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Dancing at the Capitol,

Tuesday, November 7, 2000 by

Counting at the Auditorium

We could be Sleepless in Travis County

Tonight’s the big night for politics junkies nationwide, with the Presidential race topping the bill. Republicans might be dancing at the Capitol, but serious city politicos will be at Palmer Auditorium where the returns come in.

Michele Middlebrook Gonzalez, chief of the city’s Public Information Office, predicted a long night for light rail watchers. Gonzalez pointed out that Travis County would be counting all the city’s ballots along with county ballots. City election officials say voters in 207 of Travis County’s 230 precincts, will be voting on Capital Metro’s light rail proposal. In 53 of those precincts, voters will need two separate ballots to register their choices on all the propositions. Those ballots will only be counted after all the county ballots, Gonzalez said.

Voters in 20 precincts in Williamson County are also eligible to vote on the Capital Metro proposal. Those ballots will be put into separate boxes and sent to Palmer Auditorium for Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir and her staff to count, potentially delaying the final tally.

Landmark Commission strips

Home of Historic designation

Clarksville neighbors disgusted by changes

The Historic Landmark Commission recently said it had been duped, stripping a house in the Clarksville neighborhood of its historic structure designation after its new owner rebuilt the home.

The Norris Maxwell house on West Tenth Street is one of only three dozen turn-of-the-century structures still standing in Clarksville. The core of Clarksville, which was settled by freed slaves before the turn of the century, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Owner Steve Glasco came to the Historic Landmark Commission and hammered out a compromise on the Norris Maxwell house early this year. Glasco wanted to build two- and three-story duplex additions behind the house. After two more presentations, the commission decided it could only designate the footprint of the house as historic, so long as Glasco promised to keep the small frame structure intact. Glasco even presented an architect's rendering of the blended addition, with a duplex of tan and light brown wood siding with dark green trim and a warm gray metal vee crimp roof.

What commissioners subsequently saw at 1822 West Tenth Street was a compromise they had hardly envisioned. Neighbors said the house had been picked up by a crane and lifted off its foundations before being dismantled piece by piece.

Commissioner Jim Fowler said he had driven past the building daily while it was being remodeled. “I drove by this house and I saw nothing left,” said Fowler, adding that the building was gone for a week. “When I saw it again, all the siding had been replaced, as well as the windows.”

The Norris Maxwell house—a two-room house with a tin roof, wooden siding and a wooden floor—was typical of the construction in Clarksville. Its earliest owner was Rev. Handy Williamson, a local minister and freed slave. At the time of the designation, neighbors feared the compromise of the house and those around it could spell the end of Clarkville's eligibility for national historic status.

City preservation officer Barbara Stocklin estimated only 20 percent of the building's original materials were reused in the new structure. The owner, said Stocklin, cited termite problems with the removal of some material. During the meeting over this issue, Stocklin was asked how much of the original building was left. . “Nada,” came the answer from a long-time Clarksville resident in the audience. Commissioners inspecting photographs of the new construction agreed that the windows, siding and eaves did not match the materials or patterns of the original house.

“I do not consider this a success story,” said Commissioner Lauretta Dowd. “We had a very difficult issue here. We tried to compromise, and I don't think that compromise worked.”

Commissioners were so angry about the project that they chose to strip the house of its historic designation and to ask the city attorney to pursue legal action against the owner for zoning violations.

Glasco was not at the meeting to defend his actions. Clarksville resident Pauline Brown called the new construction “an eyesore to the whole community.” The house is tall, overpowering and out of character with many of the homes in the community, Brown told commissioners.

“It's very heartbreaking to know that we came here and went through all the procedures, thinking that everything was going to be done in a fashion that we asked,” Brown said. “We had a fashion we thought it should be done in… That house was set aside there and we thought it would be put back together the way it was, but they put it back together and nothing's the same. It's a completely different house.”

The owner knew his obligations to the neighborhood, Brown said. What he did to the house was “genocidal,” said Brown, adding that his actions were a slap in the face to Clarksville.

“The number of houses we have are decreasing all the time,” Brown said. “I don't know what you can do or we can do to stop this, because it's going to happen again and there has to be a way to hold onto the Clarksville history. We started all of this in a fashion that we hoped would build up everybody's momentum in the neighborhood, but doing this we've gotten so we're at everybody's throats.”

Clarksville residents suggested the Historic Landmark Commission try to save another historic house in Clarksville that is currently being used by the Parks and Recreation Department for a senior lunch program. “Please do it before that building is lost, too,” asked one resident.

Commissioners asked Stocklin why the process failed with the Norris Maxwell house, asking whether building inspectors had inspected the site. Stocklin said the owner had wrongly gotten approval for city construction permits with special conditions. He was not required to submit detailed construction plans. But that became a problem when the owner severed his relationship with the architect who presented the original drawings on the addition. Details on the project changed.

“I did go out to the site several times, but I was not there at the right times,” said Stocklin, apologizing to the commissioners. “I was not informed when critical things happened, and by the time I found out it was after the fact. I say that with regret.”

A number of the commissioners put the fault squarely with the developer, adding that the plans approved by the commission gave the owner clear guidelines to preserve the integrity of the site. The developer clearly knew what he was supposed to do to maintain the historical integrity and keep the tax abatement that designation would bring, Fowler said. He simply chose to ignore the guidelines..

Vignette plan gains support

From Design Commission

E-business company would enhance downtown

Members of the Design Commission told e-business leader Vignette Corp. last night that they support the company’s proposed headquarters downtown, based on Vignette’s commitment to build under the Downtown Design Guidelines. The commission says in a letter to the Planning Commission, “We feel that this project offers the potential to provide significant public amenity to the lower Waller Creek area of downtown Austin by offering enhancement of land adjacent to the creek, extensive public access, . . . pedestrian bridges and walks along . . . the lower Waller Creek corridor.”

Vignette is seeking a zoning change for property between Cesar Chavez and Town Lake, from GR ( general retail) and CS (commercial services) to CBD (Central Business District). Commissioner Girard Kinney tried to convince the commission to endorse the zoning change outright. However, several commissioners were not ready for that big a step without actual design plans. Commission Chair Juan Cotera said zoning is not within the commission’s purview. The Planning Commission is scheduled to hear the case Nov. 14, according to Don Bosse of Bosse Compton & Turner.

The commission said the Vignette project appears “to embrace the tenets of the design guidelines.” Developers showed the commission conceptual plans that would increase east-west access to the creek, and promised to structure parking so that it may be converted to another use in the future. Vignette also plans to do a number of other things recommended by the guidelines, all focused on making downtown more habitable and lively.

Bosse, representing Vignette, said the company would also be requesting a 10:1 floor to area ratio (FAR), as opposed to 8:1, which is the standard maximum under the central business district zoning classification. Bosse said the new convention center hotel would have a 10:1 FAR.

When he started the project, Bosse said, Vignette needed 450,000 square feet of office space. Now the growing company has leased 540,000 square feet. As he explained some of the amenities that would be at ground level of the 28-story first phase, Bosse said, “We are trying to make everybody happy. I know that’s a handful in Austin, Texas.”

Following Bosse, Fred Shannon of Intel reported the chip maker’s first concrete slab for its new downtown building will be poured on December 5. The shell of the building is projected for completion next November, as is the parking garage, Shannon said.

©2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Election night parties . . . The Republicans have the Capitol and Congress from 11th down to 9th Street for the Bush party. The Democrats are camping out south of the river at the Hyatt Regency. Individual candidates, including State Rep. candidate Ann Kitchen and District Attorney Ronnie Earle have set aside rooms at the Hyatt, as has the AFL-CIO. Judicial candidate Scott Jenkins will be at the Filling Station. Judges Karrie Key and Gisela Triana and judicial candidate Darlene Byrne will be at Miguel’s La Bodega on Colorado . . . Capital Metro meeting . . . No one will ever accuse the Capital Metro board of meeting without a posting. In an abundance of caution, the board has posted a meeting for 7 p.m. to midnight tonight at the Hyatt Regency, Palmer Auditorium and Threadgill’s World Headquarters, since members may be at those locations watching election returns . . . City-AISD joint meeting . . . A subcommittee of the City Council and Austin Independent School District’s Board of Trustees will meet at 11:30 a.m. today at the Carruth Administrative Complex, 1111 W. 6th Street, Building B. Reports on Mueller Airport re-use, the J.J. Pickle Multi-purpose center and a new arts complex are on the agenda . . . Veterans Day holiday . . . City offices will be closed Friday in honor of veterans and In Fact Daily will take the day off, too. On Saturday morning, the annual Veterans Day Parade will form at the Congress Avenue Bridge and march north to the Capital. . . Rene Barrera, former president of the South River City Citizens, sent out a letter endorsing the light rail proposal last night.

© 2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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