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Austin neighborhoods may

Monday, December 18, 2000 by

Gain historic district ordinance

Landmark Commission to reivew draft next month

Austin remains the only major city in Texas other than Houston without a historic district ordinance, the city's historic preservation officer told the Austin Neighborhoods Council at a recent meeting.

Austin has had a historic landmark ordinance since 1974. And it does recognize 13 National Register Districts, such as Clarksville. But city regulationss have yet to acknowledge that neighborhoods as such have contributed to Austin's historical character and significance. A draft of a historic district ordinance is expected to go to the Historic Landmark Commission in January.

A historic district could be 5 houses or 500 houses, city historic preservation officer Barbara Stocklin said. More than half of the buildings in the area, however, would have to be more than 45 years old and contribute to the character of an area. Neighborhoods would apply for historic status as they would apply for a zoning change. The current proposal is that 20 percent of homeowners in the area must sign a petition to initiate the process of review for historic district designation.

Once an application is filed, members of the city staff would complete a block-by-block survey of the neighborhood to map and photograph buildings, Stocklin said.

Many Austin neighborhoods are losing their historic character due to an increasing number of “tear-downs,” suburban type infill construction and incompatible additions, Stocklin wrote in material she distributed on the historic district ordinance. A historic district designation can provide guidance and financial incentives to allow changes and renovations, while ensuring that historic qualities of the area are preserved.

Under the ordinance, public improvements within the district—such as sidewalk and street projects—would also be subject to design review by the Historic Landmark Commission.

Districts could be classified as historic or “endangered historic” in poorer neighborhoods where financial incentives are especially important to potential developers, Stocklin said. As is the case with historic landmarks and national register districts, alterations to houses in historic districts would have to be reviewed ahead of time by the Historic Landmark Commission. The purpose of the design review, Stocklin said, is to make sure changes are compatible with the character (ambiance, atmosphere, etc) of a neighborhood. Such a review can address construction and materials, as well as height and setback requirements on lots, Stocklin said.

Penalties for violating the ordinance could include withholding permits for three years, or requiring the developer to pay damages for the lost building. On the other hand, those who rehabilitated a home in the historic district could be granted a five-year property tax freeze. Rehabilitating commercial buildings in a historic district zone could earn a 10-year property tax freeze, and someone who substantially improved substandard buildings in such an area could be granted a full abatement of city taxes for 10 years.

Members of the Austin Neighborhoods Council had more questions than opinions about such an ordinance. President Jim Walker said he would like to have more information on what impact historic district ordinances have had in other cities. Others in the room worried that the city might be handing too much away in tax abatements on historic buildings. Stocklin said the Heritage Society of Austin was helping to gather information on that aspect of the effort.

In San Antonio, one inspector is devoted entirely to the enforcement of the historic district ordinance. Stocklin said a similar position in Austin would be the next step once the ordinance is approved. Stocklin also added that she did not expect historic districts to shut out affordable housing. Instead, the districts can stabilize values in a neighborhood, while encouraging the rehabilitation of housing.

Daniel Llanes of the River Bluff Neighborhood Association said that in San Antonio the historic district ordinance had been applied most liberally in areas with million-dollar homes. He joked that if that was the effect of the ordinance, he intended to apply for a zoning change on his 53-year-old house right away.

Commissioner Laurie Limbacher, who was also at the meeting with Stocklin, said one goal of the program is to enhance areas that are undervalued without displacing people who have lived in an area and owned their properties for decades.

Neighborhood associations that might be interested in historic designation are encouraged to contact Stocklin for a presentation on the ordinance. Call 499-2415 for more details..

Re-named SCIP II nearly

Ready for developers' bids

Construction could begin in February

The City Council heard an update Thursday on the Anderson Hill Redevelopment Project formerly known as SCIP II. The housing project is between East 11th and East 12th Streets near IH-35. Greg Smith, with the city’s Community Development Division, said the once-controversial project is back on track and the city is looking for developers who want to participate. After scathing criticism from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city sued the Anderson Community Development Corp. (ACDC), which had a contract to build 100 East Austin homes. (See In Fact Daily, July 20, 1999) The city became the owner of the property as a result of the settlement agreement between the city and the ACDC last June.

The project is divided into three phases, Smith said, the first of which consists of 28 units for home ownership, one rehabilitated unit and development of a townhouse on East 12th Street. Smith said the department needs extra time to comply with zoning requirements for phase II. The design for phase III needs more community input before it can be finalized.

At this stage of the game, the city is searching for an architect and contractors. He said they would be ready to start bidding on January 1st. At least six single-family units should be under construction by the middle of February, he said. “This is going to be a SMART housing project,” he added.

According to the terms of the settlement, ACDC is to transfer 56 parcels of the development to the city, Smith said. In addition, 24 rental units are to be developed and eventually transferred to ACDC, and up to 50 home-ownership units are slated for development.

The project was originally set up to construct 100 homes in East Austin, with 52 homes for sale and 48 for rent. The houses are to be sold to people who make no more than 80 percent of the median family income, Smith said.

In September, lottery winner Hollywood Henderson told the City Council he would “commit one million dollars of my own money” to finish the homes in the SCIP II Housing project. Paul Hilgers, director of the Housing and Community Development Department, told In Fact Daily Sunday he was not sure whether Henderson would bid on the project or not. He said Henderson had made it clear that he would be seeking a return on his investment. (See In Fact Daily, Sept. 8, 2000).

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

ANC party . . .The Austin Neighborhoods Council annual holiday party is set for Wednesday from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. at Nuevo Leon Restaurant, 1501 E. 6th St. ANC will be recognizing new honorary members, Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Beverly Griffith. Call Will Bozeman at 422-7395 if you have any questions . . . Between a rock and a hard place . . . Outside the City Council chambers Thursday, Council Member Daryl Slusher asked Jim Walker, president of ANC, why he did not come earlier to support zoning to complete the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Plan. Walker said the ANC took no position on the matter because both Joe Martinez, a member of the neighborhood planning team, and Gavino Fernandez, a member of El Concilio, which vehemently opposed the plan and zoning, are on the ANC board . . . Next year . . . The City Council made no appointments last week, and put off consideration of the controversial ordinance changing the Airport Advisory Board. Any citizens hoping for an appointment will have to wait at least until Jan. 18, the date of the next Council meeting.

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

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