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ZAP slows down rush to historic zoning

Monday, November 24, 2003 by

Some expensive homes will wait until next year to gain 'H' designation

The owners of five Austin homes will have to wait until next year to find out if their properties can be zoned historic—and in the meantime, their chance for a tax abatement for next year has almost slipped away. Without a historic designation from the City Council before January 1, owners of the houses, dating from the 1920s and earlier, will pay whatever tax bills come due in 2004. Last week, the Zoning and Platting Commission postponed consideration of the five unrelated cases until early January. ZAP had postponed consideration of three of the cases when they first came up on September 9.

Steve Sadowsky, the city’s historic preservation officer, determined that each of the homes meets enough criteria to qualify for the historic designation and placed them on the ZAP agenda as consent items. The Historic Landmark Commission had already signed off on the cases. There was a suggestion that one of the cases be postponed until the first meeting in December.

But Commissioner Keith Jackson requested that all of the historic cases be delayed until January 6. That six-week interval, he said, would give the Historic Preservation Task Force time for more progress. While the group is not due to make its report to the City Council until March, he said, “In the next month or so we’ll have discussed in some detail and have some better direction on where we think it’s going to go.” Jackson serves on the task force along with ZAP Chair Betty Baker and Commissioners Joseph Martinez and John Donisi. Former City Attorney Jerry Harris and former HLC Commissioners Jim Christianson and Tere O’Connell are also on the task force.

Baker called for a vote and the Commission voted unanimously in favor of the postponement before Sadowsky could reach the podium to note for the record that he was opposed to the delay.

The task force has not yet discussed the most controversial subject on its agenda: how much, if any, tax abatement should the owners of a historic building receive. Council Member Betty Dunkerley suggested creation of the task force in response to the number of properties being proposed for historic preservation. Under current regulations, owners pay no property tax on historic buildings and only 50 percent on the land on which they sit.

Houses awaiting a hearing

Under that formula, the owner of the Violet Crown at 1504 West Lynn, which is appraised at slightly more than $1 million, would receive an annual abatement of $14,377. The house undoubtedly is historic. Built in 1925, the house was sponsored by the American-Statesman as an “ideal home.” According to the description provided by city staff, the Violet Crown was constructed “to show better ways to plan and build houses, and the progress of construction and decoration was noted regularly in the paper . . . (The house) exemplified the ideas of suburban development in the 1920s. Set in a spacious yard, the Tudor Revival style of the house evokes picturesque images of an English country cottage.” The home is part of the Old West Austin National Register Historic District.

The R.L. White House, at 1503 Lorrain, is in the same historic register district as the Violet Crown. It was the home of architect R.L. White and was built in the 1920s with the Craftsman-style design. The property is appraised at $475,656 and the tax abatement would be $5,656 if the owners continue to occupy it.

The Brunson House in South Austin’s Fairview Park Neighborhood Conservation Combining District was built by the Calcasieu Lumber Company around 1917. The home is in excellent condition and was the home of Newt Brunson, who owned a local appliance store for nearly 20 years. Appraised at nearly $300,000, the home would qualify for an abatement of $4,534 under current regulations.

Lucille Fisher, ex-wife of Pemberton Heights developer Samuel Fisher, was the first occupant of a home at 1505 Wooldridge Drive. The home was built in 1928 after she and the developer divorced. Like several others, the Fisher house is part of the Old West Austin National Register Historic District. It is “an excellent example of the Spanish Colonial Revival style” and meets six historic criteria, according to the staff report. The home is appraised at more than $1 million and could give its owner-occupants a tax break of $14,600 if approved under the current rules.

A fifth home, at 2200 Windsor, is appraised at $1,177,436. The Adams House, which faces Pease Park, was built around 1928 and later purchased by Frederick and Mattie Adams. Adams was the son of the Adams extract inventor, John Adams. The son purchased his father’s business, which he expanded, marketing it through major grocery chains. Adams was a well-known philanthropist and Mattie Adams was one of the founders of the Women’s Symphony League. The tax abatement is estimated to be more than $16,500 if the home is owner-occupied.

Given the current tax rate, the total abatement for the five homes would be nearly $56,000. That amount will undoubtedly rise as real estate prices climb.

Sadowsky said after the meeting that he thought the ZAP decision had been unfair, as did Julie Hooper, a member of the Historic Landmark Commission who attended the meeting. Morgan pointed out that historic landmark cases are still moving through the Planning Commission at the normal pace. She said she thought that the Zoning and Platting Commission should not be holding cases since the Council did not enact a moratorium on historic zoning.

Baker said the three cases were postponed in September because the task force had not yet been appointed. Now, four members of ZAP are serving on the task force and they feel the Council has given them the job of studying the situation and making recommendations. Even though the task force has only one meeting scheduled for December, she said, by then “we’re going to have some awfully good ideas what direction that task force is going.” As for the Planning Commission’s actions, Baker said, “That’s the decision and the wisdom of the Planning Commission.”

Last week, the City Council unanimously approved on second and third reading several changes to city ordinances regarding off-street parking and loading and bicycle parking. The changes are part of a series of code amendments proposed by the Mayor’s Task Force on the Economy to help small businesses and standardize parking requirements to permit more flexibility in parking.

Most of the new requirements are intended to reducing “triggers” during the land development process that require businesses to provide additional parking after making small changes in property use. Often, adding or subtracting spaces raises issues such as stormwater retention, water quality and setbacks, which can then affect zoning applications, site plan development and other processes.

The new requirements will help small businesses by consolidating parking requirements for similar uses; the number of parking ratio categories was reduced from 55 to 31. Included in the changes is an “urban core parking overlay” that allows a 20 percent reduction in parking spaces for all zoning categories except central business district/downtown multiple use (CBD/DMU). This reduction doesn’t apply to businesses that already benefit from reductions as a result of variances from the board of adjustment, shared parking or neighborhood infill. The Planning Commission supported the staff’s recommendation for the overlay.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved

Eighty-four wings, but no crown . . . Film producer and Council aide Matt Curtis said the former King of Wings Nathan Caperton last night failed to beat the previous record of 163 wings. But Curtis, who along with political consultant Mark Nathan and mayoral assistant Richard Arellano is making a documentary about the event, promised a hysterically funny documentary from the occasion. Caperton ate only 84 wings, Curtis said, but noted that Caperton had lost about 150 pounds—he was previously about 380 pounds. Curtis and company will be on radio this morning at Mix 94.7 with J.B. and Sandy. The producers are shooting for screenings in late January . . . Annual SBCA meeting tonight. . . The Save Barton Creek Association’ s annual board meeting and awards banquet is scheduled for tonight from 6:30 to 9:30pm at the Splash! Exhibit at Barton Springs Pool. The public is invited to join the board and general membership. Contributions are welcome . . . Pollution reporting made easier . . . The Lower Colorado River Authority has revamped its web site to make pollution reporting easier. The LCRA’s home page,, contains a link to the form for filing a water quality complaint. The LCRA encourages people to report water pollution problems or any activity that looks like it may have the potential of impacting water quality. The public may also call the agency’s pollution complaint hotline at 1-800-776-5272, Ext. 6843. In cases when pollution control and permitting are handled by another regulatory agency, such as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the LCRA can coordinate reporting and tracking the issue until it is resolved. “Water quality is everybody’s business. We encourage residents and visitors to take an active role in helping maintain the high quality of the water in the Colorado River basin and the Highland Lakes,” said Lisa Hatzenbuehler, LCRA manager of Water Resource Protection . . . Small Business Administration holding seminar . . . The US Small Business Administration is joining with the city’s Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office and Texas State University to present a two-hour seminar from noon to 2pm Tuesday at 4100 Ed Bluestein Blvd. The purpose of the briefing is to inform potential applicants about the various SBA loan programs available to small businesses and about the resources available through the city’s Small Business Development Program. Attendees may bring a sack lunch if they wish . . . Almost Thanksgiving . . . Very few meetings will be reported this week, but that’s not because we aren’t out beating the bushes. We will observe the Thanksgiving holiday along with the City of Austin and federal and state employees.

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