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Council to decide on Enfield demolition permit

Tuesday, October 17, 2006 by

Former UT quarterback-turned-real-estate-investor Peter Gardere is hoping to convince the Austin City Council to pass on placing an historic designation on a home he wants to demolish on Enfield Road, while neighbors say he fumbled the structure’s upkeep.

The Council will hear from Gardere again on Thursday as he protests the recommendation to apply historic zoning to 1102 Enfield. Gardere – famous for being the only UT quarterback to beat Oklahoma four years in a row – told the Council at its last meeting that the home was beyond repair and should be demolished. Neighbors, however, say he not only allowed the structure to deteriorate but also contributed to its poor condition.

The home, dubbed by the city’s historic preservation staff as the Baugh-Colby House, was built in either 1917 or 1918. “This is one of the very first houses build in Enfield. This one is close to the entry to Pease Park and serves as the gateway into the Enfield Neighborhood,” said Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky. “It is an outstanding example of the Prairie School type of architecture, popularized by Frank Lloyd Wright from Chicago…the style spread throughout the Midwest and eventually into Texas and California.” Prominent occupants of the home include James Baugh, an Associate Justice of the State Court of Civil Appeals, and Malcolm Colby, a physics professor at UT.

“If this house isn't historic, there's not a historic house in Austin by the city's own list of what makes it historical,” said neighbor Bill Head. “Of course, this house does need repairs. The foundation, I'm sure, is bad. It's bad on every house in West Austin.”

But Gardere and several experts testified that the problems with the home extended far beyond what was apparent from the street. “This structure has some serious problems with termites. I couldn’t find any live termites, but mind you, the structure is so eaten up there’s really not much structural members there,” said Domingo Garza, owner of a pest control company. “The foundation has literally separated and there's no reinforcing rods or anything in this concrete. So this structure is in really serious condition. Mr. Gardere asked me to see what it would cost to treat it and I personally told him that I wouldn't even treat it.”

Gardere also brought in an architect and an inspector to testify about the home’s poor condition. “The stucco, for the most part, is really holding this home together,” said inspector Don Atwell. “What I saw in there, it’s long-term damage. It’s not something that can develop over the last five years.” Architect Bob Wetmore concurred, telling the Council he did not feel safe during his visit to the home. Repairing the structure was feasible, he said, but “we would have to replace just about every piece of wood in that house structurally, and the wood is tied to the stucco. While it could be done, we in essence would be rebuilding the house.” He estimated that would cost over $500,000.

But neighbors told the Council that Gardere was in a predicament of his own making. When the home was purchased in 2001, “the windows were immediately taken out, boarded up but not completely covered. The same year, the chimney and fireplace were taken out. Those windows and chimney have left open spaces for rain and animals to enter,” said neighbor Patricia Winston. “The doors in the back and side of the house were left unlocked where transients came in and out and also started a mattress fire with a cigarette.”

Other neighbors accused Gardere of acting deliberately to hasten the home’s deterioration. “A person who asks for relief must not have contributed to his problem. He must come to the table with clean hands. Yet this investor has created his own problem and he is seeking relief from you at the expense of us all,” said Sharon Gillespie. “One of Austin's historic neighborhoods is losing its character house by house, and the Austin community at large is losing its history. A city that values its history cannot reward him. A responsible government will not be manipulated.”

Gardere, however, argued that his intent all along had been to remodel the home and live there. “As I went through the damage, the cost built up. It was nearly triple the value of the house and I just personally did not think the economics worked,” he said. It was only after it became apparent that it was not feasible to salvage the home that Gardere said he initiated the demolition process.

Before purchasing the home, he said, he made sure that would be an option. “There was no priority index (in the city’s 1984 historic survey), there was no historic district in place. I’m in the real estate business. I know the questions to ask and where to go to get the answers,” he said. “So I knew there was nothing in place.”

Some Council Members were sympathetic to Gardere’s situation. “How is a potential buyer to know that something might be considered historically important if he can't look for certain information or certain documents,” said Council Member Dunkerley, “if it's not even given a Priority 3 or whatever other priorities there might be?”

But other members of the Council wanted to make sure the character of the neighborhood was protected. They urged Gardere to meet with neighborhood representatives before the Oct. 19 Council meeting to show them his plans for a new structure on the lot. “I think there is a strong interest among all parties, the neighborhood and the owner, to see that what is on this property is compatible with the neighborhood,” said Council Member Brewster McCracken. “Let’s see if there's opportunity for a multifamily design that is workable within the historic district design guidelines.” The Council voted unanimously for a two-week delay to allow more time for Gardere and the neighborhood to reach a compromise.

Regional leaders continue SH 130 planning

Regional leaders—most taking the same steps to address the future of State Highway 130 –are beginning to brainstorm to shape a regional vision for the project.

Former Austin Mayor Kirk Watson – the likely successor to retiring Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) – has been attempting to move leaders to a regional vision since July, when the first “leaders meeting” was organized to discuss SH 130. From Round Rock to Seguin and Austin to Hutto, city officials have outlined the steps they have begun to take – mainly annexation – to anticipate SH 130.

Yesterday, the group began the brainstorming that will eventually be culled into a regional vision that Watson will take to the Legislature in January. Where local leaders appeared to be heading was some type of regional mechanism intended to offer land use controls, especially for the counties that lack any zoning or similar authority.

It’s likely to start with a map of what’s available and what’s needed in the region. As presentation after presentation has outlined, the real concern among cities and counties along the SH 130 route is the ability to provide utilities such as road, water and electricity. In the case of Hutto – which made its presentation to the group yesterday – the deals cut to bring desired development to the region are leaching the region of its tax base.

The method to control – and encourage development – could be as broad or as complicated as regional leaders make it. It could as simple as coming up with zoning categories for land along the corridor, especially in counties that have no land use powers. Or it could be more complicated, such as a regional development zone – with its own board of directors – that shuttles new projects through the development process.

That idea has its pluses, given the wide disparity in resources across the region. Many of the smaller cities, in their presentations over the last four months, have expressed the frustration of a limited staff making “big city” zoning decisions.

Zoning has been the conventional answer to the problem, but zoning requires provision of city services. One possible solution could be giving smaller cities and counties some amount of limited purpose annexation powers, so that those jurisdictions could have land use controls with only limited responsibility for utilities.

Round Rock Public Works Director Tom Word suggested a possible “timed release” approach to annexation areas, requiring such areas to develop in a systematic matter so that services can be “rolled out” in a more natural progression to the further boundaries of State Highway 130. Perhaps a five- or seven-year timeline could be suggested for annexation into the city, and required city services, for the areas that are furthest away from the current service areas along the SH 130 route.

Austin Council Member Betty Dunkerley agreed that such an arrangement could prove ideal – not serving an area before utilities can feasibly reach it – but that developers tended to have their own timelines when it came to growth.

The decision made by the group probably will be more complicated than the typical municipal utility district. City Manager Toby Futrell described such jurisdictions as less than desirable, if only for the fact that those areas must ultimately be annexed into the city that will end up carrying the MUD’s debt. Austin has plenty of experience with that scenario.

Watson said the suggestions would be narrowed down to a plan during the next round table meeting, which is set for, yes, after the November general election, on Nov. 13.

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

Mueller Energy Center . . . Austin Energy will open its new Mueller Energy Center today at the site of the Mueller redevelopment project. The on-site power plant is one of the first in Texas capable of providing 100 percent of the electricity, cooling and heating required by a large medical center, should the electric grid go out. The Department of Energy-assisted 4.3 megawatt (MW) plant will serve the new Dell Children's Medical Center as well as other facilities locating within the redeveloped Mueller airport site. In addition to generating electricity, the hot exhaust gases from the natural gas-fueled generator are recycled to produce steam. The steam provides heat for the hospital and then can be used to chill water for air conditioning. The plant will use about 20 percent less fuel than equivalent but separate electric, heating, and cooling operations. Its carbon emissions will be about 40 percent lower than power from the electric grid. The ribbon-cutting is set for 10am near the intersection of 51st St. and Lancaster St. . . . Meetings . . . The Council Public Health and Human Services Subcommittee meets at 3:30pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall. They could get an earful tonight from Northwest Austin residents primed to fight against the reincarnated Arboretum Towers . . . The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in Chambers at 314 W. 11th St . . . The Williamson County Commissioners Court meets at 9:30am at the County Annex on Inner Loop Dr. in Georgetown . . . The Hays County Commissioners Court meets at 9am at the Hays County Courthouse in San Marcos . . . The Urban Transportation Commission Ground Transportation Subcommittee meets at 7pm at One Texas Center . . . Raise the Roof . . . Community and church groups will come together to participate in the 8th annual Raise the Roof event on Saturday. The event partners over 300 volunteers with 18 homeowners in the Rosewood and Chestnut neighborhoods for a mini extreme home makeover. Raise the Roof is a community-oriented project hosted by the City of Austin Department of Neighborhood Housing and Community Development, Hands on Housing and KB Home. It partners volunteers with skilled contractors to assist with the refurbishing of homes owned by low-to-moderate income homeowners, including the elderly and disabled. Projects for the day include everything from painting, fencing, plumbing, electrical work, and yard clean-ups to new roofs. The event is planned 8am to 5pm Saturday at the Alamo Recreation Center, 2100 Alamo St. . . . Capitol Art Show . . . State Rep. Mark Strama will host an art show reception that will spotlight the artistic talents of students who attend schools in District 50. After being sworn into office for his first term, Strama asked schools to submit outstanding student artwork to decorate the blank walls of his Capitol office. Now an annual tradition, this year's submissions – which include drawings, paintings, and photographs – will again focus on "Texas" as the inspiring theme. After a week-long display in the State Capitol Extension hallway from Oct. 17-21 and an art show reception for students and their parents, principals, and art teachers on Saturday, the artwork will be moved to the Strama's office, just in time for the election. The art show will be on display in the Texas State Capitol Extension Hallway (Level E.2) near the open air rotunda.

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