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City to file charges for illegal

Monday, September 30, 2002 by

Demolition of historic house

First court action by city takes owner by surprise

Mark Canada knew he wasn’t going to get a friendly reception from the Historic Landmark Commission (HLC) last week. What he didn’t know was that the city plans to file charges against him for tearing down his house in the historic Clarksville neighborhood.

The city gave Canada a permit in April for a 200-square-foot addition to the rear of his wood frame house on the 1800 block of West Eleventh Street. Canada reported when he started construction in August that the 90-year-old house was in much worse condition than he expected, and he subsequently decided to tear it down. City Historic Preservation Officer Barbara Stocklin moved to “red tag” the demolition after Clarksville residents told her what was happening, but it was too late to save much of the structure.

Stocklin recommended the application for demolition of the wood frame structure be approved, with the condition that city staff pursue enforcement action against the owner for illegal demolition. The enforcement action would be a first for the city, one that the HLC fully supported. Canada expressed shock that he would be charged in court for failing to secure a demolition permit.

“The fact that criminal actions are being brought against me is scary. It makes me very nervous,” Canada said. “If I can’t get any feedback, where can I go for information?”

Canada argued that once he reviewed the house’s structure, he realized it had no foundation. It was a wood frame sitting on cinder blocks. Had inspectors reviewed the house under the current city ordinance, the building would have been condemned, he said.

Canada explained that he had approached eight structural engineers to level the foundation and only one had given him a bid—for $30,000. He had also saved the original wood to incorporate into a new home.

Two walls of the house remained after Canada completed the initial demolition. At that point the HLC gave Canada permission to finish tearing it down and remove the debris.

“I wasn’t planning on tearing the house down. But when I got it, that was pretty much what I had to do,” Canada told commissioners. “I take ownership of (my) actions.”

Canada did not receive any sympathy from HLC members.

“Regardless of your intentions, you tore it down,” Vice Chair Lisa Laky told Canada. “The house is gone, and we’ve lost it. We can’t let this happen anymore.”

The HLC intends to file proceedings against Canada and pursue them to the “fullest extent allowed by law.” Commissioners will also encourage the City Council to adopt measures to penalize those who demolish historic homes. He is scheduled to appear in Municipal Court on Nov. 4. Canada could potentially be penalized $500 per day per violation.

The 800-square-foot wood frame house was not considered a high priority in the Clarksville Historic Resource Survey, completed in March 2000. All the windows in the house had been replaced with metal units, vinyl siding covered the exterior and the wooden porch posts had been replaced by metal ones. Little of the historic fabric of the house had survived.

Canada argued that he would put a house on the lot that would be similar in scope to others in the neighborhood. He was not planning “a Houston townhome monstrosity,” he told commissioners. He expressed ignorance of city guidelines, but insisted he had no intention to “destroy the historic fabric of a neighborhood,” as some of his neighbors alleged.

Canada presented plans for his new domicile to the Clarksville CDC in September: a 2000-square-foot house with an additional 800-square-foot garage apartment.

Commissioner Julia Bunton argued that a house so large would not fit on a lot intended for an 800-square-foot structure and called the plans “out of character” for the neighborhood. Commissioner Jean Mather also disapproved of Canada’s plans, deeming them “inappropriate.”

Low Health Department scores raise concerns

Austin City Council members approved a zoning change in the 4600 block of Teri Road to allow the opening of a La Hacienda Market, despite the objections of residents of Franklin Park. Neighborhood representatives, including members of the Southeast Corner Alliance of Neighborhoods (SCAN), had complained about conditions at other La Hacienda markets and told Council members the area didn’t need another grocery store.

“If a store is not willing to or is not able to adhere to the standards set forth by the health department, then I certainly would not want you to make a decision on that store being in my neighborhood where people I live with would have to purchase food from it,” said Emma Hanna, President of the Franklin Park Neighborhood Association. Hanna said she and other residents had visited other La Hacienda markets and found unsanitary conditions.

Inspections by the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department of the La Hacienda on North Lamar yielded scores below 70, which requires a reinspection after ten days. The store’s deli and meat market scored above 70 on that reinspection. A follow-up inspection requested after the first reading of the case before the Council in August resulted in passing scores in the mid 70s, but neither the store’s deli operation nor its meat market had a certified food manager on staff. Jim Wittliff of Land Answers, representing the owner of La Hacienda, said his client’s employees had taken the test to become certified food managers and were awaiting the results. Wittliff said he had also conducted his own visit to the store, which he said was satisfactory. “In my opinion, I saw a business that was trying hard to provide a community need,” he said. “I just didn’t see stinking, rotting food.” The other existing La Hacienda store on East Riverside had also scored below 70 on its health department inspection in January and likewise passed the required re-inspection.

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman moved to deny the requested zoning change from LO to LR-CO, citing a need for more office zoning in the area. “The South Austin infill study was sort of the beginning of gauging whether we were being over-developed south of Ben White in one particular use,” Goodman said. “There were a few uses . . . retail and multi-family, and that was pretty much it. The effort from most neighborhoods south of Ben White was to try to introduce workplaces into our mix as well.” Goodman also said the neighborhood’s wishes should be respected. “When we started the neighborhood planning effort, it was so that neighborhoods could have a voice in planning the future,” Goodman said. “I think we should give them the opportunity to do that . . . in which case it would be to deny this particular application for zoning.” Goodman’s motion to deny was seconded by Council Member Betty Dunkerley to allow for discussion, but Goodman withdrew her motion when it became obvious that a majority of the Council was in favor of the zoning change.

“It’s been a pretty tough one from the get-go,” said Council Member Raul Alvarez. But he said the site was appropriate for commercial use and defended the health record of the other La Hacienda stores. “When I went there, I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary. I bought some food there, took it home, cooked it and didn’t get sick or anything. I really grappled with this a lot and I do think that these folks will provide a good service and will be good neighbors.” The vote to approve the change was 6-1, with Goodman opposed.

The new zoning includes a conditional overlay limiting the number of vehicle trips per day associated with the site to 2,000 and prohibits use of the property for a service station or off-site accessory parking. Wittliff also told Council members his client would be willing to enter into a restrictive covenant regarding a litter abatement program to prevent trash from the store from invading the surrounding neighborhood.

The Council also approved new zoning on first reading for two tracts in the Williamson Creek watershed. Council Member Daryl Slusher pointed out that the properties, one on William Cannon Drive and the other on Old Bee Caves Road, are in the Barton Springs Recharge Zone. For that reason, he requested staff to draft language to require developers to adopt integrated pest management and use of native plants, as was done in the Stratus Properties agreement. Greg Guernsey, a manager in the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, said staff would work with the property owners to write a restrictive covenant encompassing those requirements. The Old Bee Caves property is changing from RR (rural residential) to CS-CO (commercial services, conditional overlay). The William Cannon property has been zoned SF-3 (single-family residential) and will have GO-CO (general office, conditional overlay).

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

Joke on the Mayor . . . Mayor Gus Garcia took some good-natured ribbing at last week’s Council meeting over a zoning case involving property that will become a public park—named for him. When he seemed not to notice the case as he read the consent agenda, Council Member Will Wynn asked if he was going to recuse himself and the Mayor answered yes. Council Member Daryl Slusher said, “I thought we cut that from the budget,” and Wynn said, “I thought I pulled it.” Laughter followed . . . Our mistake . . . On Friday, early editions of In Fact Daily indicated that the board of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District had not imposed the full penalty on the city of Kyle for its overpumping from the aquifer. That was incorrect. In fact, the board voted to charge the full fee of $130,000. The motion approved by the board says, “The District will apply the portion of the excess pumpage and transport fees that exceed the fees Kyle would have paid if it had been permitted for the full amount actually pumped to partner with users of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer, including Kyle and others, for enhancement of recharge conservation and water resource planning.” Final action on the enforcement order was scheduled for the district’s October 24 meeting . . . Capital Metro budget up today . . . The Board of Directors of Capital Metro will be considering approval of a resolution adopting the annual Operating Budget for the period FY 2003, which begins on Tuesday . . . Included in that budget . . . The board is expected to authorize execution of a contract with Advance Vehicle Systems (AVS) of Tennessee—the sole source for retrofitted hybrid-electric buses—for $960,000 for six buses . . . Open house tonight . . . The East 7th Street Community Corridor Planning Team, the Goodman Corporation and the city will hold an open house at 6pm tonight at Parque Zaragosa Recreation Center, 741 Pedernales, to discuss proposed improvements for East 7th Street. The East 7th Street Corridor Planning Project is the culmination of city efforts to address how commercial corridors fit into Austin’s neighborhoods and lives. This proposal is a pilot project for commercial corridors throughout the city. For more information, contact Meghan Wieters at 974-6456 . . . More City Council appointments . . . Rosemary Castleberry of the Parks and Recreation Board and Chien Lee of the Water & Wastewater Commission were reappointed to the Bond Oversight Committee. Council Member Betty Dunkerley appointed Dazerina McKelvy and Council Member Will Wynn appointed Shannon Butterworth to the city’s Commission on Women. Stanley Main won reappointment to the Commission on Immigrant Affairs. Mayor Gus Garcia reappointed Conrad Masters to the Construction Advisory Committee. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman appointed Angela Tharp Gillen to the Music Commission. Robert Chapa and Toni Inglis were both reappointed by consensus to the MHMR Board of Trustees. William Moore was reappointed to the Impact Fee Advisory Committee. Kathy Hamilton, Kim Percival and Becky Rhone were all reappointed to the Animal Advisory Commission. The Zoning and Platting Commission still lacks a member. Council Member Danny Thomas withdrew an item from last week’s agenda which would have waived the residency requirement for Stacy Dukes Rhone to the commission . . . River foundation to honor six . . . The Colorado River Foundation has announced it will honor the following Texans for their work to preserve and protect the Colorado River: Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs; State Rep. Robby Cook; Tex Robertson, founder of Camp Longhorn; Bay city resident Haskell Simon, who has volunteered “many thousands of hours” to river conservation; Elizabeth Welsh, educator and volunteer for the Austin Youth River Watch Foundation; and the Lake LBJ Fishery Habitat Enhancement Committee, local fishermen who have launched an interagency effort to reestablish native aquatic vegetation at Lake LBJ. All will receive their awards at a celebration on Nov. 13. For tickets or more information, call 458-8844.

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

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