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Board of Adjustment offers free advice, grants lot size variance

Friday, September 18, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Small lots are not uncommon in East Austin, so the Board of Adjustment regularly grants variances to allow homeowners to maximize such properties.

On Sept. 14, the board once again unanimously granted a variance for small lot amnesty to allow for the construction of two residences at 1209 Taylor St. The lot is 103 square feet smaller than the code-required 5,750 square feet needed to transform a lot into a two-family residence. In order to help the project come to fruition, the board offered some advice to the architect on how to redesign the plans to ensure they’ll successfully pass through the city review process.

“I’m OK with granting that (variance), but they’re going to have to get their baptism by fire when they go to review and get denied,” Board Member Michael Von Ohlen said.

While board members agreed that the remainder of the design did not require a variance as presented, they emphasized that it will not pass through the city review process. In the plans submitted to the board, the third level is converted to a master bedroom with a large bathroom and closet and a rooftop deck. The total square footage is 847 square feet.

Board members pointed out issues with the maxed-out impervious cover on the site and the use of habitable attic space in a secondary unit.

“I do this every day. You will not be given permission by residential review to do a three-level ADU with a habitable attic,” Board Member William Hodge said. He suggested reworking the application to make the existing 864-square-foot structure the secondary unit and the new residence that fronts onto Holly Street the primary unit. The lot is a through lot making the alteration of the front of the property possible, though the property owners would need to submit an additional variance application to the board.

Jason Fryer of Forsite Studio told the board that many other properties in the neighborhood have accessory dwelling units, some with habitable attics.

He noted that the design of the two units on the lot was done with the intention of preserving the objectives in the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Plan, which outlines the need to preserve the architecture of the neighborhood as well as promote homeownership. Fryer said this design accomplishes those aims without any additional variances other than reducing the lot size requirement to allow for a second unit.

Chair Don Leighton-Burwell said that the dormers and decking make the secondary unit “imposing” and that the design also takes the property up to the maximum impervious cover levels. Code allows for 45 percent impervious cover for single-family lots with attached residential use. These designs cite the total impervious cover at 44.7 percent.

Leighton-Burwell, who said he is tired of seeing the development rights on these two-unit lots maxed out, nevertheless said that City Council is working to allow for more dense development near the urban core and therefore, he was supportive of the variance request.

The rest of the board also supported the variance with the stipulation that the floor area ratio on the entire property remains below 0.4 in order to encourage some green space on the small East Austin property.

Rendering by Forsite Studio.

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