Photo by city of Austin
Thursday, October 22, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Environmental benefits fail to win Board of Adjustment dock variance

The Board of Adjustment has made it clear that “the greater good” isn’t enough when it comes to getting an exception from the city to build a boat dock.

The requested variance would allow the owner of 3002 Scenic Drive to replace an existing, noncompliant boat dock built by the prior owners of the house. The plan has already won support from the city’s Environmental Commission, but not seeing evidence of a hardship, Board of Adjustment members voted to postpone the case at their most recent meeting.

Rick Rasberry told the board that his client, homeowner Meredith Dreiss, had contracted a designer to plan a 30-by-30-foot dock – smaller than the existing 33-by-30-foot dock, though larger than what is allowed under city code, which is about 20 by 22 feet.

Construction of the new dock, he explained, would allow the owner to remove pilings from the lake bed, elevate structures out of the floodplain, increase drainage, and improve water quality in the area. Those improvements won the unanimous support of the city’s Environmental Commission, a fact that was not lost on the Board of Adjustment.

Board Member Melissa Hawthorne observed that removing the current dock would improve the condition of the slough by creating a “more navigational channel.” She also noted that a two-story dock was “fairly customary” for the area. “You have a unanimous Environmental Board vote to remove this structure, I think that’s very telling.”

Board Member Michael Von Ohlen seemed to agree with the notion that removing the dock would serve a “public good.”

“Currently, it’s noncompliant, and it doesn’t look that safe to me,” Von Ohlen said. “It will clean up that area to make it a little bit more navigable.”

However, that understanding did not add up to support from the board, which instead voted unanimously to postpone the case in order to allow the applicant time to find a “hardship” that would justify a variance from the Land Development Code. A hardship imposed by the code is a requirement for the board to approve a variance.

Chair Don Leighton-Burwell questioned what the hardship would be for a “recreational building” that, as he pointed out, would not even have a slip for a boat on it. He said current plans could easily be scaled back to remain code compliant.

“It looks less and less like it’s really a dock and more like it’s a little lake house,” he said. “You’re going to get, maybe, a couple of kayaks up there … I’m having trouble understanding why 30 feet is needed.”

Rasberry said the hardship was created by the existing, noncompliant dock. “How do the owners remedy a noncompliant situation?” he asked. “What they are trying to do is making a bad condition good, and we believe this is the minimum that would be required to do that.”

Board of Adjustment members voted unanimously to postpone the case to their Nov. 9 meeting.

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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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