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Chief Appraiser says change should alleviate some problems

Monday, September 9, 2002 by

The Travis County Appraisal District will change its system for classifying historically zoned homes next year, minimizing any potential for those homes to raise the value of surrounding properties. But according to Chief Appraiser Art Cory, when compared to overall market forces, the “historic” designation plays a minimal role in setting property values.

In Cory’s address to the Task Force on Gentrification Implications of Historic Zoning in East Austin at its meeting on Thursday, he explained how the appraisal process works. Normally, Cory said, the appraisal district groups residential property into neighborhoods, with each neighborhood given its own computer code. Since the district does not have sufficient staff to individually appraise each home, it tracks the prices paid for homes. If a home sells for a certain percentage over the value set by the district, that can affect the appraisal for surrounding homes by a similar percentage.

Opponents of historic zoning claim that historically zoned properties frequently go up in value, driving up the value of surrounding homes. The result, they say, is that nearby residents wind up paying more in property taxes, while the owners of the historic property receive a tax abatement. Cory says that by grouping historic properties in a unique category not based on geography, the appraisal district should be able to prevent this from happening.

“We can take them out of the mix, and I've committed to doing that for the coming year,” Cory said. “We can put them in their own ‘neighborhood’.” This would not strain the resources of the district, Cory said, since owners of historically zoned properties are already receiving extra attention. “There’s so few of them, and we deal with every one of them every year.” Cory cautioned, however, that the value of homes surrounding a historically zoned property could still go up or down, depending on the broader real estate market. “He pointed out that the plan to segregate historic properties would not affect buyers’ perceptions and it” would be up to the individual buyer to determine whether living next to a historically zoned property were desirable or not. That, in turn, would influence the price the buyer was willing to pay for a property.

Cory’s proposed change drew praise from Task Force Member Lydia Ortiz. “It's a profound way to address the concerns we've heard,” she said. Task Force member Michael Casias asked Cory if grouping all historically zoned properties together could create a new set of problems. “I'm concerned that a historically zoned property in Hyde Park could influence another area of town,” he said. There are 28 historically zoned properties in East Austin that are privately owned, most in the Guadalupe Neighborhood. Cory assured Casias that the district could take steps to keep home sales in West Austin from influencing values in East Austin. “We can keep the neighborhood code off of them and independently value them. We already handle them as a very special case,” Cory said.

But the Chief Appraiser warned that separating historically zoned properties was not a cure-all for escalating property values, especially in East Austin. “In my opinion, historic zoning has almost nothing to do with it. It's strictly a function of affordable housing,” he said. “East Austin is going up faster than anyplace else, because it's more affordable. It's strictly market-driven.”

He also advised Task Force members that he doubted the Legislature would make major changes to the system for setting and collecting property taxes. “With the current school funding system, we're going to see more pressure put on the property tax system.” Cory predicted. “We see it not only in East Austin, but throughout the county. It's only going to get worse.”

At its next meeting the Task Force will begin working on its report to the City Council. The group is scheduled to present that report Sept. 26th. At the end of June the Council adopted a 90-day moratorium on new historic zoning cases in East Austin which is set to expire at the end of this month (see In Fact Daily, June 28, 2002).

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

CAMPO PAC meets tonight . . . The transportation group will consider endorsing the Regional Mobility Authority that both Williamson and Travis Counties have requested. The group will also talk about expansion of the PAC’s boundaries since the metro area has grown beyond the current boundaries. They will also hold a public hearing on suggested amendments to the 2002-2004 Transportation Improvement Plan . . . First budget reading . . . The City Council will make changes to City Manager Toby Futrell’s budget beginning at 10 a.m. today, with the arts programs likely to undergo the most dramatic changes. Second reading is scheduled for Tuesday, and if all goes as expected, the Council will not need a third session. No public city meetings are scheduled for Wednesday, 9/11, but if a third budget reading is necessary it will be on Thursday . . . Recycling exposition features EPA official . . . Marianne Horinko, EPA Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, will launch what the agency calls a Resource Conservation Challenge at this morning’s kick-off of the National Recycling Coalition 21st Annual Congress and Exposition. She will challenge Americans to increase our recycling rate by 35 percent and reduce generation of 30 different chemicals by 50 percent. Horinko will address the convention at 10:45 a.m. and hold a press conference following her speech. The event will be held at the Austin Convention Center . . . SOS Alliance hopes to discourage CEOs . . . The Save Our Springs Alliance has sent an email to supporters asking them to help stop the Hill Country Galleria by discouraging anchor retailers from locating there. The environmental group says that without participation of such anchors the mall will not be built. SOSA advises supporters to contact the CEOs of the following stores: Federated Department Stores, Neiman Marcus, Saks Inc. and Lord & Taylor . . . Splash! Exhibit staff begins monthly talks . . . The Splash-into-the-Edwards Aquifer staff will talk about flooding in Texas and at Barton Springs during the first in a monthly series of presentations at 7 p.m. Thursday. The free talks will be presented at the Sheffield Education Center by the historic bathhouse at Barton Springs Pool on the second Thursday of each month. Hydrologist Raymond Slade of the USGS, who monitors stream and river gages across the state, will talk about flooding. Joe Guerrero from the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department will discuss the city’s flood warning system. A Barton Springs pool manager will review the flood procedures at the pool and discuss the consequences of flooding, and an Austin fireman will discuss emergency water rescue training and water rescues he has performed . . . For swimmers . . . The Splash exhibit is also hosting regular Barton Springs swimmers on Saturday from 8-11 a.m. They will share plans and ask for swimmers’ ideas . . . Neighbors meeting with Cap Metro staff . . . Members of the East Cesar Chavez neighborhood will meet tonight to discuss how Capital Metro will design a request for qualifications to plan a light rail corridor in their area. Members of the city’s Smart Housing staff are also expected to attend.

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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