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Parties agree to delay in battle over of Hyde Park demo

Monday, June 8, 2009 by Charles Boisseau

Two sides in a battle over the demolition of Hyde Park house agreed to a temporary cease fire last week in what has emerged as a classic battle over whether a family has the right to demolish its aging homestead despite opposition from neighborhood preservationists.


The Hyde Park Neighborhood Association and the Nohra family hastily decided outside District Judge Rhonda Hurley’s courtroom to return to court in approximately six months for the first of what could be two separate trials.


They agreed to address their two disputes separately:


  • First, they will go to court over whether the city properly issued a demolition permit on May 18 allowing the family to tear down their Hyde Park home.
  • Depending on the outcome of that case, the two sides may then ask the court decide the family’s lawsuit to prevent City Council from designating the home historic.


The arrangement, endorsed by the judge, means the Nohra family’s 100-year-old home in Hyde Park will not be demolished for at least six months while the two sides prepare their cases for trial, said Jim McManus, attorney representing the Nohras.


The Nohra family includes 96-year-old matriarch, Helen, her two daughters – one in Austin and one in Dallas — and her son, Charlie. Charlie lives in the 4,676-square-foot home with his mother, while her daughter, Sylvia Nohra Dudney, lives in a single-family home next door.


The home sits on a corner lot of slightly more than one-third an acre in the heart of Hyde Park at 4213 Avenue G.


Helen and her late husband, Charles, purchased the home in the 1940s and raised their three children in it. The family wants to tear down the house to build townhomes in which Helen, Charlie and the daughter now in Dallas would live. The townhomes would be similar to structures built nearby in recent years, Sylvia said outside the courtroom Thursday.


Family members said they cannot afford the estimated $1 million it would cost to renovate the structure and to bring it into compliance with city codes, including repairing plumbing, electrical, and foundation problems.


The home has been added on to over the years and shows its age. The mostly stucco façade has five impressive two-story columns, but these are showing wear and tear. The house has an appraised value of $579,742, with $437,500 for the land and $142,242 for improvements, according to the Travis County Appraisal District’s preliminary 2009 assessment.


“The neighborhood association wants to control use of the property without paying for it,” McManus said. “We think that is a form of taking or partial taking and don’t think that is fair.”


As a possible solution they have offered to give the home to the city or the neighborhood association provided they pay to move it to another location, McManus said.


Phil Durst, an attorney representing the neighborhood association, could not be reached for comment. Nor could David Conner, president of the neighborhood association.


For now the city will watch to see if the two sides can come to an agreement or have the court settle the dispute, said Chris Coppola, an assistant city attorney. 


“The city’s position is it properly issued a demolition permit,” Coppola said. He acknowledged, however, that the case has “become “a tangled legal web.”


The legal quagmire started last year when the city’s Historic Landmark Commission voted in favor of granting historic zoning to the property, and the City Council in March gave preliminary approval to the new zoning designation. That’s when the family filed suit against the city, arguing that their property rights were being violated.


In preparing for a trial on the matter in May, city staff discovered what they believed to be a fatal flaw in the procedure leading up to the landmark commission’s vote. As a result, the staff issued a demolition permit for the house. The neighborhood association then went to court and was granted a temporary restraining order halting demolition until Thursday’s hearing.

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