The Far View From the Water's Edge
Neighbors fear an overconstruction of mansions along Lake Austin
The house at 3337 Far View sits on top of a cliff overlooking Lake Austin in far northwest Austin, and it's big enough – and high enough – to see from some distance. After more than four years of nonpermit construction, red tags, commission hearings, and, finally, bartering for variances, it can almost be seen from City Hall – and city staff certainly recognize it by name.
For the record, according to staff, a deal is close that would satisfy at least one of the major hurdles left in the Far View case – believe it or not, the color of a retaining wall. But neighbor and lake defender Alan Roddy says his battles are about more than simple lot-by-lot opposition to what he considers overconstruction on sensitive land. "No one's really watching the lake right now," he says. "It's very unique. Not only do we have all the problems that any other neighborhood would have, but we've got shoreline erosion, we've got hydrilla, we've got, usually, one way out when there's a fire."
"The city needs to coordinate stuff out here," he adds later. "You need dedicated staff that's going to know the lake."
Though he's certainly concerned with environmental matters and what he considers a missed economic opportunity to attract tourists to the lake, it's the typical neighborhood problems that have dogged him of late. He bites on a comparison to the gentrification of other areas of Austin. "It's the same thing that happened in East Austin and South Austin," he says.
Roddy lives across the water from the Far View property. He says he got involved in the case when he first saw heavy equipment dangling off the cliff below the home. "It took them about two weeks with these large mechanical jackhammers – the ones on four wheels. They had this hydraulic arm that went out. It was really impressive," he says. "At one time, they had this giant power shovel down off the edge of the cliff. ... It was cabled to a bulldozer up higher ... and then I finally figured out that it was just some good old engineering: 'I'll cable you to my bulldozer, and we'll let you down over the edge of the cliff."
Roddy believes it was part of an attempt to collapse the home's former swimming pool down the cliff. At some point, the original pool had been damaged by shoddy work. When it became apparent that a major effort would be required, then-owners Wade and Sharlyn Threadgill decided to go with a full redesign. Their contractor's plans called for two pools – a larger upper one and a smaller version down the cliff, somewhat below it – connected by a water slide. Roddy, some of his Edgewater neighbors, and, according to one city email, even the Threadgills' own representative, began to call the project a "mini-Schlitterbahn."
"Do you know how much damage that would do to the cliff face?" asks Roddy.
A glance at the city's planning database shows that the pool wasn't the only issue. Permit applications dating back to 2006 for various additions to the property – including a garage, a wine room, and a guest suite – had been through a host of reviews, holds, rejections, and eventual approvals. Images on a website set up by neighbors as something of a clearinghouse for information about the case (www.lakeaustincollective.org/integrity/3337FarViewSummary.html) show the growth of the Far View home from a hidden villa to a cliffside feature. By 2008, it had been red-tagged – the city's version of a stop-work order – for "violating slope restrictions," according to an email from city environmental reviewer Betty Lambright. In the same email, Lambright summarized the situation with the pool: "The homeowners have hired Jim Bennett to pursue a variance for the slopes and impervious cover. The plan hasn't been submitted yet, but Jim has indicated that the owners want a 'mini-Schlitterbahn' installed on the edge of the cliff."
Wade Threadgill calls that characterization "a bit of an exaggeration." He notes that the contractors he and his wife had hired to redo the pool had contacted the water park for advice about the proposed slide. This, he thinks, is the origin of the mini-Schlitterbahn nickname. Threadgill – who points out that the evidence of such an action would be plenty visible – also disputes Roddy's contention that the heavy equipment he saw dangling above Lake Austin was used to collapse the old pool down the side of the cliff.
About a year ago, after two and a half years of construction, the Threadgills sold 3337 Far View. Wade says his wife fell in love with a spot in Steiner Ranch, where they sought refuge during the Far View project. The $2.2 million sale put the house in the hands of a limited liability company called Round Table Holdings, which has a Georgetown address; according to documents filed with the Texas Secretary of State, that outfit is controlled by Jay Garrett. A message left for Garrett went unreturned.
According to city of Austin environmental compliance officer Mario Garcia, the pool controversy is nearing its end. "We're in the process of closing it out," he says. Other issues remain, including the apparent need for a permit for the driveway and a code compliance complaint about a fence. In any case, the structures are there (indeed, for all to see), and an adequate solution seems pending. It might even satisfy Roddy – for now.