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Purchaser plans to replace Victorian house with condos

Thursday, November 21, 2002 by

The Zoning and Platting Commission this week responded to the impassioned pleas of the historic Fairview Park Neighborhood by recommending that a circa 1890 residence be saved from demolition by historic zoning. The outcome was not clear until the end of the discussion, which was lively.

Historic Preservation Office spokesman Steve Sadowsky said the Moore-Williams House at 1312 Newning garnered the unanimous support of the Historic Landmark Commission for historic designation. The property, which is currently zoned MF-3, is being sold to a purchaser who wants to turn the property into condominiums. Sadowsky said the house was the early home of the JHW Williams, superintendent of the nearby Texas School for the Deaf between 1907 and 1910. “The house is very important for the context of the neighborhood and the cohesiveness of the neighborhood,” which is working toward a place on the National Registry of Historic Districts, Sadowsky said. Fairview Park is adjacent to the Travis Heights Neighborhood between South Congress and Travis Heights Blvd.

Sadowsky admitted that rehabilitation could be quite expensive, but pointed out that “historic zoning does not necessarily trigger rehabilitation,” but urged the commission to remember that “demolition is forever.”

Most of the commissioners made comments indicating they had visited the property and found it to be somewhat dilapidated. Commissioner Melissa Whaley wanted to know when the third story addition was added and Commissioner Keith Jackson said, “The owner says to restore it would cost several hundred thousand dollars . . . (and the) market value is less than the restoration value . . . Given the condition that this stays unrepaired, and then at some point it falls in on itself—what have we done?”

Sadowsky and some neighbors countered that the house is currently occupied and the renters who live there say they are happy in the old house. “Preservation allows it to remain standing,” he said.

Commissioner Diana Casteñada said she had visited the property and “It really looks bad . . . You can see where the stucco has just deteriorated and would make me think that water is leaking into the building . . . it doesn’t look like any of the other houses.”

Clarke Hammond, president of the South River City Citizens and a Fairview Park resident, told commissioners, “I am here tonight to plead with you to ratify the unanimous vote of the landmark commission to save this house and zone it historic . . . we are a neighborhood of historic homes,” he said, pointing out that the yearly tour of historic homes presented by the Austin Heritage Society featured Fairview Park just two years ago. “The home was built before there was a bridge across the Colorado River,” he said and is one of the area’s oldest. “People move to our neighborhood to restore homes, not to destroy homes,” he said, adding that although the house is “not in great condition, there have been people living in that home for a century. Neighborhood residents buy the historic Fairview Park homes and then spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore them.”

Hammond expressed bitterness against the current owner, Ray Bier, who has not only allowed the house to deteriorate, he said, but has also allowed his Live Oak trees to die, refusing to allow trenching in his yard to prevent the spread of the disease that killed them. Even though restoration could cost $200,000 to $400,000, the owner would then have a million-dollar property, Hammond said. Other neighbors, some of whom have spent even more to restore their properties, echoed his sentiments. One walked through the numbers, showing that even if the renovation cost $600,000, the profit would still exceed $400,000.

The property sits on the middle lot of three, all of which could be zoned historic. Sadowsky said an alternate recommendation would be to zone from twenty feet behind the house out to the street on only the lot holding the house. The other two lots would then be free for development.

John Joseph Jr., representing purchaser Leslie Perry, said when he met with neighbors they did not talk about saving the house, but only about ensuring setbacks, low density and preservation of trees. He said his client has the property under contract and has already invested a significant amount of money to develop it. He suggested that the money spent for renovation for the historic house would be better spent to build “a period looking or historic-looking condo . . . I don’t think anyone should be precluded from living in the neighborhood because they don’t have half a million dollars to invest.”

Chair Betty Baker said the staff report recommending historic zoning was “based on an assumption that this would be economically feasible,” but she questioned whether that was the case. She noted that “one of the reasons we have the tax exemption (for historic structures) is because the courts have determined that it serves a public purpose.”

Commissioner Janis Pinnelli countered, “It is economically feasible to restore houses—otherwise, I wouldn’t be in that business.”

Baker said she appreciated the challenge and Pinnelli responded, “I can see there is potential in this house. It has withstood the test of time.”

Commissioner Joseph Martinez moved for the alternate staff recommendation, which zones only the house and its lot historic. Pinnelli seconded and the motion carried unanimously. Castañeda said she was feeling ill and departed before the vote.

Garcia, Dunkerley want 4-4-1 split for governing board

The city-county steering committee considering a hospital district presented its work to the City Council yesterday, and it was clear the city wants to dominate representation on the proposed governance board.

Wednesday’s discussion was much briefer than Tuesday’s presentation to the Commissioners Court. Chair Clarke Heidrick outlined the goals and purposes of the Healthcare Options Working Group and briefly discussed the possible composition of the appointed board, based on proportional representation from the participating political entities.

The governance board could be up to 15 members if the three outlying counties decided to join the proposed hospital district. If only Austin and Travis County are involved when the district is launched, the board would be nine members, to be split between the two.

Mayor Gus Garcia was quick to say he would support a 4-4-1 split of the board if the county agrees to select two representatives who live within Austin’s city limits. In that configuration, the city and county would each appoint four members and the ninth member would be a consensus choice of the two.

Council Member Betty Dunkerley, who sits on the steering committee, said she agreed with Garcia’s recommendation. Members of the two governing bodies need to hammer out an agreement in the next week so the legislation can be filed, Heidrick said. The steering committee is proposing a hybrid of current legislation on the books to create the Central Texas Hospital District.

Lowell Lebermann, who serves as vice chair of the committee, called the state of local health care “yesterday’s problem that we are trying to meet with today’s efforts.” Lebermann served as a Council member from 1971 to 1977, when the issue of counties pitching in to help fund Brackenridge Hospital first emerged.

“I was sent out at one point by the Council to deal with some crusty county judges, asking them to participate in the funding of Brackenridge,” Lebermann said, describing his pitch as an impetuous 31-year-old Council member. “I got sent packing right away back to Austin, Texas, without any encouragement.”

That is changing, said Lebermann. He expressed hope that the five counties of Central Texas could band together to address health care as a region. Austin has simply outgrown its facilities and its medical base, he said.

“We need to solve these problems before we have a major accident on our roads or, God forbid, at our airport,” Lebermann said. “We simply would not be able to confront that.”

Members of the steering committee include County Judge Sam Biscoe and Mayor Garcia, as well as health care attorneys, local hospital system leaders and major service providers. The working group has been broken into five subcommittees:

• The Community Education Subcommittee, chaired by Ed Adams and Susan Dawson, will assess the attitudes and receptiveness of Central Texas residents to a hospital district and develop a campaign to win voter approval.

• The Finance Subcommittee, chaired by Gary Valdez, will analyze the current dollar amount spent on health care and develop cost estimates for hospital district services.

• The Governance and Administrative Subcommittee, chaired by Rafael Quintanilla, will develop a governance structure to provide fair representation and appropriate budget input from each jurisdiction

• The Healthcare Subcommittee, chaired by Lew Little and Anne Dunkelberg, will address the shape and structure of the hospital district and its services.

• The Legal and Legislative Subcommittee, chaired by David Hilgers, has been charged with writing comprehensive legislation flexible enough to allow the hospital district to expand with integrated services and multi-county participation.

The hope is that the legislation would be passed during the 2003 session. Given that approval, supporters would file a petition on the matter by next August and the decision would go before voters next November with an appointed board of directors already in place..

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

SOS sues Dripping Springs . . . The Save Our Springs Alliance has filed suit against Dripping Springs for entering into development agreements with Cypress Realty and MAK Foster, in alleged violation of the Texas Constitution and the Texas Open Meetings Act. The lawsuit, filed in Hays County, contends that the City of Austin has an interlocal agreement with Dripping Springs giving the larger entity broad powers over development in Dripping Springs’ ETJ. Since Austin has not challenged Dripping Springs’ actions with regard to the two developers, SOS is seeking to enforce that agreement, according to Brad Rockwell, attorney for the Alliance. The lawsuit is similar to one filed three weeks ago by the Friendship Alliance . . . Goodman at housing retreat . . . Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, chair of the Council subcommittee on housing, will miss today’s Council meeting since she is participating in a retreat on the future of housing. Also attending the retreat, which is being held in Santa Fe, NM, is State Rep. Elliott Naishtat, chair of the House Human Services Committee, members of the staff and board of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs and invited housing experts from around the state . . . Dunkerley speaking this morning . . . For those who rise early and want to hear a really enthusiastic Council member talk about how to ensure Austin’s economic health, Betty Dunkerley will be addressing the Downtown Austin Alliance at 8am this morning. Dunkerley will discuss Austin’s strengths and describe what she hopes the city’s role will be in leveraging those strengths into new economic development. She will talk about the 90-day action plan outlined to the City Council yesterday . . . Birdwatchers alert . . . René Celis, director of protected areas for the Tamaulipas Wildlife Commission, will meet with members of local Audubon Society at 7:30pm tonight at the Highland Park Baptist Church, 5206 Balcones Dr. Celis will be discussing the commission’s work at the El Cielo Biosphere Reserve and other birdwatching areas in Tamaulipas. Members who have visited El Cielo are especially urged to attend and help guide bird conservation in this rich birding area . . . More from Zoning and Platting Commission . . . The owners of a 22-acre tract at the intersection of FM 620 and Anderson Mill Road in Northwest Austin won the support of the Zoning and Platting Commission this week for a zoning change. Part of the vacant tract is zoned SF-2, with the rest classified as DR (development reserve). The owners want to develop the site with a mixture of retail uses, while residents of the nearby Oak Deer Park Neighborhood are worried about its potential impact on traffic. The motion approved by commissioners calls for restricting uses on part of the tract to those allowed under the LR zoning category.

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

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