Photo by city of Austin
Wednesday, November 18, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

A ‘modest’ proposal: Lake Austin lot seeks variance

Citing excessive constraints on their land, one Lake Austin property owner went to the Board of Adjustment Nov. 9 seeking a break that would allow them to move forward with building a home.

Eric Gomez, representing owner Malia Muir, said that, under the current setbacks, the property was “unreasonably limited” for residential use by Lake Austin zoning. To fix that, he was asking for a variance to reduce the shoreline setback from 25 feet to 10 feet.

Gomez explained that the property at 1230 Rockcliff Drive is only about a quarter-acre in size. That is well under the minimum one-acre lot size for Lake Austin zoning. As a result, 4,595 square feet of the 11,446-square-foot property is within the setback and undevelopable. In addition, there are large trees on the property that further constrain its development, though one large cypress tree is slated for removal.

After all is said and done, under city code, only 2,397 square feet of impervious cover is allowed on the property.

Board members, who seemed torn on the request, voted to postpone the case.

Board Member Jessica Cohen noted that getting a variance from the Land Development Code with neighbor opposition on unbuilt land was usually an uphill battle.

“You bought this as a clean slate,” she said. “Did you understand this was going to be difficult when you bought it? Because this is an empty lot, you can do whatever you want with it.”

Cohen also asked whether there was an attempt to work with neighbors on the project, noting there were seven objections in their file.

“That’s on the higher end – more than I’ve seen pretty much ever, since I’ve been on the board,” Cohen said. “That concerns me quite a bit.”

Terry Irion, who was also representing the owner, explained that the property has remained undeveloped since 1976 because in 1984, the city downzoned it, making it “very difficult to build on.”

He said the owner had worked with neighbors on a deed restriction issue that required boat slips to be cut into the property. However, he said, on this issue the neighbors “like having this beautiful lawn that is not built on.”

“I heard lots of subjectives, like ‘modest,’ ‘small’,” Board Member William Hodge said. “I always cringe when people use qualitatives such as that. … This lot is more than four times the size of my lot.”

That said, Hodge said he saw very little difference, practically speaking, from the proposal and what is currently being constructed on the lot next door. He said he was inclined to support the variance.

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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.

Lake Austin: Lake Austin is a water reservoir on the Colorado River, and the source of Austin's drinking water. It was created by the 1939 construction of the Tom Miller Dam and is managed by the Lower Colorado River Authority.

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