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The Historic Landmark Commission Monday sent a message that it won't support demolition of old houses, even ones with questionable historical value, after it recommended historic zoning to a dilapidated house at 4012 Duval Street in Hyde Park.

Tuesday, July 25, 2000 by

A new owner of the property, Daniel Day, is asking for a permit to demolish the house so that he can build a duplex on the spot and an additional duplex on the vacant lot next door. The historic zoning offers protection against demolition, but the zoning must still be considered by the Planning Commission, which makes its own recommendation. The City Council will make a final decision, with a supermajority required to keep the new historic zoning designation, according to Barbara Stocklin, the city's historic preservation officer.

Although Hyde Park Neighborhood Association representatives said Monday they are more concerned about the proposed duplexes than the actual old house facing demolition, neighbors living near the 1910 structure told the commission it should stay.

"The bottom line is…there are people encroaching on the neighborhood for profit," said Don Balsamo, who lives behind the property on Avenue H. "You have to start drawing the line somewhere." Balsamo said property owners are renting out houses, letting them fall into disrepair, then selling them to builders who intend to demolish the structures and build behemoths in their place for high dollar sales.

Vallorie Thomas, who lives at 4107 Avenue H, told the commission that every old house in Hyde Park is important. "I see old houses as possibilities," she said. "An old house can be brought back…Brand new duplexes do not contribute to our neighborhood."

Charles Ellingson built the house in 1910. Henry and Theresa Oertli and members of their family occupied it until 1913. A.N. and Clara Ekstrom and their descendants lived in the home until 1980, after which it became a rental property. A large bush and heavy vegetation have hidden the front of the house for years.

Stocklin recommended against historic zoning and told the commission that the structure didn't meet enough criteria for the designation and lacked any specific historical merit. Day agreed and said that the property had so many additions that it was hard to tell what was even original to the house. Day also added that the structure was shown as "non-contributing" in Hyde Park's application to gain status as a National Historic Register Neighborhood. He said that he would try to give away the house or sell it and have it moved.

Commission Chair Lauretta Dowd agreed with Stocklin that the house did not meet the criteria for historic zoning, as did Commissioners Patti Hall and Laurie Limbacher. However, Commission Vice Chair Lisa Laky offered a motion to grant the historic zoning. "I'm concerned any time I see someone want to take something of value from a neighborhood," she said. Commissioners Julia Bunton, Daniel Leary, Teresa Rabago, Eva Lindsey, and Avadne J. Montandon joined her to grant the zoning. Commissioners Teresa O'Connell and Jim Fowler were absent for the meeting.

The zoning still faces Planning Commission and City Council consideration before the house can be considered safe from demolition. Regardless of that outcome, the builder must still present his building plans to the Historic Landmark Commission for approval because of Hyde Park's status as a National Historic Register Neighborhood. Although the property is zoned MF4 (Multi Family 4), Day can not put apartments there, because the subdivided lots are not large enough. However, he can build the duplexes, and Hyde Park Neighborhood Association President Jeff Woodruff said the idea concerns the entire neighborhood.

He said the association's steering committee is currently working with Day to ensure any duplexes designed for the sites are as compatible as possible with the surrounding neighborhood. Woodruff said the association was hesitant to come out in force against the actual demolition, because the structure had been altered so many times and was in such disrepair. "Some people like to think that being Hyde Park we like to jump on everyone, but Hyde Park is really very loose…The important thing is what will go in (the houses') place."

Commission initiates zoning despite objections

In another demolition permit case before the commission Monday, a house with just as many structural problems but much more historical significance received temporary protection. Commissioners voted unanimously to initiate historic zoning on the property at 510 Atlanta Street near Lake Austin Boulevard and MoPac. The commission will vote on final zoning status at its meeting next month.

The 1904 home was built for, and possibly by, Gustave Johnson, son of Swedish immigrant Charles Johnson, who came to Austin in 1854. The elder Johnson built the city's first grist mill on Shoal Creek and lived in the mansion that is the current day American Legion Hall on Town Lake. Charles Johnson was good friends with Sam Houston, a regular guest at his home. Gustave Johnson was active in the Austin Grays, a group that helped build the Capitol. He died in 1963 at age 97.

Johnson's relatives lived in the house until its recent sale to Richard Miscoe. Miscoe also owns three adjacent empty lots and wants to put four single-family, two-story homes at the location. He said he is trying to find someone who will take the house for free and move it to another location. Miscoe, who remodels homes, said his first thought was renovation, but that the extensive damage and building code violations convinced him it wouldn't be feasible. The 3,000-square-foot two story homes he intends to build would also dwarf the 1,600-square-foot house next door.

Stocklin explored the idea of getting the house moved to a corner lot and giving it commercial zoning for a small office. However, Miscoe said he wants to stick with his plans. And Blake Tollett of the West Austin Neighborhood Group said commercial zoning would go against the neighborhood plan that puts all such zoning on Lake Austin Boulevard. Still, Tollett said he would float the idea by the neighborhood group's board. "We'd like to see the house go on a vacant lot in our neighborhood," he said.

Because the Atlanta Street house met so many criteria for historic zoning, commissioners found no reason not to at least initiate the status to give all parties more time to explore options before deciding on whether to allow demolition. Stocklin says the commission reviews about 10 demolition permits a year.

In other business, the commission recommended historic zoning for the Evangelical Lutheran Church at 13300 Dessau Road. The status was initiated on June 26 and unanimously recommended Monday. The 1876, Gothic Revival style church was built by German immigrants who founded the community of Dessau around 1854. According to the Handbook of Texas Online, Dessau's population varied from 10 in the 1930s to a high of 50 people in the 1940s before being encompassed by Austin. The church closed its doors in the 1970s, although the structure and adjoining building are still used by community groups.

The church’s owners, the Southwestern Texas Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, supported the historic zoning. Stocklin said a cemetery association, which owns the adjacent cemetery on the property, plans on filing a request for historic zoning as well.

Light Rail Now, grassroots group, wants

To involve neighborhoods in transit debate

City, Cap Metro lack coordination, leaders say

When you ask Sheila Holbrook-White and Glenn Gadbois why they got involved in the light rail debate, Gadbois responds for both by saying, "The City of Austin has shot itself in the foot because of lack of coordination between the City and Cap Metro (Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority) on the light rail debate." Holbrook, executive director of Texas Citizen Action (TCA), and Gadbois, director of transportation for TCA, are joined by Phil Hallmark, transportation activist Lyndon Henry, Sierra Club representative Karin Ascot, and Save Barton Creek Association President Jon Beall on the steering committee of Light Rail Now, a grassroots organization formed to support the creation of light rail in Austin.

Holbrook says that, “Because of a pending lawsuit against VIA (San Antonio's equivalent of Cap Metro) for its involvement in the light rail debate there, Cap Metro officials will actually walk out of a meeting if it appears that a discussion on light rail is going to take place. The resulting void leaves no one to look out after the interests of neighborhoods, who don't really have a voice to get involved in the dialogue.”

Explaining that it's not just the opposition that is creating misconceptions about light rail, but uninformed city staffers as well, Gadbois added, “People issues just aren't being very well addressed at this time.” Praising the high-profile effort being put forth by Ross Garber, co-founder of Vignette and the driving force behind the light rail support group Get Around Austin, Gadbois stresses the need for a well-balanced campaign for light rail. Gadbois doesn't want light rail to be defeated by opponents who label it as the brainchild and pet project only of Austin's high tech community.

While light rail should become an alternative too attractive for daily automobile commuters to drive away from, Holbrook maintains that it will also “become the critical linkage for Austin's working poor, who have nothing to do with Austin's high tech community.” She said a very large percentage of the working poor rely on taxis for their critical transportation needs.

When asked about the impact of light rail in other cities, Gadbois said that St. Louis and Dallas have added new bond issues for voter approval, “which will fast track the extension of light rail into those cities which originally opted out, but now, seeing the benefits, want back in.” Examples of such communities near Dallas include Irving, Richardson and Plano.

Staff, continue labor on rules update

A subcommittee of the Water and Wastewater Commission continued to listen to members of the public and debate sections of the proposed new rules for on-site sewage treatment systems last night. Lanetta Cooper, the subcommittee’s chair, told In Fact Daily she intends to ask Darwin McKee, the chair of the full commission, to extend the life of the committee for several more weeks so the group can gather more data and refine the regulations.

Cooper said the group should continue to meet weekly, with the public in attendance, in order to gain better acceptance and understanding of the rules by those who will be affected. The Water and Wastewater Commission is scheduled to meet again on Aug. 2. Cooper agreed with this reporter, who would like to know how much staff time has been expended sitting through the seemingly endless meetings on the same subject.

Waste Management Inc. (WMI) will conduct a community meeting tonight from 7-9 p.m. so consultants can release results from a study of the landfill which has worried northeast Austin residents. The meeting will be at the Bluebonnet Trail Elementary School cafeteria, 11316 Farmhaven Road. WMI hired consultants to do a field study and risk assessments. In addition to those consultants, representatives of Carter & Burgess, who did peer review work on the field study, will be available to answer questions… We fly more…Austin-Bergstrom International Airport set another new traffic record last month, giving Austin more passenger activity than San Antonio for the first time. As of the first quarter of this year, ABIA ranks as the sixth fastest growing U.S. airport. For the first six months of this year, more 3.7 million passengers used ABIA, compared with slightly less than 3 million for San Antonio… City invites neighborhood groups… The city wants those interested in land use planning and transportation corridor needs to attend a meeting Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Waller Creek Plaza, 625 E. 10th St., Room 104… Budget hearing… The Board of Directors of the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District will meet at the district office, 1124 Regal Row, at 4 p.m.Wednesday. The meeting only has major agenda item: a public hearing and consideration of the district’s Fiscal Year 2001 budget… South Africa downtown… Austin actors will perform dramatic readings of contemporary poetry, literature, and speeches from South Africa at 7 p.m. on Thursday at the Austin Museum of Art-Downtown, 823 Congress Avenue. The performance is free with paid museum admission. This is the last educational program for AMOA’s current exhibition, Liberated Voices: Contemporary Art from South Africa (through August 13)… More on that land deal…The Hill Country Conservancy tried to purchase the 1,500-acre Hazy Hills Ranch just west of Sunset Canyon in Hays County. Conservancy spokesman George Cofer said his group could not raise money fast enough to suit the owners. Cofer said the Pressler and Townes families were “definite on selling to someone else. It would have been a real nice tract for us. It’s got good Barton Creek frontage and Little Barton Creek frontage as well.” The prospective owners, a Round Rock group, declined comment on the proposed purchase.

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