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Council sides with owner against historic zoning

Monday, August 8, 2005 by

Pemberton Heights house not associated with historically significant person

The Austin City Council has rejected by a 6-1 vote historic zoning for the Ikins-O’Connell-Messer House at 2608 McCallum Drive, a case that caused some on the Council to call for a review of how the Historic Zoning Ordinance is being applied.

Because the owner filed a valid petition against the zoning change, six votes were needed to zone the house historic. The home was built in the 1930’s for W. Clyde Ikins, a geology student at UT, and later owned by Milton Messer, owner of the Modern Supply Company.

It was the recommendation of the city staff and the Historic Landmark Commission that the home be designated historic. However, the Zoning and Platting Commission had a contrary recommendation, and the owner had opposed the change. The case had been triggered when the owner’s request for a demolition permit.

Attorney Steve Drenner, who represented the homeowner, told the Council that the previous occupants were not necessarily historic figures for the city of Austin and that the home itself was not architecturally distinct.

“I thought I knew when we started what would constitute a qualified house for historic zoning. My assumption was that what we were really looking for was the best of the best from an architectural standard and for some tie to a very significant historic person who either built it, designed it, or lived in it for a period of time,” he said. “I was surprised when staff supported historic zoning for this house, because to me it doesn't come anywhere close.”

Drenner pointed to the ZAP’s recommendation against historic zoning, saying that “I think they came to the same conclusion that I came to, that is, if you find that this house meets that standard, then you are setting a dangerous precedent, because then so many houses will meet that standard.”

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky said the original occupant of the house, Clyde Ikins, had discovered dinosaur remains in Central Texas while at UT and had gone on to have a noteworthy career. Milton Messer, Sadowsky said, had owned the welding shop responsible for the metal work in some of the biggest structures in the area, and had been a craftsman and artist responsible for plaques and markers on some government buildings. “You really have to make the conclusion that a good career equals being an historic figure,” countered Drenner. “If that's the standard, how would you say 'no' to the steady stream of folks who will stand up here in weeks to come to say ‘I'd like historic zoning on my house, and I'd like the tax benefits that go with it’,” he said.

Other neighbors of the home and architectural professionals joined Drenner in opposing the historic zoning. “What little architectural attributes that were there from the original construction are gone, and at some point someone made the decision to cover it all up with aluminum (siding),” said architect Peter Dick, who said the home did not have the distinctive style necessary for a historic landmark. “It came out of a pattern book, a builder chose the parts that he thought would work and he put them together.”

Several members of the Pemberton Heights Neighborhood Association argued in favor the historic zoning, urging the Council to protect the home located within a National Register Historic District. “This house is a unique example of architectural and cultural merit that deserves landmark status,” said John Mayfield. “As a landmark House, the Messer House will preserve the integrity of the national register district in contrast to new construction at this site. For the cohesiveness of the landmark historic district, there have to be landmarks dispersed throughout the district.”

“The Ikins-O'Connell-Messer house is a primary quality of the neighborhood,” agreed Charles Johanson, who helped to establish the neighborhood association. “You have individual rights versus collective rights. The collective rights and the preservation of the neighborhood should override…those of an individual.”

But in this case, the Council sided with the homeowner. “When I think of historic structures…even on the residential side, I think of things like the Pease Mansion, the Elizabet Ney Museum…houses that are truly significant that reach a level of either architectural excellence or historical excellence in some way that they deserve to have that special designation in some way and get a very special tax break that the rest of the city supports,” said Council Member Betty Dunkerley. “That’s where I’m having trouble reaching that point on this particular house.”

Dunkerley found support from Council Member Brewster McCracken, who said he liked the proposal for new construction on the site. “We have to have a very high standard for zoning to work against the owner’s wishes. I don’t think that this house rises to that level,” he said. “This Council has been very concerned about the ‘McMansions’ that are in our really historic neighborhoods. To me, it’s very clear after tonight’s presentation that this is not a ’McMansion’-type situation. I might have voted differently if it were.”

The Council voted 6-1 to deny historic zoning, with only Council Member Raul Alvarez opposed to the motion. Dunkerley also said she would be bringing a resolution forward at the next Council meeting on August 18 to revive the task force which worked on the city’s Historic Preservation Ordinance. “I would like them…to review what they did and how we’re applying it,” she said, “and secondly, to work on the local historic districts and make sure that we can get that process up and going as quickly as possible.” Dunkerley is also seeking some outreach to older neighborhoods regarding the other tools at their disposal, such as Neighborhood Conservation Combining Districts, that can be used to protect the integrity of a neighborhood.

Groups back open space plan at bond hearing

A large contingent of those who support the open space proposal – a possible $60 million amendment on the upcoming Travis County Bond Election ballot – showed up at a bond advisory committee hearing Thursday night in Southwest Travis County.

While the county proposes that the main portion of the bond issue—some $100 million for roads, drainage and infrastructure—be revenue neutral and paid for by general revenue funds, the open space proposal would by funded by a one-cent increase in the county tax rate. The $60 million generated by that would be earmarked for Travis County Commissioners to purchase unspecified open space for the purpose of preservation.

Those who support the open space proposal encompass a broad cross-section of similar, but varying groups, including the SOS Alliance, the Sierra Club, the Trust for Public Land, the Hill County Alliance, and those who participated in the Southwest Travis County Dialogue. As Colin Clark of SOS pointed out, the Southwest Travis County Dialogue’s report recommended 6,000 acres of open land be preserved in Southwest Travis County alone.

“Clearly there’s a need in the community,” said Clark, adding that the need crosses all precinct lines. “The Trust for Public Land, which spoke earlier, conducted a survey that showed very strong support for a ballot initiative on open space. If you put it on the ballot, there’s a good chance you could get it approved.”

Former County Commissioner Valerie Bristol spoke firmly in favor of the open space proposal, talking about the possible purchase of Pogue Hollow. Roads and drainage and the jail are important, Bristol said, but the open space option made it a full package.

Dick Kallerman of the Sierra Club said committee members should look at the bottom line. An open space initiative raises the value of land around it, he said, and the county could return to create a possible future development plan, eventually selling the land to developers with conservation or development easements.

“We might very likely get our money back in the future,” Kallerman said. “You should be looking at it as a good solid financial investment.”

Others spoke to the heritage of the area, the beauty of the Pedernales River and the success of Reimer’s Park. The only real disagreement was among some speakers who supported the expansion of Hamilton Pool Road and those who opposed the expansion of the roadways out to Reimer’s Park. Hamilton Pool Road is on the list of projects. Many participants in the Southwest Dialogue were opposed to the road’s expansion.Committee member Leslie Pool said the improvements are to upgrade safety for bicyclists, not to increase vehicle capacity.

Wednesday night’s hearing was a bit more contentious, a room full of people in Precinct 1 who wanted to testify on the viability of Arterial A. Arterial A would be a north-south corridor from Parmer Lane to US 290 in a high-growth corridor. Speakers were split on the proposal because of the possible relocation of a local landfill. The Walnut Place Neighborhood Association wants the corridor; those neighborhoods who might be the future neighbor of a new landfill were opposed to the project..

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Storm Ranch agreement reached. . . The Hill Country Conservancy finalized a land preservation agreement last week with the “closing” of Phase I (2,280 acres) of the Storm Ranch in northern Hays County. Located between Dripping Springs and Wimberley, the 5,670-acre working cattle ranch with ancient rock fences separating pastures of native grasses, live oaks and numerous creeks and streams will now be preserved through a conservation easement. The project has taken nearly four years to complete. HCC officials say it is the first land preservation agreement in history to involve U.S. Fish & Wildlife habitat acquisition funding in a federal, state, city and private partnership for the preservation of wildlife habitat and protection of water quality. HCC anticipates that the final phase of the agreement, raising $6 million to extend the conservation easement to the rest of the Storm Ranch, will be completed in 2006. . . . Commander’s Forums . . . The Austin Police Department will hold two Commander’s Forums Tuesday night to share and discuss issues and concerns with residents and business owners to improve the quality of life within the area commands. The Northwest Area Command Forum is at 7pm at Spicewood Springs Library, 8637 Spicewood Springs Road, and the Central West Area Command Forum is at 6:30pm at Congregation Beth Israel, 3901 Shoal Creek Blvd. . . . Why is that lawyer smiling?. . . It appears a happy lawyer is a well-paid lawyer, and according to a recent survey, attorneys in Texas’ major markets are very happy indeed. The consulting firm Vault, Inc. ( http://www.vault.com/) recently surveyed more than 15,000 attorneys to find that Texas cities were at the top of the list of " Best Legal Markets to Work In." Of the 52 U.S. legal markets ranked, Dallas was No. 4; San Antonio, No. 5; Austin, No. 10; and Houston, No. 20. The cities were ranked on a variety of quality-of-life categories, including satisfaction with hours, compensation and training. Texas attorneys were particularly happy with their paychecks. In the compensation category, San Antonio was No. 2; Austin, No. 6; Houston, No. 9; and Dallas, No. 21 but this may as much about the lawyers as it does their compensation . . . Meetings. . . The Robert Mueller Municipal Airport (RMMA) Plan Implementation Advisory Commission meets at 6pm in room 105 at Waller Creek Plaza. On the agenda is an update on Phase I infrastructure and a presentation on the proposed UT Health Science Center . . . The Bond Election Advisory Committee Affordable Housing Subcommittee meets at 4pm in room 1027 at City Hall . . . The Board of Adjustment/Sign Review Board meets at 5:30pm in City Council Chambers for a lengthy but routine agenda. . . . . The August meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, scheduled for tonight, has been canceled. . . . Ansel Adams exhibition. . . Ansel Adams: A Legacy, debuts Tuesday at UT’s Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. The 138 images span Adams' career and range from dramatic vistas of Yosemite Valley to portraits and close-ups of nature and architectural landmarks. The exhibit runs through Jan. 1, 2006. For more details, call 471-8944 or go to www.hrc.utexas.edu.

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