Ryan Burkhart is afraid his neighbor’s rotting retaining wall is about to collapse.
“If the wall gives way, and someone is walking by, it could kill them,” he said, pointing to the stack of railroad ties loosely held by spikes along his fence line. Burkhart is worried enough that he’s held off on plans to landscape his own backyard and build a play area for his son.
And he’s frustrated that he reported the problem to the city of Austin seven months ago, and the property owner next door has yet to make repairs.
The city’s Code Compliance Department agrees it’s a safety issue. In March, authorities cited Jean Masco, who owns the home on Terrace Bluff Drive in Northeast Austin, for the damaged wall and yard erosion. “The retaining wall shall be maintained structurally sound and in good repair,” the citation read.
Masco was given 15 days to make repairs. Then she received an extension until Sept. 4, but that deadline has come and gone, too. The case is now headed to the city’s Building and Standards Commission, which has the authority to force the owner to repair the wall or face heavy fines.
Burkhart lives in the Woodcliff neighborhood, an area he loves in part because it abuts the Walnut Creek greenbelt. “But look, my neighbor’s backyard is falling into the greenbelt. The retaining wall at the very back of the yard is gone,” he said.
Burkhart is frustrated with the city’s snail pace in resolving the problem. “The wall hasn’t been fixed, and just a few days ago, I called the code compliance inspector for a status, but he hasn’t returned my call,” Burkhart said. The way he sees it, his neighbor’s stalling puts his own family in harm’s away.
Masco, who lives in Lakeway, according to Travis Central Appraisal District records, said she’s out of the state and preoccupied with the death of her mother and a sister earlier this year and, most recently, her son’s recovery from open-heart surgery. “I am currently working with a contractor to have the site repaired, and the necessary documents have been submitted to the city … I am eager to see the problem corrected,” she said in an email.
According to Planning and Development Review Department records, Jed Sprinkle, an agent representing Masco, applied for an exemption to obtain a site plan for the work, but the request was denied in early September. Masco will have to get a site plan and building permit before any work can begin.
Masco has rented out the house for years. The last renter, David Redwine, moved out in August, although he tried in vain to buy the property from Masco and fix the wall.
“She (Masco) didn’t want to sell, even though I agreed to bring the property into compliance. I offered to roll the cost of repairs into the mortgage,” Redwine said.
Perhaps the cost is the problem, Redwine and city officials said. Redwine said he paid a contractor to give him a detailed estimate to fix some things with the house and the retaining wall. “The low end was $40,000 for the wall, and the high end was $80,000 for everything,” said Redwine, who forwarded the estimate to Masco.
“The repairs could be very expensive,” said Melissa Martinez, spokeswoman for the code compliance department. She said an inspector has been in constant contact with Masco. “There have been challenges. Contractors have pulled out because of the magnitude of the job. The hardship has been finding a contractor to do the work,” Martinez said.
Martinez said the city’s first priority is to get the property owner to fix the problem, and sometimes that takes time. Property owners often get extensions on deadlines to reach compliance. “It’s due process,” said Martinez.
What: A homeowner’s backyard retaining wall made of railroad ties is rotting and on the verge of falling onto a neighbor’s property.
Who’s responsible: The city of Austin’s Code Compliance Department cited the homeowner in March but nothing has changed, says a neighbor. The wall has yet to be repaired.
What they say: City officials say the next step is taking the case to the Building and Standards Commission where the homeowner could face heavy fines. The homeowner, who is out of state tending to family matters, says she is working with a contractor to get the site fixed.