Monday, November 25, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

BoA contemplates basements in Clarksville

There is an exception in city code that exempts homes with habitable basements from including the underground space in their overall square footage calculation. In order to claim that exception, however, a house must meet strict guidelines: The first story of the structure must not rise more than 3 feet above the average elevation of the lot, and the habitable portion of the basement must be below the natural or finished grade of the lot.

Hoping to obtain this exemption, April Clark, representing Dr. Samir Patel, the owner of 1415 W. 10th St., appeared before the Board of Adjustment on Nov. 7 to request permission to measure the average elevation from a central point located farther back on the property than customarily permitted.

Clark explained that while the owner would be entitled to the exemption if the lot were flat, an 8-foot grade difference between the front and the back of the property prevents them from using that exception unless the home had a foundation 3 feet underground.  “We’re not requesting anything that anybody else isn’t able to do,” she said.

Board members, however, were reluctant to grant a variance to allow Clark to run her design calculations using a different standard of measurement than neighboring properties.

“You’re fully capable of building that house there without building a basement,” Board Member Michael Von Ohlen said.

Board Member Melissa Hawthorne pointed out that the owner could have a basement, just not the precise one that was currently designed. “You already have a lot of floor area ratio,” said Hawthorne. “You could build a basement and not have an exemption if you so chose.”

The Clarksville lot is just over a third of an acre, but its buildable area is limited by seven protected trees. At the same time, the lot remains undeveloped. “The last time that it was developed was probably in the early 1900s,” said Clark.

Neighbors told the board that they were hesitant about the scale adding a basement would create.

“We are certainly not against building on this property,” neighbor Adrienne Goldsberry said. However, she worried that adding a basement had the potential to create a house that is out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood. Chair Don Leighton-Burwell agreed with the neighbors and noted that basements are relatively uncommon in Central Texas homes.

Clark explained that due to poor soil on the lot, the construction crews will already need to excavate 6-8 feet to replace the soil and lay a foundation. Including a basement at that point, she explained, is logical. “It’s not to overbuild, it’s simply because we are digging out that soil already,” she said.

Board Member Brooke Bailey expressed disbelief at this argument. She pointed out that the soil on surrounding properties did not need to be removed.

With opposition from the neighborhood and a revelation that neither Clark nor the property owner had spoken with the neighborhood association, the board voted 7-3 to postpone the case until January. In the interim, they asked Clark to speak with the neighbors. Board members Brooke Bailey, Darryl Pruett and Martha Gonzalez voted against the motion.

Map 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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