Board of Adjustment versus Urbanism

Short and not-so-sweet; still no time for this.
Those who didn’t think it was a big deal when the ANC crowd were appointed en-masse to several critical boards and commissions should be ashamed of themselves.
Go to this video. If it doesn’t advance automatically, health care no rx go to C11.
What’s here? Well, it’s just ANC guys Bryan King and Jeff Jack pressuring a property owner on a downtown block to tear down a deck so he can add more off-street parking. Note that not a single time in this entire conversation does anybody, to be fair, including the applicant, even mention the fact that some people patronizing this small business or living in the apartment might not drive every single trip. Only once does anybody bring up the fact that ample on-street parking exists (of course, gasp!, people would have to pay!)
This is downtown, people. This isn’t the suburbs. For those who think the government influence on development is mainly to force density, this ought to be (but probably isn’t) a wake-up call: the primary influence of the government is to force car-dependent development patterns to continue even downtown.
And those who think the ANC crowd and their patron Laura Morrison are going to leave downtown alone and just focus on keeping the neighborhoods suburban should think again, too. Nowhere is safe from these people; right before this video I watched the Planning Commission fail to come to a recommendation on a hotel at 5th/Colorado because the ANC contingent wanted to force another couple hundred grand in concessions for affordable housing (used as a convenient crutch in this case; none of those people actually have any interest in affordable housing or they’d support more multi-family development in their neighborhoods).
Sickening. You were warned; but most of you didn’t listen.

8 Replies to “Board of Adjustment versus Urbanism”

  1. I was at a workshop at the State Theatre last night and I kid you not, the lady next to me said, “I’m just an old hippy, I don’t pay for parking.”
    I think it sums up your post in one line.

  2. It seems to me that you strongly disagree with the parking requirements as developed and passed by city council. I can sympathize with you. I too read Donald Shoup. I agree that minimum parking requirements are a market distortion that basically subsidizes car-oriented-sprawl. When people complain about parking problems downtown, they are really complaining about the limited supply of below-market-rate on-street-parking provided by the city of Austin.
    That said, I have to disagree with your interpretation of the actions of the Board of Adjustments regarding the site in question. The code as written required that the owner provide eleven parking spaces. Because this property is downtown, this count of eleven spaces is already reduced from from what would be required in other parts of town. The owner was requesting a further reduction to only five required spaces.
    Whereas you and I might agree that if a owner feels he can get by with fewer spaces, he should be allowed to try, the law states otherwise. It is not the role of the board of adjustments to rewrite the law, but to serve as an escape valve for owners when broadly written laws impose an unreasonable burden on a single property.
    One thing the owner must show is that his property is unique and that the same burden does not exist for the other properties in his neighborhood. Your reasoning that he should be allowed a reduction of the minimum space requirement because he is downtown does seem to stand up to that test.
    In this case the owner was suggesting that he should by granted a request because he was trying to preserve a historic home and could not provide the number of parking spaces without demolishing the home, deck or detached shed. Jeff Jacks and Bryan King simply pointed out that the owner was the one who had designed and constructed the deck that he was now claiming to be the obstruction and if the deck were modified he might not have a problem fitting in more spaces.
    Several Board members shared ideas about how the current configuration could be changed, with or without modify the deck. Both Jacks and King indicated that they understood the burden on the owner as he tried to work todays code around a historic home. They hinted that they would probably support some further reduction in the number of parking spaces but that the owner had not proven there was nothing he could do to provide even 50% of an already reduced eleven spaces. They did not vote against the request, but simply to postpone it while the owner explored options.
    In the end, although I personally would like to abolish parking minimums, I would rather see an board that follows the established laws than one that makes up rules it thinks should apply. Jacks and King are no more responsible for the plight of the property owner than the city code inspectors who calculate the number of required spaces.

  3. 1. The ‘reduction’ is 20%, which for this size property, is about two spaces.
    2. The point in me bringing this up was that rather than even talking about the ludicrous requirement to park this many vehicles downtown, the FIRST INCLINATION of the BoA was to suggest that the deck be torn out.
    3. The remaining comments touch on the role of the BoA – the fact is that for years, we were told not to worry too much about excessively suburban zoning code because “you could always get a variance at the BoA” (I’ve been told this on numerous occasions when I’ve complained about McMansion). It’s thus tremendously relevant to point out that the new BoA’s clinging to the letter of the code will destroy urbanism in this city – in effect, the safety valve many people claimed existed does not now exist.

  4. 1. You can put quotes around the word reduction in order to somehow delegitimize the 20%. But it gets it legitimacy not from punctuation, but from the fact that it was enacted by a democratically elected city council. I think you and I would both support a candidate who ran on a platform to further reduce or remove the parking requirements downtown. Until that happens, 20% is the law of the land.
    2. Imagine how frustrating it would be if you were a developer, homeowner, or other interested party giving up your evening with your family to attend a BOA meeting and with every item, the board members spent time debating the merits of the law instead of dealing with the issues at hand. The property owners had two reasons that they felt entitled them to a reduction: the current use as a law office saw little traffic and the inability to fit more cars on the lot unless the house, deck or shed were modified. The board dealt first with the use argument (no reduction, the variance follows the property not the use- lawyer should have known this was a bogus argument) and then went to the configuration of the parking lot. This is their job. Any other discussion would not be germane to the issue.
    3. Two points here. First, your assertion is simply not the fact. No one was sticking to the letter of the law, all members clearly indicated that they would support some reduction from the legal requirement but probably not the 50% reduction requested.
    Second, I’m not sure what your argument means in this context. The law offers a reduction of parking requirements for properties in the urban core. The idea that this reduction was somehow designed for suburban properties but would be ignored in the urban core is nonsensical. It may be that some building restrictions were probably not designed with the urban core in mind and the BOA should take that into consideration. You may be right. This board will not support urbanism, but this case is not evidence of that fact.

  5. You’re reading a lot into what I wrote.
    1. “reduction” is in air quotes to point out that it’s kind of a small difference, especially for downtown.
    2. Again, though, I’ve been assured by numerous people unhappy with how vociferously I was arguing against McMansion that the BoA’s variance capability was a valid safety valve. I cannot think of a way in which this decision can stand and the characterization of the BoA can likewise stand. And, by the way, forcing the demolition of a structure to comply with parking code is a draconian, letter-of-the-law, approach to zoning – and, no, it’s not reasonable, as you’ve tried to paint it – I’d call that a pretty fundamental hardship. The fact that this was the primary ‘solution’ offered shows, again, that the BoA has been taken over by the party of No.
    3. A 20% reduction in parking in a suburban zoning code is still a suburban code. A truly urban code would have no parking maximums whatsoever. If you’re as urban as you claim, you’d know this deep in your bnoes.
    The claim that the members supported ‘some’ additional reduction is unproven – I don’t believe Jeff Jack would actually have voted that way, nor anybody else on the ANC bloc for that matter.

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