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Photo by city of Austin

Canyon rimrock complicates reconstruction of Lake Austin boat dock

Monday, July 19, 2021 by Seth Smalley

On July 7, the Environmental Commission approved a variance request to deconstruct and rebuild the Norris boat dock located at 1874 Westlake Drive. Scott Hiers, program manager for the Watershed Protection Department, presented pertinent details to the commission, including site characteristics, the property description, background, as well as critical environmental features of the property.

“The request here is to demolish the existing boat dock and to replace it with a new boat dock. That work is occurring down-gradient of the canyon rimrock, and that’s not allowed by code.”

Construction is usually not allowed within 150 feet of such features, according to Title 25 of the Land Development Code. However, the plan would not require any reconstruction of the access to the boat dock, just the boat dock itself, Hiers told commissioners.

Courtesy of city of Austin

While such variances are typically granted administratively, because of a code prohibition that stipulates administrative variances cannot be granted within 500 feet of Lake Austin, the item came to the Environmental Commission.

The site is located north of the Tom Miller Dam, on Lake Austin in the Bee Creek Watershed.

“The boat dock itself is, of course, on the lake shoreline, which is basically in the Austin city limits,” Hiers told the commission. “There’s just one canyon rimrock that is on-site. It’s actually on-site and extends off-site the property to the east.”

The highest point of the site is about 100 feet higher than the lowest point, Hiers said. The lowest elevation on the property is 490 feet above sea level (the lake shore), while the highest elevation is 596 feet above it. The canyon rimrock is located closer to the shoreline, about 530 feet above sea level.

“So you can see there, it’s quite down-gradient, about 100 feet away from the boat dock,” Hiers said, referring to the canyon rimrock. This, paired with the fact that the property owners won’t be redoing the access path from the house to the dock, suggested to Hiers that the plan was relatively low risk. He did stipulate, however, that the watershed department would require all construction to be completed via barge.

A representative for the applicant called in, assuring the commission that the work would indeed be completed by barge.

“No materials will be brought to the site by the road or through the site itself,” the applicant’s agent said. “Also, it is downgrade, so nothing will be interfering with the rimrock.”

Although there was some question of whether the motion would inadvertently allow for alteration of the access pathway to the dock without it first coming before the commission, the motion eventually carried 7-0 without caveat.

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