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In Fact Daily

Monday, June 25, 2001 by

Lauretta Dowd, Chair,

Historic Landmark Commission

A commitment to preserving Austin's past

By David Ansel

Lauretta Dowd, chair of the Historic Landmark Committee (HLC), moved to Austin during the first tech boom. In 1967, over a thousand families moved to town to staff IBM’s Austin manufacturing plant, which produced then-state-of-the-art Selectric typewriters. Dowd’s family relocated from Kentucky to the dirt roads of Northwest Hills. IBM’ s move was the touchstone of Austin’s expansion from its narrow government and education-based economy. The development that followed soon generated strong resistance from burgeoning neighborhood groups. The public outcry resulting from the loss of historic buildings downtown persuaded the City to adopt the Historic Landmark Ordinance in 1974, forming the HLC.

Dowd began her involvement with the City as a subdivision and zoning planner in the City Planning Department. Shortly thereafter, she began working with Betty Baker at the HLC and became familiar with the historic landmark portion of the City Code. (Baker was a city employee at that time.) The mission of the HLC, which evaluates requests for historic zoning and also serves to protect historic structures from demolition, is very near and dear to Dowd’s heart. “I feel that it’s a noble fight. It’s for the common good of the city.” Historic preservation, in her mind, is more than a nicety for the tourist hordes. “The lessons associated with history have to do with everything from social to economic battles to religious confrontations. Everybody can gain by studying the past; it helps you have a clearer vision of how to handle the present and future.”

There are thirteen criteria that the HLC uses to test the historic value of a property. A site must normally meet at least five to be considered a worthwhile fight. The building’s architectural significance and the historical significance of the builder, contractor, or architect are evaluated. Likewise the historical significance of the owner, a tenant, or any event carry value. The building’s bearing upon the neighborhood’s history or culture is also an important part of the evaluation.

The HLC has probably never seen more trying times. “The last two to three years have been constant battles due to the strong economy. The commission has been challenged to compromise.” For example, the Tips Warehouse, a pre-Depression era brick building at 200 Colorado, met the guidelines for historic status. But the combination of lack of council support and the clear demonstration by AMLI, the developer, that the building was not adaptable for reuse forced HLC to accept a compromise. AMLI is building an identical residential tower two blocks west, the site of the Schneider underground vaults. The limestone vaults were part of an antebellum attempt to start a brewery using Shoal Creek water. HLC and AMLI, as part of their compromise on the Tips Warehouse, agreed to zone the Schneider vaults historic. “We have very few pre-Civil War structures,” says Dowd. “We need to fight for it.”

Timing is everything

The key difference between HLC’s effectiveness with the Tips Warehouse and the Schneider Vaults was the point in time in which they became involved in the project. Any HLC recommendation for preservation has to go first to the Planning Commission, then to the Council. With the Tips Warehouse property, the project was too far along and the developer had invested too much for the preservation attempt to be effective. But the Schneider property is different, says Dowd. “We’re not late in the game for the vaults, and we want to see some creative design.”

This issue of timing is the area where Dowd sees the greatest opportunity for improvement. “Commission staff has difficulty in getting different departments or corporations to bring a project to us early. We’re working hard to improve this.” She thinks this streamlined communication will benefit developers as much as the city. “When a developer or city agency has spent time and money to get to a certain part of the process, all of a sudden HLC rears its ugly head. HLC has to be cognizant of that pressure . . . there have been projects where people enter into the process and aren’t made aware of historic issues, and that’s not fair to whoever’s heading up the project.”

As with most city departments and offices, the HLC walks a tightrope between realism and idealism. When asked how she’d like to see Austin manage its growth, Dowd said, “I want it all to change without changing the space.” She continued, “But you can’t have high density in a one-story, 75-year-old building. There are creative ways (to preserve history). You can retain the facade. You can require that additional square footage is set back. It’s reasonable and preferable that population increase in existing areas, but there are ways to do it without destroying our history.”

Dowd makes her living as a project manager for Carlson Brigance and Doering. In her free time, she enjoys gardening and spending time with her daughter, Cora.

New Airport Board gets

Overview of advisory role

No heavy lifting anytime soon

After being dissolved by the city because of it’s factious nature, the former Airport Advisory Board has risen from the ashes with a new name and mostly new members. The Airport Advisory Commission met Thursday for the first time, guided by Aviation Department Executive Director Jim Smith. The meeting was an introductory gathering with briefings from various members of city staff.

Charles Gates, director of finance and administration for the Aviation Department, told In Fact Daily that the purpose of the old Board was to assist in the process of building a new airport. The new nine-member Commission will serve in an advisory capacity to those now running the airport, he said.

Smith and Gates gave the new commissioners a general overview of the airport to familiarize them with their new realm of responsibility. Other Aviation Department heads gave short presentations to the commissioners as well, and John Steiner of the city’s Legal Department briefed them on legal aspects of serving in an advisory capacity.

Smith told commissioners that the only business items upcoming were zoning issues for land around the airport and budget items, but that it would likely be August before the Commission begins to address them. Since no business was pressing, the commissioners decided to meet on July 24 to tour the airport and take care of some preliminary business. It’s likely they will choose a chair and vice chair at that time.

Hannah Riddering and Joe Trochta are the only members of the previous board to be appointed to the new one. Riddering, a taxi driver and a leader in the National Organization for Women, was absent from the meeting. Other members include Amanda Cagle, Eleanor Cochran, Floyd Davis, Cindy Garcia, Steven Morales, Michael Voticky and Phil Williams.

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

Beware San Antonio Street . . . The snarl around the new CSC buildings at San Antonio and Third Streets will reduce traffic to two lanes until at least this afternoon. The city is encouraging motorists to take over routes . . . Schneider Vaults . . . The Historic Landmark Commission will take another look at the Schneider Vaults this evening to see whether they should be zoned historic. Council Member Will Wynn has been working with downtown developer Amli on a plan to move the vaults . . . ANC to meet Wednesday . . . The Austin Neighborhoods Council will be talking about affordable housing and problems members see in waivers of compatibility standards for developers in Hyde Park, East Austin and some University area neighborhoods. The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the First English Lutheran Church, 3001 Whitis . . . Love it or hate it . . . The Endangered Species Act is important. CLE International is hosting an Endangered Species and Habitat Conservation Planning Conference September 10-11 at the Hyatt Regency. Visit http://www.cle.com/upcoming/ausesa01.shtml for more information . . . FBI investigating investigators . . . The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Saturday that Senator Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay) has been questioned by FBI agents in connection with a conversation Fraser had with two investigators working on behalf of Tony Sanchez of Laredo, a likely Democratic candidate for governor. The FBI is trying to find out whether the pair, who were hired by Tony Canales, Sanchez’ attorney, illegally represented that they were current employees of the FBI.

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