Monday, November 2, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

BoA consciously postpones Galindo variances

A request for two variances in the Galindo neighborhood forced Board of Adjustment members to think realistically about their future actions last month, and determine whether a postponement was really fair to the applicant.

Lauren Jones, speaking on behalf of owner Bryan E. Mayo, explained to the board that the lot at 901 Terrell Hill Drive suffered from two hardships: a pie shape and a steep topography. Those hardships, she explained, have prevented three different architects from being able to design a home that abided by the code and “provided reasonable space and utility.”

In light of that, Jones asked to reduce the front setback from 25 feet to 15 feet, which would allow development on the wider front portion of the lot and create a usable backyard. She also asked for permission to design a basement that would be up to 8 feet in elevation instead of the allowed 3 feet.

The lot is currently vacant. The previous house that sat on the land was demolished in 2017 by the current owner.

The request, which was not received warmly by board members, provoked some soul-searching prompted by Board Member Michael Von Ohlen.

Von Ohlen said that, after trying to put himself in the applicant’s shoes, he wanted to be sure there was a possibility that the board could approve the variances before making them jump through “a bunch of hoops.”

“I want everyone looking at their hearts and minds to really think about it,” Von Ohlen said. “It’s not fair and it’s a lot of heartburn and it makes us look like a bunch of freakin’ jerks out here, if we’re going to send somebody back with the intent of having them come back here to deny it anyhow.”

Board Member Brooke Bailey said she would be inclined to deny the variances, but had different reasoning. “I don’t mind postponing,” she said. “You’re right, I’m inclined to deny it, but let them go get information. Let them try to convince me. Because if we deny it, they can’t come back for a year.”

In the end, board members in attendance voted unanimously to postpone the case to their November meeting, suggesting a number of hoops that could lead to one or both of the variances being granted.

“The bar for a hardship is going to be considerably higher than what you have here. You’re talking about a 10,000-square-foot lot that’s currently vacant that has sufficient area on it to build something,” Board Member Rahm McDaniel said. “As much as I don’t like the sections of the code that you are trying to get variances from, particularly the front-yard setback, this seems like there’s plenty of reasonable use to be had under the current code.”

Board Member William Hodge agreed that there was a high bar for a hardship, and advised that the case be couched more in terms of the “extreme topography” and to prove that the applicants had tried to work within the limitations of the existing property to no avail.

Board Member Melissa Hawthorne asked for more information on the proposed basement, including the view people would see driving up to the house.

Chair Don Leighton-Burwell noted it was unfortunate that the backup showed a house could be built with the existing setback.

“The big part of this is being able to allow a full basement added to the square footage of this house, without it being counted against the gross square footage,” Leighton-Burwell said. “They get a full, free story with this and I see part of the presentation that speaks to why this should happen.”

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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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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