A Stealth Dorm's Stealthy Victory

Construction finally begins at 1917 David St.

Construction is underway at this site on David Street.
Construction is underway at this site on David Street. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Finally free from the white-hot glare of the city's board and commission room, construction has begun at 1917 David St. For years, the street has been the focal point of a fight over so-called "stealth dorms." Late last year, the city's Board of Adjust­ment issued its take at a special-called meeting, managing to anger both sides of the argument with a ruling on what is, and isn't, a "bedroom" under the city's super­duplex ordinance. Both sides threatened to appeal. The neighborhood said the ruling wasn't tough enough and there were still loopholes for developers to exploit. And the developers maintained that it was well outside the authority of the board to rule on architectural standards. (A parallel process at the city's Planning Commission led to the creation of a task force designed to take a closer look at the issue.)

But after all of the delays, and on the cusp of what promises to be an extensive dialogue about stealth dorms, secret bedrooms, and superduplex loopholes, the project that sparked the fight has plowed ahead with a new owner, getting a second set of plans approved and winning wary, watchful support from the neighborhood. (Well, support might be a stretch – but the neighborhood opted not to contest the new plan.)

"All we did was take out the walls, essentially," explained Mike McHone, the longtime agent on the case. "Same square footage, just not divided up into as many rooms." McHone said the plan had been figured out a "long time ago," but he stayed in the fight because he objected to the notion that the BOA had any authority to decide what constituted a bedroom.

Original West University Neighborhood Association president and longtime stealth dorm watchdog Nuria Zaragoza said the new set of plans had two full-baths and one half-bath on each side of the duplex. She immediately noticed the presence of an oversized closet in the half-bathrooms, which could easily (and logically) house a bathtub or shower. She was assured that was not in the plans by the new owner, Paul Tracy, who explained that storage was always at a premium in rentals.

"Sure enough, as the place is being plumbed, they plumb the closet," says Zara­goza. "It's just so frustrating." Though the issue was resolved via the city's permitting department, it left her disheartened.

"Obviously, their intent is going to be to build whatever it is they want to build – just kind of shove it in there when no one's looking," said Zaragoza. "Everyone knows very well that once something has a front door, nobody really is able to enforce what goes on behind it."

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News, David Street, City of Austin, Superduplexes, Mike McHone, Paul Tracy, Nuria Zaragoza, Original West University Neighborhood Association, Stealth Dorms, Board of Adjustment, City Planning Commission

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