Wednesday, October 28, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

BoA holds off on approval for ‘flipped’ ADU plan

While a request to build an accessory dwelling unit larger than the existing home was not a sticking point, the lack of a preservation plan for a variance that hinged on preservation did present a problem for the Board of Adjustment at its most recent meeting.

Matthew Satter, one of the owners of the home at 3612 Govalle Ave., said he plans to renovate his 1930s-era house and add a new, larger unit in the back, calling it a “flipped ADU” approach. The 850-square-foot original house in the front would be the accessory dwelling unit, while the 2000-square-foot new construction in the back would serve as the main home.

Satter explained that the plan would allow him to meet the goals of preservation and density in line with the neighborhood plan, which embraces the preservation of neighborhood character, building to human scale and rehabilitating existing housing stock. Satter also pointed out that many of the houses on the street have larger homes in the back of the properties, and the new building would not be out of context. He said neighbors had no opposition to the plan, and it had earned the support of the Govalle Neighborhood Association and the city’s Historic Preservation Office.

During the discussion, Board of Adjustment members questioned the level of preservation that would take place for the existing home and what its renovation would entail.

“The design isn’t finalized. I was trying to have the variance approved before I started work on any design,” he explained. “I’m not proposing keeping it as is.”

Satter told the board he would be adding 150 square feet to the original structure; however, he assured the board that the character of the home, roofslope, siding and scale would stay the same.

That lack of specificity did not sit well with the board. Of particular concern was a potential proposal to relocate the front door.

Board Member William Hodge asked that the case be postponed in order to allow the applicant time to assemble plans for the existing house and to ensure board members that the plan would, in fact, preserve the house.

“Your entire ask is predicated on the retention of the existing house, to preserve neighborhood character and to preserve the historic character,” Hodge said. “(We) are supportive of that idea. But if you are … changing its aesthetics, you’re not preserving its character. The house isn’t just contributing to the neighborhood character because it’s there, it’s contributing because of its aesthetics.”

“The variance very much might be possible,” he continued, noting that the main concern was the front facade of the house, or what could be seen from the street. “(But) we do want to see what it is you plan on doing.”

Board Member Melissa Hawthorne said she was happy to see a plan that accommodated the original house with some creativity.

“I don’t have an issue with what you are doing at all. I actually applaud it,” she said. “If I see one more farmhouse, I’m probably just going to icepick myself in the head.”

Though the sentiment was overwhelmingly positive, Chair Don Leighton-Burwell said he had some concern with this new preservation strategy and the impact it could have on the city.

“We’re seeing a lot of these cases come up,” Leighton-Burwell said, referring to the inversion of the city’s ADU ordinance. “I fear with these coming up on a somewhat regular basis that we’re going to become Disneyland … showing a cute, quaint front to the street, with huge houses in the back. It’s sort of the antithesis of what Council intended.”

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

accessory dwelling units: This term refers to smaller, secondary units built on the property of a primary residence. Also known as ADUs, mother-in-law suites, granny flats, or garden apartments, among other things.

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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