Big Troubles in Little South Austin

A South Austin neighborhood is being hammered with seemingly nitpicking and spurious code violations.

Romans Go Home

In October, the city’s 311 nonemergency number started getting a flood of calls complaining about homes in South Austin’s Fairview neighborhood. Over several days, the anonymous caller or callers gave the city 35 different tips about houses with possible code violations. After city inspectors followed up, they issued violation notices to 76 homeowners in the neighborhood, telling them they must apply for permits for improvements such as garage conversions and carports.

Those who fail to correct the problem could be criminally charged and fined up to $2,000 per day or have their utilities disconnected, according to recent letters sent to homeowners that gave them a March 26 deadline to comply.

The homeowners say they’re upset by the violation letters and want more time to figure out how to negotiate the city bureaucracy to get into compliance.

“I’m worried about the fines,” said John Anguiano, 77, who lives on Heartwood Drive, and got a violation notice for a garage conversion he did about 1975. “I’m old, retired and sick, and it’s a pain to deal with this.”

Anguiano said he’s tried to get a permit, but it’s been on hold since October; he’s being told he must get a variance from the Austin City Council because he lives in the flood plain. Williamson Creek is nearby, and many of the 76 homeowners can’t resolve their permit issues until they get a variance to do home improvements in a flood plain.

Dale Flatt, a 24-year city firefighter on medical leave, is one of the organizers trying to help his neighbors straighten out the mess.

“To code inspectors, all these people are just associated with an address,” he said. “But they have lived there up to 40 years, and now it’s turned into a nightmare.”

[Click to continue reading Code violation letters rain down on South Austin neighborhood]

The city’s Planning and Development Review Department is only open from 8 AM to 11 AM, Monday through Friday, not the most consumer friendly hours.

My dad lives in this area, and has received one of the letters. He emailed:

I got a violation notice for replacing my doors with a window and a door. They think that I’ve creating “living space” in the garage. I could beat that by demonstrating that it is not living space but is still a workshop and storage.

… So I must go for the Flood Plain variance from city council to get a permit and get that work inspected. Bullshit, fer sure.

I’ve been in this garage, and other than his oil paints and easel, no building inspector in their right mind would think that area could be classified as living space. There are mostly construction tools and various related items, car parts for the vintage Porsche that’s getting modified to run with an electric motor, and similar things. Stuff that belongs in a garage, in other words.

CIA and the art of brussel sprout earings

My brother, pictured above with brussels sprout earrings, who happens to live next door, also got a code violation letter, and adds:

We have been cited by the city for illegal conversion of garage into living space without a permit. In addition, we are located inside the 100 year floodplain, so the city will not issue permits to us because of increased liability for flood damage. What the residents have to do is apply for a permit, get rejected, then bring it to the city council and ask for a variance. If accepted, then file again for a permit, get inspected, pay the fees etc. If the city council will not issue the variance, then either destroy the construction or sue, I guess….

So crazy. The majority of these houses1 were built in the 1960s and 1970s, why has the 100 year flood plain only suddenly become an issue? Curious as to how this will play out now that the story has been made public. Also wonder why this particular area has been singled out. Maybe a disgruntled former resident (someone’s ex-husband or similar)? A disgruntled building inspector? A disgruntled contractor? Who knows, but if a building inspector wanted to look closely, they could discover violations in nearly every house and building on every block in every city2.

  1. an educated guess, I could be off by a few years []
  2. yes, including where I live currently []

Temple for lease

Temple for lease
Temple for lease, originally uploaded by swanksalot.

Shot with my Hipstamatic for iPhone
Lens: John S
Film: Pistil
Flash: Off


spent a few hours in Milwaukee on Sunday. Mostly doing work related things, but squeezed in a photo-stroll for about an hour right at dusk.

I really like Milwaukee for some reason, probably because at least from an outsider’s perspective, Milwaukee still has so many buildings left from the industrial age. Most of these structures no longer exist in Chicago, especially downtown.

Homage to Robert Rauschenberg Redux

didn’t really to make these photos emulate Rauschenberg’s white canvas period (encountered a room devoted to them in the new modern wing of the Art Institute of Chicago), but since it happened…

Marina Towers – Polapan

Marina Towers - Polapan
Marina Towers – Polapan, originally uploaded by swanksalot.

Is the Marina Towers Condo Assocation Board still policing the internet trying to claim copyright protection for any photo of the towers? We’ll see.

[view large on black at my photoblog: ]

Actors’ Equity Association’s new home

557 W Randolph St, formerly the headquarters of Zonta International, will be the new home of the 48,000 member Actor’s Equity Association.

New Actors' Equity Association headquarters at 557 W Randolph St

Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States, has purchased its own building on Randolph Street just a block or two west of the core of Chicago’s theater district. And according to Steven DiPaola, the union’s assistant executive director for finance and administration, Equity is considering moving some of the union’s national back-office functions from New York to Chicago.

[From Actors’ Equity buys a building in Chicago, will expand presence here | The Theater Loop – News from America’s hottest theater city]

According to Chris Jones, the building at 557 W. Randolph was built in 1855, and is one of the few that survived the 1871 Chicago fire. I wonder if there will events held there? Celebrity sightings?

Reading Around on March 17th

Some additional reading March 17th from 13:38 to 14:12:

  • Taste of a thousand lemons – Los Angeles Times – On a wiltingly hot late summer evening, when all the plants are fainting and there’s not a breath of wind, you pour a tiny glass of limoncello straight from the freezer. It’s colder than ice, and it explodes in your mouth with all the freshness and optimism of lemon. Each sip seems to say, “Poor kid! Poor kid! What a scorcher that was! But everything’s all right now — your old friend night is on the way.”They know a lot about hot summer evenings in Sicily, where limoncello was invented about 100 years ago. It might just be the most sympathetic after-dinner drink there is, as bracing as a gin and tonic but more cheerful and fragrant. Limoncello’s fans have found a lot of other uses for it too: spiking lemonade, flavoring cocktails and splashing onto ice cream, poundcake or fresh fruit
  • Pallini Limoncello

  • Seattle Food – After Homemade Limoncello, You’ll Accept No Other – page 1 – Limoncello, the southern Italian after-dinner treat, is an invigorating refresher with an aroma and flavor unmatched by any citrus-flavored vodka or dessert wine. It’s the sensory equivalent of eating lemon meringue pie on a lazy Sunday picnic in the middle of Paolo’s lemon grove. It’s a potion that gets you to stop and live in the sun-drenched moment, even when it’s cloudy outside.

    The Luxardo brand that your state liquor store may carry is all fine and well, but once you’ve had homemade limoncello, you’ll accept no other. This recipe is a monthlong project that yields huge rewards for just a little patience and hardly any work.

  • Swanksalot’s Solipsism: Fifth Ward – Milwaukee, with biker – “As a billionaire, there would be a lot of buildings I would purchase in Milwaukee. This was one, for some reason. I’d turn most into art collectives – cheap studio space for artsy-fartsy types”