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Board of Adjustment agrees to a lake setback reduction for a family home in West Lake

Thursday, November 14, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

City records are not infallible archives. This reality was evidenced by a variance case at 1901 Westlake Drive, which was postponed last month by the Board of Adjustment in order to dredge up more information on the history of the lot’s shared driveway and whether it – and its accompanying impervious cover – was required. Unfortunately, there was no paper trail.

“I absolutely did look,” said David Cancialosi, who was representing the applicant. “There is no written document that we can tell.”

Nevertheless, he said that the access to both lots needs to remain as there is an agreement between the neighbors that has been in effect since the 1960s, when the Schindlers, who own the property, purchased the lot. “(The driveway) can’t be abandoned, that’s part of a prescriptive easement that serves access to (next door).”

The driveway snakes along the edge of the property and then converges in a Y in the middle of the property where one prong goes off into the adjacent lot and the other continues to travel down close to the shoreline and form a loop. Although it permits one to travel by car from one edge of the 2.26-acre property to the other, it also results in a substantial amount of impervious cover.

To compensate for the impervious cover that has already been used up on the site, the applicant requested an increase in impervious cover allowance as well as a reduction in shoreline setback from 75 feet to 25 feet to accommodate the construction of a 6,354-square-foot home.

Cancialosi presented two separate plans to construct the house, both of which required the requested variances.

When board members asked why the owner could not build the house on a portion of the lot occupied by the driveway or on the slab that is now a defunct tennis court, Cancialosi said that nature got in the way. He explained that where the driveway runs, the slope is too steep to build and legally, the owners are bound to maintain the driveway access from their lot to the one next door.

As for the tennis court, there are heritage trees whose root zones have grown to encroach around and into the court. “The city arborist would have a heartburn of a time approving anything in that general area,” said Cancialosi.

Still, many of the board members were hesitant about encroaching into the 75-foot setback laid out by the Lake Austin Ordinance for properties platted after 1982. “I’m concerned about the environmental impact,” said Board Member Martha Gonzalez.

Board Member Brooke Bailey agreed, saying, “I believe the setbacks are there for a reason.”

Despite an inevitable encroachment into the shoreline setback required to build a house at this scale, Cancialosi told the board members that part of the plan includes the removal of the driveway loop on the Bee Creek side of the lot. Removal of that concrete would reduce impervious cover by 12,000 square feet. Furthermore, building on the Bee Creek side of the lot rather than the edge facing Lake Austin would remove the risk of impacting protected trees.

Encouraged by the idea of saving trees and reducing overall impervious cover on the site, the board voted unanimously to approve the variance requests for a home constructed on the Bee Creek side of the lot.

To ensure the continued protection of the trees by the tennis court, they added a condition that although engineers can calculate the allowable impervious cover for the buildable net site with a 25-foot setback around the lot, the Lake Austin side would, in reality, have a 75-foot building setback to limit future construction.

Board members Ada Corral, Rahm McDaniel and Melissa Hawthorne were absent from the discussion.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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