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La Vista on Lavaca gets

Wednesday, February 14, 2001 by

Board of Adjustment approval

Nearby neighbors worry about Capitol views

The owners of La Vista on Lavaca this week picked up the endorsement they needed from the Board of Adjustment to expand the footprint of the eight-story downtown condominium project.

La Vista on Lavaca will be a mixed-use project—retail, office and residential—that will face Lavaca Avenue, replacing the former MD Pharmacy and the surface parking lot behind it. The variance will allow owners Mary Guerrero-McDonald and Jim McDonald to build up to the edge of the property line on 17th Street.

“We believe, in agreement with downtown design guidelines, that we should present a continuous building face along 17th Street,” Guerrero-McDonald told commissioners, citing the design as a way to promote walking downtown and to the Capitol. “Currently, Seventeenth Street and Lavaca are not pedestrian oriented, and this promotes foot traffic.”

Promotional material for La Vista on Lavaca says that more than 9,000 public officer workers, 4,000 private office workers and 800 condominium residents are within a four-block area of the project. La Vista's design, eight stories tall and flush to the property line, has won the endorsement of the Design Commission and the Austin Downtown Commission. It did not, however, win over the neighbors in neighboring Greenway Towers to the northwest of the project.

The concern of the three Greenway Tower residents who spoke to the Board of Adjustment was just what the height of the project would do to their view of the Capitol. Condominium owner Philip Plyler said state leaders had opposed another structure two years ago for that same reason. Plyler said he found it hard to believe so many neighbors could be in favor of the project

“I hesitate to think with all the facts clearly presented that we could all come to an agreement on this,” Plyler said, adding that he expected the obstructed view to hurt his property values.

Guerrero-McDonald argued that the height was appropriate for the zoning and that it was the right-of-way, not the height, which was the issue before the Board of Adjustment on Monday night. She also added that the project was not in the Capitol view corridor. La Vista on Lavaca consists of two lots: The lot on Lavaca is zoned DMU for a mixed-use project. The lot behind it is zoned CS.

Despite the protests, the Board of Adjustment had no problem giving its unanimous approval to the project variance, and with little discussion. Chair Herman Thun was absent. Board Member Frank Fuentes told the neighbors that he appreciated their appearance before the board but that the commission needed to make its decision based upon the facts of the case. He moved to grant the variance.

“I hope you understand that this is what the City of Austin has done all over the inner city,” Fuentes said. “They want more projects like this.”

According to the application, the variance will allow La Vista on Lavaca to add 10 spaces to its garage and 690 square feet of rentable office space to the development.

Historic Dickinson house may

Be moved to Old Bakery site

Landmark says house must go

Austin’s most historic house may find a new home on Congress Avenue.

The house at the corner of Fifth and Neches was once the home of Susanna Dickinson, the heroine of the Alamo. That past had surely been long forgotten when the house was converted into a local BBQ joint, and it only recent resurfaced with the land's new purpose as the site of the city’s convention center hotel.

Stripped of its paint and siding, the structure sits as a modest stone house. It was built in 1869 for Dickinson and her second husband, according to the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps. Hence, it is now known as the Dickinson-Hannig House. The structure, now missing a front porch, is probably not unlike the nearby Trask House, which was built in 1871 and has been restored.

Initially, the Landmark Corporation—which also converted the Donut at Austin Bergstrom International Airport into a Hilton hotel—promised to incorporate the Dickinson-Hannig House into the design of its hotel. As city Historic Preservation Officer Barbara Stocklin explained to the Parks and Recreation Board last night, however, Landmark “has been working on this item since late spring or early summer and purely exhausted the options for saving the house on this site.”

That means the house must move, Stocklin said. Designs for Landmark's Hilton, with its parking garage, call for it to cover an entire city block downtown and make the preservation of the Dickinson House impossible. At this point, the only way the Dickinson House would not move, would be if the city failed to sell any bonds for the convention hotel.

Stocklin told the Parks Board that plans are already being made to save the Dickinson-Hannig house. Council Member Will Wynn is raising funds for the house’s preservation, with a preference for a downtown location, Stocklin said. Wynn’s first choice is a location next to the Old Bakery on Congress at Tenth Avenue, a piece of land owned and maintained by the city’s Parks Department.

The board heard a report on the Dickinson-Hannig House last night, although a quorum was not present for a vote. A second presentation will be made to a Parks Board subcommittee next Tuesday afternoon.

The plan is in its earliest stages, with sketches of the placement of the Dickinson House on a site plan showing the Old Bakery and the Dickinson House side by side. The Dickinson House—really two structures because the stone house has its own detached kitchen—would face Congress Avenue. Four options position the house in various configurations, with and without a porch. Although the move would not be a perfect match, a foundation for a home on the site of the Old Bakery dates back to the 1850s.

Commissioner Dan Leary, who chaired the subcommittee on the Dickinson House, told the Parks Board that the Historic Landmark Commission was saddened by the fact the house must move but resigned to consider the best options for future restoration. He pointed out that the roof had been fully retained even as the exterior was peeled away, and that 80 percent of the original walls are intact. “It’s in surprisingly good shape,” Leary said.

Only four Parks Board members were present for the presentation on the Dickinson House. Chair Rosemary Castleberry questioned Stocklin closely on other options for the house, suggesting that the structure might be moved to Republic Square. Stocklin, however, said she expected firm resistance in the community to move any more historic structures into Austin’s four downtown parks. Such a move was also more complicated and far less compatible with the intention of maintaining an historically accurate urban setting for the Dickinson House, Stocklin added.

While Castleberry was interested in the concept of the move, she also pointed out that the Parks Department had no money to contribute to a move of the house. Stocklin told her the Landmark Corp. had already committed to hire an architect, move the house and stabilize it, which Stocklin calculated would cost $250,000.

Planners approve

Lantana subdivision

Subdivision to abide by 1986 environmental rules

The Planning Commission voted 8-0 to approve the final plat for Rialto Park at Lantana Tuesday night. The subdivision approved is slightly less than 35 acres at the intersection of William Cannon and Southwest Parkway. Stratus Properties owns the tract, which is part of the property included in recent negotiations between the city and Stratus.

Richard Suttle, attorney for Stratus, said his client had agreed to increased water quality controls even though the property is grandfathered under HB 1704. The Planning Commission went into executive session to hear from legal counsel on the matter before voting.

Pat Murphy of the Watershed Protection Department (WPD) told the Commission the tract was originally called Patton Ranch. He said under Stratus’ 1704 claims the tract could have been developed under the Comprehensive Watershed Ordinance of 1984. Instead, he said, the property would be treated as if required to comply with the 1986 ordinance. “What we have here is better than state law would allow if their (1704) claim was allowed,” Murphy said. Suttle said Stratus still owns 450 to 500 acres of land in the Barton Creek watershed. There has been no action on the proposed development agreement since December when a majority of the Council rejected the term sheet. Commissioner Ben Heimsath left the meeting before consideration of this item.

©2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Mayor traveling . . . Mayor Kirk Watson will take off Thursday for the Governor’s Conference in Madison, Wisconsin. He has been invited to address the conference on Friday. Before heading out, however, the mayor will host a breakfast to kick off the Austin Public Library’ s 75th Anniversary celebration. Screenwriter Bill Broyles, author of “Cast Away,” will give the keynote address. The Austin Library Foundation is hosting the breakfast . . . Library design. . .Austinites are invited to review designs for the new branch library to be named in honor of Daniel E. Ruiz, Thursday at 6 p.m. at Baty Elementary School, 2101 Faro Drive. The new library will be on Grove Street, just north of Riverside . . . Suit filed . . . Austin’s Human Rights Commission has filed suit against Silver Ridge Apartments and Standard Properties, Inc., alleging that the parties harassed persons who had filed discrimination complaints . . . Panhandling. . . The City of Austin’s Law Department will seek City Council approval Thursday for a new version of the anti-panhandling ordinance. The old ordinance is like others that have been declared unconstitutional, says Assistant City Attorney John Steiner. The new ordinance prohibits “aggressive solicitation,” particularly around banks and ATM machines. Solicitors who follow others or continue to ask for change after being told no may be charged .

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