the applicant. “It’s a privilege, not a right, we’re talking about here.”

The headline of this story has been changed. Rendering via the city of Austin.

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