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Zoning commission chair unhappy with proposed historic ordinance change

Thursday, May 7, 2009 by Austin Monitor

Note: After this story ran, Attorney John Donisi gave a significantly different account with how the ordinance changes took place. Donisi is the current president of the Heritage Society of Austin and a former member of the Zoning and Platting Commission.  You can read the follow-up story here: (see story May 08 2009)


Changes may be in store for the city’s historic preservation ordinance, but Chair Betty Baker was not exactly on board at Tuesday night’s Zoning and Platting Commission meeting.

Such changes– initiated last October to consider the issue of “demolition by neglect” – were put on the ZAP agenda as an addendum. Limited notice probably was a bad idea, given that Baker chaired the ad hoc task force, and that three additional members from ZAP revised the original ordinance.

Baker had a few pointed questions for Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky: What meetings were scheduled to review these changes? Were those meetings – where the ordinance was changed and revised – open to the public? Who, exactly, participated?

Sadowsky hemmed and hawed. Yes, Historic Preservation staff met with a number of Council offices, which resulted in the revised ordinance. It was initiated by resolution last October by Council and the city manager.

According to the Council minutes from last October, Council Member Lee Leffingwell pushed for a review of the portion of the ordinance dealing with demolitions. The existing ordinance would only penalize owners for those buildings already deemed historic by the Historic Landmark Commission. Should that be expanded?

Council Member Brewster McCracken pulled the item off consent agenda to have a discussion about the particulars of initiating demolition proceedings under the existing ordinance.

This week Baker had her own comments, given that her own task force’s work had been upended by some unknown negotiations between staff and Council offices.

“You can suspect how happy I am,” said a tongue-in-cheek Baker.

Baker immediately stepped in to resolve the issue, appointing a three-member task force, including herself, to consider the draft. She set a deadline of June 18 to get back to the committee. The expectation would be for subcommittee chair Keith Jackson to set up three or four meetings – posted, of course – that would consider the proposed changes.

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