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Commission offers suggestions after demolition

Monday, February 13, 2006 by

The City Council began to deal with the difficult issue of keeping housing size appropriate to the neighborhood last week, but questions remain about what will happen when the owner of a house demolishes it without the appropriate permit.

Members of the Historic Landmark Commission have offered their suggestions on ways to make the reconstruction of a home at 1200 Lorraine conform to the historic character of the surrounding neighborhood. A recent meeting was mostly free of recriminations over the destruction of the original home on the site. Owner Kevin O’Hanlon had received a remodeling permit for the 1920’s-era home in West Austin but demolished the structure instead.

He told Commissioners that he planned to use some of the original materials from the home in building a new house on the property. Part of the new home will be in the same configuration as the original, although raised slightly, and retain many of the same architectural features. “We did our dead-level best to make the front look the same,” O’Hanlon said. There will also be a garage apartment connected to the house.

O’Hanlon had originally obtained permits and variances for the remodeling project, but commissioners questioned whether those would still apply now that the project had become a reconstruction. “That building permit has been suspended, so a new permit will need to be applied for,” said Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky. “The city legal department, Watershed Protection, and Neighborhood Planning and Zoning are still looking at the question as to whether the original variances still hold true for this case or whether new variances will be required, so we don’t have an answer to that yet.”

Since the property lies within the Westline National Register Historic District, the Commission is allowed to review the owner’s plans. But since the home itself was not a local historic landmark, the owner is not required to follow those recommendations in his new project.

Commissioners questioned O’Hanlon about re-using some of the bricks from the original house. He proposed blending in new bricks fired to match the old bricks as closely as possible, using them as a transition between the portion of the new home designed to look like the original and a section which was not part of the original home’s footprint. But Commissioners urged him to consider using the original bricks exclusively around the part of the home that matched the original home’s configuration, creating a clear boundary between the two sections. They also urged him to re-consider his choice of glass for windows in the new house.

Members of the commission made only a few comments about the demolition of the original house. The most direct remarks came at the conclusion of the meeting from Commissioner Joe Arriaga. “Based on the circumstances of this particular case, I would like a presentation from the permits section on how somebody going in and requesting a remodel permit could wind up demolishing a building,” he said. “That’s happening in a lot of neighborhoods, and I’ve been contacted by several people in neighborhoods where this has happened. I think we need a clarification so that in the future, we know exactly the circumstances of cases like this.”

Commercial growth cuts effective tax rate

Average Travis County property tax bill could diminish with no new spending

A boost in the commercial property tax roll will put Travis County three cents ahead on its effective tax rate when Commissioners Court starts the budget process this year.

Christian Smith, executive manager of the Planning and Budget Office, presented an overview of the county’s finances and possible budget parameters to the court last week. Smith’s tax rate estimates come from the initial projections out of the Travis County Appraisal District, projections likely to be refined a number of times before the final budget is approved by the court late this summer.

Initial estimates show that overall property values have jumped 13 percent over the last year, predominantly in the commercial property sector. The total new value added to the tax rolls will be $2.4 billion this year. This reverses the recent trend in Austin, where the residential property values had stronger gains than the commercial side. Commercial property gained 20 percent in value this year; residential property in Austin gained only 6 percent over a similar time period.

The effective tax rate for Travis County starts at 49.03 cents per hundred dollar valuation. The increase in property values will bring that effective tax rate down to 46.06 cents. Given the outstanding obligations of the county, Smith predicted the court should be able to balance the budget at or near the new effective tax rate.

If Commissioners Court took no other action on the budget, the county tax bill for the average homeowner would drop from $813 to $785, a savings of $28.

The county, however, will have commitments in the coming year, some necessary and others optional. The county’s new criminal court, for instance, is expected to cost another $1 million a year in staffing and administrative costs. On the other hand, a choice to provide pay raises to county employees could be an optional expenditure.

Given some of the anticipated commitments, Smith outlined both a “high” and a “low” for the budget. He predicted the budget could range from $3.6 million in savings to a shortfall of $6.3 million. If all the early projected budget items came to fruition – and the $6.3 million shortfall were to occur – the county would be looking at another penny on the tax rate, according to Smith’s budget estimates.

Smith walked through a number of budget assumptions, outlined on two legal-sized pages for the court to review. He also noted three hot spots in the budget – areas of real concern – in the upcoming budget process: reducing the jail inmate population, with special attention to mental illness and substance abuse issues; changes to the process for creating new full-time employees in the budget; and updating many of the outstanding technology requests in the county.

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

SOS, city continue to talk . . . There was no breakthrough last week in talks between the City of Austin and the Save Our Springs Alliance. The latter has been collecting signatures on petitions to change the city charter. According to the grapevine, petitioners are continuing to gather signatures even though representatives of SOS have told they city they already have 21,000 signatures on each petition. They must have 20,000 valid signatures in order to place either of the amendments on the May 13 ballot Council Member Lee Leffingwell is scheduled to meet with representatives of the environmental organization again today . . . Follow the money . . . For those interested in learning how SOS funded its petition drive—good luck! Although state law requires political action committees that support or oppose ballot measures to file a designation of campaign treasurer and show how money was collected and spent, the City Clerk’s Office does not have any such designation for support of the SOS/Clean Government amendments. The only entities which filed specific purpose committee reports on January 15 were: Housing Works Action (to support affordable housing bonds), Keep Austin Free PAC (opposing last year’s smoking ordinance) and Onward Austin (supporting the smoking ordinance). . . Meetings . . . The Council Land Use and Transportation Subcommittee meets at 3:30pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Board of Adjustment/Sign Review Board meets at 5:30pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organizations Transportation Policy Board meets at 6pm at the Thompson Conference Center at UT . . . Early voting . . . Interest in the District 48 Special Election runoff appears high, if the early voting total are an indication. Some 7,695 people—nearly 8 percent of registered voters—voted early in the race. That’s a higher number than voted in the January 17 Special Election. (See In Fact Daily, Feb. 10, 2006). Republican Ben Bentzin faces Democrat Donna Howard in tomorrow’s vote. Both candidates spent the weekend knocking on doors and working the phones in District 48 . . . Libertarians defends complaints . . . The Libertarian Party of Texas is denying accusations by the Ben Bentzin Campaign that it is working on behalf of the Democrats in the District 48 campaign. In a statement released last Friday, it notes that members Wes Benedict and Arthur DiBianca have filed a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission alleging that the Bentzin campaign failed to disclose $250,000 in campaign funds and is accepting funds given illegally by the Friends of Susan Combs committee. LPT State Chair Patrick Dixon said his organization has not seen any evidence of similar improper contributions to Howard . . . Condolences . . . Place 2 City Council Candidate Eliza May’s brother, Joe May of Dallas, passed away over the weekend. Joe May was a trustee of the Dallas Independent School District. The In Fact Daily staff sends its condolences.

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