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Because of compatibility, mini storage units block 10 homes in South Austin 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

The Board of Adjustment failed last Monday to approve a compatibility waiver that would have allowed 10 townhomes at 1609 Matthews Lane in South Austin. 

In order to build the units, the owner of the half-acre property requested a variance to compatibility, which limits the height of buildings near single-family homes and requires additional setbacks. Though the adjacent property has been home to a mini storage facility since 1984, it still triggers compatibility because the land is zoned for single-family use.

Victoria Haase, representing the owner, said the board should consider the use on the adjacent property, not the zoning. The mini storage units, she said, don’t need an additional buffer from a multifamily development. 

Plans included eight attached townhomes and two detached single-family homes, each three stories tall with a maximum height of 31 feet. In 2021, the property was rezoned to Multifamily-Low Density (MF-2-CO) with a maximum 10 units. 

A conceptual site plan by Heimsath Architects shows the setbacks that were proposed. Compatibility requires buildings to be set back 25 feet from the property line.

Kevin Chrane, owner of the mini storage units, opposed the variance, as did the Matthews Lane Neighborhood Association. Association President Karen Fernandez spoke at the meeting on behalf of Chrane.

“The requested variance is viewed as a concern for Mr. Chrane’s adjacent property for any planned development he seeks in the future,” Fernandez said, adding that granting the waiver could impact future residents if the mini storage property ever develops into a residential use. 

In response to concerns, the applicant proposed setbacks of 10 and 14 feet from the adjacent properties.

Some board members argued against the compatibility waiver because they thought the applicant failed to demonstrate hardship – a requirement for such variances.

“At the end of the day, there isn’t a hardship here,” Board Member Darryl Pruett said. “You’re gonna scrape this lot. You’re gonna be able to create something that is reasonable, even if you don’t get 10 units.” 

Haase responded that 10 units would be a reasonable use given the city’s housing crisis. 

Board Member Michael Von Ohlen argued in favor of the variance. “They do have bona fide hardships,” he said, noting that city code doesn’t intend mini storage uses to trigger compatibility and that the site’s environmental features push development toward the adjacent properties. 

The board voted 8-3 to approve the variance, falling just short of the nine votes needed. Board members Pruett, Barbara McArthur and Richard Smith, who is running to replace District 8 Council Member Paige Ellis in November, voted against. 

Without the variance, fewer units – if any at all – are likely to be built. Only 40 percent of the property is now developable, according to Haase. 

Photo caption: Rendering shows the townhome project and the mini storage units (left) that trigger compatibility. Rendering by Heimsath Architects. 

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here. This story has been changed since publication to correct the requested setback.

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