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Planning Commission endorses Baylor Street offices

Wednesday, June 28, 2006 by

A real-estate agent and an attorney will likely get to keep their offices at 1201 and 1203 Baylor Street, now that the Planning Commission has endorsed zoning changes on the lot from multi-family (MF-4) to NO-MU-NP. Both properties had been cited by city inspectors for having inappropriate uses after a neighbor pointed out that they were being used for offices despite their residential zoning.

“We brought this property in 1999. At that time, the previous owner indicated to us the zoning was being changed…so it was quite surprising to us when we were notified in 2004 that we were operating in violation,” said attorney Tanisa Bernard, who has her offices in the home at 1203 Baylor. “I don’t believe we add to the traffic or the congestion on the street.”

City staff had recommended LO (limited office) zoning for the site, since it is surrounded by commercial uses, including an auto body repair shop and a print shop. Bernard, along with the owners of the real estate agency in the home at 1201 Baylor, concurred. “We’re not looking to become something huge,” said Chris Pellegrino. “We’re a small, boutique real estate company.” He said that while the differences between LO and NO (neighborhood office) were minimal, he would prefer to have the options allowed under the LO zoning.

Representatives of the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association pushed for NO zoning with a further restriction that neither of the homes could be expanded beyond their current square footage. “We have a residential core defined in the neighborhood plan, and one of the tenets is no up-zonings within the residential core,” said Laura Morrison. “In order to accommodate what were illegal uses, we’re looking at some way to find a balance. The nearby neighbors are saying the current uses seem to be fine, if we can guarantee that it’s going to be that way we’ll be all right with it. NO accommodates what they need, it’s a stepping-down and transition to the residential across the street.” She also requested a conditional overlay governing trip limits associated for the two properties to help guarantee that neither of the businesses were able to expand.

Owners of both business said they did not have plans for expansion, but wanted to keep their options open and trusted the staff’s judgment on the proper zoning for the sites. “Our lots are such that, regardless of what the zoning is, they are so small that you can’t really do anything else there,” said John Teinert of Austin Fine Properties at 1201 Baylor. “It’s our intention to remain there and for the buildings to remain there and use them as they are.”

Commissioners voted 9-0 to support the NO zoning requested by OWANA, but without the additional conditions sought by the group. “I live just four blocks from these properties, and I think that it’s perfectly reasonable to make them make the zoning fit with the activities that are going on there right now,” said Commissioner Mandy Dealey. “As a member of the neighborhood, I understand about not wanting to see them over-developed. So I think that NO makes it a conforming use…and it also protects the transition between the commercial area and the neighborhood.” The Council will have the final say on the zoning request.

The local historic district ordinance cannot come soon enough for Pemberton Heights residents, some of whom fear that the number of tear-downs in the neighborhood right now could endanger its national historic district status.

The West Austin neighborhood had not one or two – but six – cases on Monday night’s Historic Landmark Commission agenda. In each case, the Historic Landmark Commission was forced to approve the demolition or removal of a structure, even though some were contributing to the national register district status, because none had true architectural or historic significance. The City Council approved the local historic district ordinance, but until Pemberton Heights is deemed a local historic district, the neighborhood has no controls over permits to demolish contributing structures.

Candace Volz expressed alarm at the decisions, saying that the large number of houses on the block put the neighborhood’s historic status in peril, even as the neighborhood put together its application to achieve local historic district status. A local historic district would give the Historic Landmark Commission more latitude to review the permits that are pulled in the district and to review of the design of new structures in the area.

Volz said she spent her afternoon at the Austin History Center, looking up the specific documentation on each house that was on the agenda for consideration.

"All the houses, except one, are contributing structures within the Old West Austin National Register District," Volz said. "I want to point out just what this means to us."

Every time a contributing structure is pulled down in Pemberton Heights, it weakens the status of the neighborhood’s historic designation, Volz said. Old West Austin – Pemberton, Brykerwoods and Enfield – started out with 61 percent contributing structures. That number already is dropping.

Since 2003, Pemberton Heights alone has lost 24 out of the 396 contributing structures, Volz said. That’s just over 6 percent of the contributing structures. If that trend continues, the historic status of the neighborhood could be in jeopardy in another three to five years, making it difficult to keep the area’s national register district status.

Volz says that means one thing: the widening of MoPac. The desire to avoid a widened freeway was the rallying cry for the original historic district designation. But if the base of the district is eroded, it will give the Texas Department of Transportation an easy target for long-term plans to widen the west side corridor.

Back in 2000, the plan was to take 100 houses along the east side of MoPac for the freeway’s expansion, Volz said. A total of 60 of those houses would be in the Brykerwoods/Pemberton/Enfield area. The freeway plans would likely include an elaborate, and true, freeway exit at either Windsor, 35th Street or Enfield, destroying the core of the fabric of the local communities.

So the owners of 1605 Preston could request a demolition permit, Volz said, but it’s just one block from MoPac. They might have a great house, but they’ll probably also have a great view of the new MoPac upper deck. Those houses at 1422 Preston and 1415 Preston might like their new two-story structures, but it makes them easy ultimate targets for demolition if MoPac is expanded.

Developers at 1516 Preston and 1628 Jefferson might find their lots easy to redevelop and sell, but they might as well get their profit early because the value of every other house in the Old West Austin neighborhoods would drop, Volz said.

"The value of any of our houses is only as good as what’s going on next door and down the street," Volz told the commissioners.

The Historic Landmark Commission has little say – other than an advisory capacity – over relocation and demolition permits in national register historic districts. Monday night, the commission reviewed 16 such cases. A number of the cases were additions. A couple of cases were the construction of new homes on vacant lots. Many in Pemberton Heights were the replacement of existing houses with new two-story homes.

John Nelson brought plenty of his neighbors to support his decision to demolish his home at 1422 Preston, which was built in 1942. Nelson said his own research showed the house was not historic, and a variety of neighbors lined up at the microphone to express support for the demolition of the home and the quality of the new structure. Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky could find no reason to recommend preserving the house.

Commissioner Jean Mather said she wanted to see the demolition delayed until a local historic district could be created. The audience applauded. Mather said there was no point in applauding, since the case could not be delayed. Chair Laurie Limbacher added her vote of support, too, saying the commission was constrained in its options.

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

Concordia concerns . . . Neighbors of the Concordia University campus, which will be vacated when the college moves to another site in Northwest Austin, expressed their concerns yesterday in a meeting with Rachel Procter May, aide to Council Member Brewster McCracken. After the meeting, one neighbor noted that the area is facing intense redevelopment not only on the Concordia site but also at St. David’s Hospital at 34th and I-35. (See In Fact Daily, June 27, 2006) . . . Dunkerley doing well . . . Mayor Pro Tem Betty Dunkerley, who had knee replacement surgery on Friday, has moved from the hospital to the HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital on Red River for physical therapy. She is reportedly doing well . . . Gearing up for bond campaign . . . A political action committee called Yes on 2 & 3 has appointed former County Commissioner Valarie Bristol to be its treasurer. The group plans to campaign for passage of bonds to support parks, drainage improvements and open space acquisition on the November 7 ballot . . . Council subcommittees named . . . City Council members named themselves to a number of committees and subcommittees last week: Audit and Finance Subcommittee – Mayor Wynn, Mayor Pro Tem Dunkerley, Members Leffingwell and McCracken; Judicial Committee -Wynn, Cole and Martinez; Land Use and Transportation: McCracken, Cole and Dunkerley; MBE-WBE Subcommittee – Cole, Kim and Martinez; Public Health and Human Services – Dunkerley, Leffingwell and Martinez; ABIA Development Corp.: Wynn, Dunkerley, Kim, Cole, Leffingwell, Martinez, McCracken; Austin-San Antonio Rail District – Kim; CAPCOG – Kim; CAMPO – Wynn, Dunkerley, Kim and McCracken; Austin-AISD Joint Subcommittee – Wynn, Cole and Martinez; Community Action Resource Council – Kim and Leffingwell; Mueller Local Government Corp. – Wynn, Dunkerley, Kim, Cole, Leffingwell, Martinez, McCracken; Police Retirement Board – Cole; Tax Increment Financing Reinvestment Zone 15 – Wynn, Dunkerley, Kim, Cole, Leffingwell, Martinez, McCracken; Tax Increment Financing Reinvestment Zone 16 – Wynn, Dunkerley, Kim, Cole, Leffingwell, Martinez, McCracken; Texas Colorado River Floodplain Coalition – Leffingwell and McCracken. . . . Meetings . . . The Buildings and Standards Committee meets at 6pm in room 325 at One Texas Center . . . The Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District Board of Directors meets in a work session at 7pm at district headquarters at 1124 Regal Row in Manchaca . . . Groups hail court ruling . . . Monday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a lawsuit asking the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide emissions is being praised by local environmental groups. "We’re really excited," said Luke Metzger of Environment Texas. "It’s clearly the biggest environmental challenge of our times, and it’s outrageous that the EPA is trying to shirk their responsibility." The EPA’s position is that carbon dioxide emissions are not covered under the federal Clean Air Act .

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