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Bradford-Nohra house to be demolished

Tuesday, May 19, 2009 by Austin Monitor

City of Austin officials have discovered an apparent flaw in their attempt to zone a Hyde Park home historic and have issued a demolition permit for the Bradford-Nohra House. According to information prepared by city staff, the vote by the Historic Landmark Commission in June 2008 was insufficient to deny the demolition permit, because the Historic Landmark Commission did not have enough members present when they voted.


The problem with the vote was not noticed for almost a year. The City Council gave preliminary approval to historic zoning for the house at 4213 Avenue G in March, against the wishes of the owner. The case is on this week’s Council agenda for final approval. However, Council Member Randi Shade, who tried to mediate between the neighborhood and the property owner for months, told In Fact Daily Monday that since the Council lacked legal authority to take up the case it would be withdrawn.


The Nohra family filed for its demolition permit in March 2008 and asked permission to knock down the home, which was built in 1913. In June, the commission voted 3-2 to deny the permit. (At the time, the commission apparently would have needed 5 of its 8 members to approve denying the permit.) The following month, the commission voted 7-0 to initiate a historic zoning case, even though Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky did not recommend historic zoning. He said at the time that it would be impossible to know whether the house had retained its original historic integrity given its frequent additions and stucco siding.


Nevertheless, many people in the neighborhood backed historic zoning, and the Planning Commission agreed with the HLC. That was in September. Then the owner and the neighborhood went into mediation, which did not result in a settlement. Now, due to a technicality, the house will be demolished anyway.


John Donisi of the Heritage Society of Austin said, “It’s disappointing to a lot of folks who put a lot of time and energy into this effort, and it would benefit everyone involved to have some clarity about process and procedures.”


Members of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association are preparing to fight the demolition permit in court. And on the other side, Charles Nohra, whose 96-year-old mother is the owner of the house, says his family intends to sue the HPNA as well as individual members of the association for “tortuous interference with property rights.” The family has already sued the city.


He said, “This thing is far from over.”  However, now that they have the permit, he said he wanted his childhood home demolished “as fast as we can.”


Donisi said, “One thing that did come out of this was that (the city) will have legal counsel at every meeting of the Historic Landmark Commission going forward.” Both City Manager Marc Ott and City Attorney David Smith said they’ve already made sure that would happen, he said.


Shade said, “I think what’s most difficult from my perspective is that you have citizens and staff all working in good faith, and a complicated change to the ordinance.”


She said both the family and the neighborhood feel passionately about the case. “It’s been really challenging in determining where do community rights begin and individual property rights end.”


She also pointed out that, even if the house is demolished, it will not mean the end of the neighborhood’s involvement the property. Various ordinances give both the city and neighbors some say in what would be built.

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