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Value of 1930s housing stock at issue

Wednesday, April 30, 2003 by

The Historic Landmark Commission’s vote on a North University duplex last night could reflect a new direction for the advisory group.

In a split vote, commissioners deemed the duplex at 303 East 38th Street to be historic, following the initial recommendation of Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky and over the objection of potential owners Paul and Susan Glover. The vote was split 6-2, with Commissioners Patti Hall and David West objecting and Julia Bunton abstaining. Commissioner Frank Ivy was absent from the meeting.

The craftsman-style bungalow, a rental property for the most part since it was constructed in the early ‘20s, was neither built nor owned by anyone prominent in Austin. Neither has the architectural integrity of the property been especially well preserved. Civic leaders from North University, Hyde Park and Hancock argued that the house was integral to the fabric of the historic neighborhoods and supported the character and ambience of Central Austin.

“What happens in North University affects Hyde Park, affects Hancock, affects Eastwood,” said historic preservationist Terrie Myers. “When we lose properties like this one on 38th Street, it affects our entire neighborhood composition. Please consider that all of the properties in this block face are intact architecturally, which is an incredible feat for 38th Street. Please consider historic zoning for all of our neighborhoods.”

The issue of super-duplexes loomed in the back of the conversation, even though the Glovers insisted that no such structure would be built on the property. While some neighbors stressed the historic aspects of the duplex, zoning remained the fundamental issue—and was clearly reflected by the abundance of “Save S F –3” stickers worn by audience members.

Rick Iverson, president of the North University Neighborhood Association, pointed out that NUNA had already done its share of urban infill in managing the third most-densely populated neighborhood in the city. And the NUNA neighborhood plan, he noted, has set aside Hemphill east of Guadalupe and 30th Street as target locations for additional student housing.

Homeowner Bryan Beard argued that taking down homes such as the duplex at 303 East 38th only detracted from the look and feel of the neighborhood. If such erosion were to continue, homeowners would stop putting money into preserving their homes and residents would turn around 10 years from now and wonder what happened, he said.

The Glovers did their best to lay out a careful case for putting a new house on the property, saying the property had no current historic value, nor had any in the city’s 1984 historic survey. Susan Glover stated that they had no plans to build a super-duplex on the property. Instead, the couple intended to put a 2,000-square-foot rental house on the land, which eventually could provide the couple with some kind of retirement income.

Rehabilitating the property—leveling the foundation, replacing the plumbing, repairing the termite damage—will cost about $175,000, Glover said. Such basic repairs do not even include the replacement of appliances. Glover said the alternative of a new house in keeping with the character of the neighborhood would be far more reasonable and cost-efficient.

Neighborhood arguments to protect the integrity of the neighborhood won over the majority of commissioners, however. Commissioner Jean Mather, who made the motion, said she lived in a frame home that required constant upkeep and that it was worth every penny.

“My real concern is for the neighborhood,” Mather said. “Just because this house is small doesn’t mean it’s insignificant.”

Commissioners cited a variety of criteria to back up their choices, but Hall argued that she could not support the vote because it set a precedent.

“I personally don’t think this fits all the criteria for historic zoning,” Hall said. “This should not be used to keep the neighborhood integrity together.”

Those are powers that should be sought from the City Council, Hall said. West agreed with Hall’s assessment, saying the vote was really an issue of neighborhood planning “more than any specific property being worthy of designation.”

Commissioner Jim Fowler said he could respect Hall and West’s point but still sided with the majority, saying it would be easier to preserve the house now than to have to explain later why 1930s housing stock is no longer in the neighborhood.

“Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” Fowler said.

Commissioners also voted to initiate historic zoning on the house next door at 305 East 38th Street. Owner David Rodewald, recognizing such strong opposition, offered a only brief argument to explain his desire to move the house from the property. Rodewald wants to replace the 1,400-square-foot duplex with a larger house.

Sadowsky supported the relocation permit. Commissioners, however, moved to initiate the historic zoning process on the house. Hall made the motion, saying she supported giving every house a chance for a hearing to evaluate its historic merit.

City wants protection of aquifer while county wants new roads

Discussion of the interlocal agreement between the city and Travis County, mandated by HB 1445, is beginning to sound like the long-simmering dispute over the county’s landfill ordinance. The bill was the brainchild of developers who were frustrated by differing subdivision regulations between the city’s ETJ and the county.

City and county leaders continue in good faith to iron out a compromise on a common ordinance, but certain areas remain problematic. With landfills, it was the issue of expansion; with a common subdivision ordinance, it’s roadway construction.

Joe Gieselman, executive director of the Transportation and Natural Resources Department told commissioners at yesterday’s court meeting that the two sides are “within striking distance” on most points in the ordinance.

Gieselman also said that a City Council resolution last week led him to believe that the city and county were further apart on roads than he had previously thought. As a result, county commissioners agreed to sign off on everything in the plan but roads. However, the section addressing roadways includes accommodation of bicycles and protection of the Drinking Water Protection Zone.

Gieselman said he simply could not offer a recommendation on that portion of the subdivision ordinance. City water quality requirements on some roads—possibly as many as 50 roads, according to one city staff member at yesterday’s meeting—could be a significant burden on county taxpayers.

“I’m not prepared to tell you what the next step should be,” Gieselman said. “We’re still reconciling the plans, and the roads will be the biggest bulk of the work.”

At times it appeared the two sides had very different priorities. The city wants to protect water quality over the Edwards Aquifer. The county wants to address congestion and growth. County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, the lone Republican on the County Commissioners Court, revealed the disparity when he addressed Council Member Daryl Slusher, who came to share the city’s views yesterday.

”Mobility and transportation were the No. 1 issue when I got elected. I know that,” Daugherty said. “Unfortunately, I probably couldn’t get elected in the central city and you probably couldn’t get elected in Precinct 3 . . . We do have a matter of places of where we are probably not going to meet.”

Daugherty said he was frightened by the thought that high-dollar transportation projects, like the southern leg of State Highway 45, might not be completed despite overwhelming need and voter approval. Too often, Daugherty said, it seems like people are trying to find the best reasons not to connect roads or address traffic problems.

“I don’t think you’re going to get me comfortable,” Daugherty said. “That is the reason why I am so fervent on this issue, why I want the flexibility.”

Daugherty wants to see the southwest leg of State Highway 45 from Interstate 35 to FM 1626 completed. Slusher, on the other hand, considers the vote on the SOS ordinance to be a mandate from Austin voters to do everything possible to protect water quality, even if it means taking a second look at some road projects.

Asked by County Judge Sam Biscoe how he thought the conflict between the CAMPO road plan and the Austin Metropolitan Area Transportation Plan should be addressed, Slusher said the city and county should negotiate some resolution and take it to the full CAMPO board for consideration. The combined city-county coalition is seven of 21 votes on the board.

Slusher did not appear willing to roll back water quality protections already crafted by the City Council and approved by Austin voters. He added that 70 percent of the county’s voters are Austin residents. Slusher said he considers the priority of water quality to be a mandate from the voters at large in Travis County, rather than a set of stringent requirements the city was imposing on the county.

Even as the two sides hammer out an agreement under House Bill 1445, new legislation is passing through the Legislature this session. Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) is expected to file a substitute to Senate Bill 544 this week, one that could be somewhat different from House Bill 1204, filed by Rep. Todd Baxter (R-Austin). Baxter’s bill has already passed the House.

While the county is still waiting to see the substitute, one aspect of the bill unlikely to change is the requirement that the county negotiate with every city in its extra-territorial jurisdiction, said Assistant County Attorney Tom Nuckols. County officials had hoped for some compromise—possibly a requirement to only negotiate a subdivision ordinance with larger cities in the county—but the state homebuilders association opposed that amendment..

Goodman would prefer task force look at rules

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman joined Council Member Will Wynn yesterday in announcing her opposition to the new anti-smoking ordinance. Goodman said, “In my opinion this goes beyond the legitimate protections for the health of others, especially children in truly public places, and enters the realm of private business and marketing decisions.” Goodman indicated that she would be open to creation of a task force to look at whether certain loopholes in the current ordinance should be closed. Council Member Betty Dunkerley told In Fact Daily she was not comfortable with the current proposal either. Wynn said Monday he would consider calling a public referendum on the ordinance if there were strong community support for it. Dunkerley said she too would support putting such a measure on the ballot.

Council Member Daryl Slusher said he would consider exempting bingo and billiard halls. Aides to Council Members Danny Thomas and Raul Alvarez indicated that they have not reached a decision. Sandra Frazier, assistant to Thomas, noted that the office had received a great number of emails opposing the changes, many of them from fraternal organizations and those who depend on bingo hall proceeds to run their charities. Alvarez’ assistant Veronica Briseño said she believes her boss would be amenable to some changes in the ordinance. However, the Tobacco-Free Austin Coalition released a survey showing that “62 percent of Austin residents support eliminating second-hand smoke in enclosed public spaces and worksites, including restaurants, bars and music venues.” The ordinance, brought forward by Mayor Gus Garcia, would prohibit smoking in both indoor and outdoor venues.

Early Voting numbers are in . . . Early voting ended yesterday in races for the City Council and the ACC proposals. Travis County reported that the total number of ballots cast was 22,152 or 4.73 percent of registered voters. Polling places with highest turnout were Northcross Mall 2,723; Barton Creek Mall 1,670; Randall's on Research 1,469; Randall's on S. MoPac 1,431; UT 1,205; HEB on S. Congress 1,192; and the ACC Rio Grande Campus 1,051 . . . No report from Tuesday meetings . . . Neither the Zoning and Platting Commission nor any other commission met last night . . . Campaign trail . . . Mayoral candidate Marc Katz has said on several occasions that he would eliminate the city’s lobby team at the Legislature and take over the task himself. Yesterday Katz appeared on KLBJ-590 with talk show host Jeff Ward . A caller to the program asked him if he could name any local state representatives. Katz replied, “No, I can’t.” Host Ward then asked Katz what he would be lobbying for. Katz said, “That’s the other question I’m trying to figure out. But if we need lobbyists, and the city fathers tell us we do, I can talk and sell and visit with people as well as anybody can.” Mark Nathan, Will Wynn’s campaign manager, opined, “It doesn’t surprise me that Marc Katz doesn’t know who his state legislators are—he certainly never voted for any of them.” Nathan concluded, “I gotta tell ya, Katz’ mayoral campaign is looking more and more every day like an advertising campaign for Katz’ Deli ” . . . NOKOA endorsements . . . Akwasi Evans, editor of the weekly NOKOA the Observer, said his newspaper is endorsing Brewster McCracken in Place 5, Raul Alvarez in Place 2 and Danny Thomas in Place 6. Evans said none of the mayoral candidates appeal to his readership. “We think McCracken is the best candidate,” he said. “Thomas is on a mission from God. Alvarez will be improving his links to the community. We need to find candidates who support workers and citizens of all cultures” . . . Holes in his shoes . . . Brewster McCracken knocked on the door of Mrs. Pic Rivers yesterday afternoon, reaching the campaign’s goal of personally contacting 10,000 Austin households . . . National Kidney Foundation sponsoring 5K Kidney Walk . . . The National Kidney Foundation will sponsor a 5K walk from 9:00am to noon Sunday at Old Settlers Park, 2800 E. Palm Valley Blvd., Round Rock. The non-competitive event is designed to bring in donations for people afflicted with kidney disease and raise public awareness. For more information, call 326-9695 . . . Vote, then wash the dog . . . Come join the Austin Humane Society and Whole Foods Market at the second annual “Barks and Bubbles” dog wash at Whole Foods Market at 6th and Lamar Saturday, from 10am to 4pm. The event is co-sponsored by Whole Foods Market, 101X, 107.1 KGSR and Natural Life Pet Products . . . Jenkins to lead Chamber entrepreneurs . . . Bobby Jenkins, president of ABC Pest & Lawn Services, has agreed to be in charge of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce new Entrepreneurs Small Business Council, which is being formed to assist smaller businesses. These companies make up 80 percent of the chamber’s membership. Jenkins represented the chamber on the small business community created by the city as part of its new economic development initiative . . . Sustainable growth conference . . . The Greater Austin-San Antonio Corridor Council will hold the next Regional Issues-Local Solutions Conference on Friday. The conference, which will focus on sustainable economic growth to benefit the region as a whole, will be held at the Strahan Coliseum in San Marcos. Mark Yudof, Chancellor of the University of Texas System, is scheduled to speak, as are three other area university presidents, about how higher education in the region can help to sustain economic prosperity. Other scheduled speakers for the event include San Antonio businessman Red McCombs; Carl Guardino, president of the Silicon Valley Manufacturers Group; Senators Jeff Wentworth and Gonzalo Barrientos ; Corridor Council Chairman and Austin Council Member Will Wynn; and Ed Garza, the mayor of San Antonio, among many others. For more information, visit www.thecorridor.org or call 512-245-2535.

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