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Council opposes homeowner in Hyde Park zoning case

Monday, March 30, 2009 by Kimberly Reeves

Council voted unanimously to designate historic landmark status on the Bradford Nohra House in Hyde Park, over the objections of the owner, on first reading at last week’s Council meeting. It’s rare for Council to oppose a homeowner in a historic zoning case, and requires six of the seven Council Member’s agreement, but neighbors– including former Cap Metro board chair Lee Walker—have been passionate in their support of saving the home.

The Council even disagreed with Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky, who did not recommend historic zoning. He said it would be impossible to know whether the Bradford Nohra House, built in 1913, had retained its original historic integrity given its frequent additions and stucco siding. Windows have been replaced. An open porch has been enclosed. Later owners expanded it beyond the original footprint. It no longer looked anything like it had when it was built in the early 1900s.

“It fails the test of integrity,” Sadowsky said. “The big problem here is that it is what it is. It does not look like what it was when the [original owners] lived here.” Sadowsky explained that no house had ever been landmarked without a plan to return to – or retain – the home’s historical appearance.

Attorney Jimmy Nassour, representing the owners, presented extensive documentation to Council on the house’s current condition, noting that the house needs $1 million in repairs just to bring it to code.

Family member Sylvia Dudney told Council that her mother had gone through enormous pressure from the neighbors to preserve the house. “I strongly oppose your efforts to zone this house as historic,” Dudney told the Council during Thursday’s hearing. “It would take away my mother’s right to benefit from a property she has owned for 65 years.”

Mary George, a historic homes advocate in the Hyde Park neighborhood, said many homes, including one at Avenue G and 43rd Street, had been preserved despite protests that restoration would be too costly. She noted that many of the historical features in the Bradford Nohra House presented an excellent restoration opportunity for the right owner.

Lee Walker made a rare appearance to express his support for preservation, only his second appearance before Council in his 31-year residency in Hyde Park.

This lot, at 125 by 130 feet, is one of the largest lots in Hyde Park, which makes it ripe for redevelopment. But it also offered some room for compromise. Neighbors were more than willing to allow the construction of a large-scale duplex – up to 2,600 square feet – on the back end of the property if the home could be preserved. The idea came out of negotiation sessions hosted by Council Member Randi Shade.

To soften the blow, Mayor Will Wynn, who owns downtown property and has worked on historic preservation, noted that any historic designation, albeit an unwilling one, did come with a tax break. That appeared to do little to salve the disappointment of the Nohra family.

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