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House at 1200 Lorraine demolished under remodeling permit, spurring court case

Tuesday, January 24, 2006 by

Kevin O’Hanlon and Priscilla Lozano at times had the look on their faces of shell-shocked war veterans last night, as they faced the wrath of the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association and the Historic Landmark Commission over the demolition of the couple’s home last fall in the Westline Historic District.

Both O’Hanlon and Lozano are experienced attorneys, but until they demolished their home during a remodeling permit, they had no clue how the historic preservation code worked. O’Hanlon admitted as much last night, but plenty of people have offered to tell him the last two months. Last November, the couple demolished their house at 1200 Lorraine to level the foundation and brought down the ire of neighbors and the city in the process. The city’s legal staff will take the couple to municipal court next month.

The demolition of 1200 Lorraine – under what was supposed to be a remodeling permit – has been the buzz of the historic preservation community for weeks and the poster child for why the city should pursue more stringent review of building permits.

At the time O’Hanlon and Lozano pulled the remodeling permit last year, the house was not landmarked neither designated an historic structure nor was it located in a historic district. But it was, according to the city and OWANA, clearly a structure that was eligible for preservation. O’Hanlon and Lozano saw it as former college housing, a one-time duplex, that they bought 16 years ago and wanted to expand for their growing family. OWANA saw a1920s brick Tudor with plenty of architectural charm and historic value.

“We lost a significant piece of history at 1200 Lorraine when the owner and their agents illegally demolished this house under the guise of a remodeling permit to avoid a hearing before this commission,” said OWANA’s zoning and land use committee chair Jean Stevens. “This was built in the 1920s. It was a high priority structure in our neighborhood, and it could have been listed in the national register of historic places.”

If the remodeling permit had been pulled on a house in a historic district, it would have been reviewed, Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky told the commission. If a remodeling or demolition permit had been pulled on a home with historic designation, it would have gone before the Historic Landmark Commission. And if an illegal demolition had taken place on a historic house, the owner would be heavily fined and would not be able to pull a permit for new construction for at least a year, Sadowsky said.

Neighbors reported that O’Hanlon and Lozano initially proposed a rather modest addition to the house. As it was, O’Hanlon and his agent decided the only way to level the foundation was to pull down the house, and the home came down over the course of one weekend in November. Neighbors were shocked and outraged by the event.

Members of OWANA considered themselves duped and called on the commission to rescind any earlier variances offered by the Board of Adjustment – how could there be variances to do something like move the garage without a structure? – and deny the couple the ability to move forward with an expanded footprint of the house. They questioned why the couple should profit from their illegal demolition.

Last night’s hearing, however, was not intended to do those things. Sadowsky said the Historic Landmark Commission’s role was simply to comment on the plans for the house, which O’Hanlon said was in keeping with the neighborhood. The plans that O’Hanlon showed the commission showed a two-story structure, slightly taller than the original house, with a two-story garage apartment connected the house by a breezeway.

Chair Lisa Limbacher, however, proposed a continuance based on the commission’s limited information. Limbacher outlined three areas of necessary information before a vote could be taken: whether new variances would be necessary for the new construction; whether existing variances approved by the Board of Adjustment applied to the structure; and whether the design plans proposed by O’Hanlon were actually legal in the sense that they met city code requirements. Commissioner Joe Arriaga also requested the paperwork for the building permit to clearly understand whether O’Hanlon was aware that his remodeling permit could not be used to demolish the structure.

The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously approved a continuance on the review. The HLC will take up the 1200 Lorraine case next month.

Environmental Board wants to study pact

Members of the city Environmental Board last week called for extra time to study an amendment to a Land Development Standards Agreement between the city and the Austin School District that would allow increased impervious cover over the Barton Springs Zone of the Edwards Aquifer.

Several board members said they had only received information on the agreement hours before Wednesday’s meeting and had not had time to review them properly. Some members also reacted strongly to a staff review of the amendment, expressing concern that it allows higher impervious cover on school property over the aquifer than current city regulations.

City and AISD staff have been negotiating the amendment since 1999, when a similar amendment was approved by the city but was rejected by AISD’s Board of Trustees, according to Pat Murphy with the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department. The Land Development Standards Agreement currently in effect was reached in 1994.

Board Member Phil Moncada said that at first read, he didn’t see where the agreement made things better.

“It doesn’t appear that this does anything but allow schools to be built over the aquifer with a much higher impervious cover level that other structures,” he said. “I don’t see where there’s any benefit to the environment.”

According to a summary sheet provided by city staff, the amendment would allow a 25 percent impervious cover on school properties, while the city’s SOS Ordinance limits impervious cover to 15 percent in the recharge zone, 20 percent in the Barton Springs contributing zone and 25 percent in other contributing zones. It also notes that the current code would limit Kiker Elementary to 15 percent, while the amendment would allow 25 percent.

Brad Rockwell with SOS urged the board to take a careful look at the amendment.

“We have some concerns over the amendment, which we believe significantly deviates from the SOS standards,” he said. “The original amendment set impervious cover limits at 15 or 20 percent, but now they are back to 25 percent in general, and have specific increases in some new schools as high as 38 and 50 percent.”

Rockwell said the school district was apparently trying to get some of the same benefits that builder Gary Bradley and Stratus Properties had gotten in the same area.

“We have major concerns with the high impervious cover levels allowed in the amendment,” he said. “We are also concerned that they are trying to run this through the process in a hurry. We hope you will slow down the process and take a hard look at this.”

Vice Chair Karin Ascot moved to postpone Environmental Board Action on the amendment for two weeks, until February 1, which was approved on a unanimous vote.

Chair David Anderson then suggested that because the issue was tentatively going to Council on February 16, a subcommittee study of the board the matter and report back on February 1. Board members Anderson, Ascot and Moncada were named to the panel.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Plug-in Campaign launches in DC today . . . A delegation from the City of Austin, including Mayor Will Wynn, Council Member Jennifer Kim, City Manager Toby Futrell and Austin Energy Manager Juan Garza, will be on hand today for the launch of the Plug-In Partners national program in Washington DC. Plug-In Partners is a national initiative aimed at amassing support to manufacture flexible fuel plug-in hybrid vehicles. The ceremonies are set for 8:30am central time at the National Press Club. In addition to the Austin delegation will be Frank Gaffney, President, Center for National Security Policy; James Woolsey, Former CIA Director and Founder, Set America Free; Kateri Callahan, President, Alliance to Save Energy; Alan Richardson, President & CEO, American Public Power Association; Dr. Joe Romm, Center for Energy and Climate Solutions; and Professor Andy Frank of the University of California – Davis, widely regarded as the inventor of plug-in hybrids. To view a webcast of the event, go to . . . Meetings . . . The Planning Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Parks and Recreation Board meets at 6:30pm at the PARD Meeting Room at 200 South Lamar . . . The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in Commission Chambers at 314 W. 11th St. . . . The Williamson County Commissioners meet at 9:30am in the Pct. 3 JP Courtroom on Inner Loop Dr. in Georgetown. . . . New planning director . . . Bobby Ray, who served as acting planning director during most of 2005, has been appointed the director of planning and development services for the City of Georgetown. Ray started with the City in 2002 as chief planner for current planning and served in that position prior to being named the acting director. Before coming to Georgetown, Ray spent the majority of his planning career in California working in the planning departments of San Diego, Glendale, Pasadena, Manhattan Beach, and Santa Monica . . . New board members . . . Chair Lisa Limbacher welcomed John Rosato to the Historic Landmark Commission at last night's meeting. Rosato will represent the Heritage Society on the board. Other new HLC members include Rodger Arend, Timothy Cuppett and Joe Arriaga . . . Looking to expand . . . The Design Commission is drafting a letter to Council Member Lee Leffingwell, in the hopes of expanding its input into the design of the buildings in the boards and commissions process. That input could take a couple of forms: as input into broader initiatives such as the design guidelines or the noise ordinance or into more specific review of downtown projects up for review before the Planning Commission. The Design Commission would like Council's blessing on additional duties and have spoken to Leffingwell about options where the commissioners might be useful . . . Travis Dems back Howard . . . A number of Travis County Democrats showed up at a Capitol steps news conference Monday to back Donna Howard's bid to take back the District 48 seat in the Texas House. Notable among those endorsing Howard were two former opponents: Kathy Rider, who polled 12 percent last Tuesday; and Andy Brown, who is dropping out of the primary race for the seat to back Howard. Also backing Howard were State Reps. Mark Strama, Eliot Naishtat and Eddie Rodriguez, and State Senate candidate Kirk Watson. Howard polled 49.47 percent of the vote in the four-way special election and will face Republican Ben Bentzin (37 percent) in a runoff in February.

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