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Council splits over historic zoning for UT area cottage

Friday, August 27, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

Council members remanded a controversial zoning case in the Grooms Addition back to Planning Commission Thursday for further review, even though the vote tally appeared to make it close to impossible to save the home from demolition.


The Callan-Boswell House, a small Cumberland-style cottage in the Grooms Addition of the North University Neighborhood Association, has gotten more attention in recent months than it has in its entire existence. That existence would be either 65 years or 98 years and depend on one of two versions of its history.


Owners wanted to demolish the modest house. Neighbors wanted to preserve it. The Historic Landmark Commission favored preservation. The Planning Commission voted against it. Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky did not recommend preservation, given clouds over the house’s history.

A mixed reaction might have been expected. Council Member Randi Shade sent a clear message of Council’s mixed emotions to neighbors on historic zoning yesterday, even before the Callan-Boswell House was called up for action. Shade, on an earlier historic zoning case given a house given distinctive unusual modern architecture, voted down historic landmark status, noting that Austin had landmarked more homes than most cities.


“We’re getting close to the 500 mark on homes,” Shade protested, noting that overall landmark stats, on both homes and commercial property, was now closing in on 550, while other cities had fewer than 200 structures landmarked.


Council Member Chris Riley, who would be on opposite sides with Shade in a voting bloc on the future of Callan-Boswell House a couple of hours later, noted adjustments to the historic landmark program were underway.


Changes to benefits, such as tax abatements, were unlikely to be grandfathered, so Riley said he could support the historic zoning of the modern art architecture on Spires-Seekatz House at 1406 Hardouin Ave.


On that vote, Shade lost, 6-1. The vote on the Callan-Boswell House eventually would be 4-3 to send it back to Planning Commission, with Council Members Bill Spelman, Sheryl Cole, Riley and Laura Morrison supporting reconsideration. Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Mike Martinez and Shade were less inclined to think that new information was to alter the demolition request significantly.


Preservation of the property would require a Council vote of 6-1, given the Callan-Boswell House’s preservation was owner opposed, with a neighborhood petition in favor of preservation. The owner filed a demolition permit.


Owners want to tear down the house for new construction on a subdivided lot at 408 E. 33rd St. Neighbors, who are completing a local historic district application, argued the house was home to the “domestic help” for the Finch-Krueger House next door. Sandborne maps indicate a structure on the property, built as early as 1913. Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky, however, cannot make a direct tie between that house and the one moved onto the property in 1945.


“It’s a good example of its style, but there’s uncertainty about its history,” said Sadowsky, who had to admit the structure could be of 1913 origin but the actual proof was not there in city documents. “It’s a good example of its type of architecture, but we cannot base a landmark designation on conjecture.”


Those who live in the Grooms Addition, but not necessarily NUNA, have worked diligently to verify the circa-1913 authenticity of the house. Resident Mary Ingle addressed Council, saying a state preservationist now confirmed some potential validity to the 1913 claim, although others saw the language as much more vague and owners Charles and Christine Boes argued nothing was new in the documents being presented by Ingle to Council.


“Our research has been ignored and discounted during this historic landmark process,” Ingle told Council. “We can now date the cottage at between 1912 and 1914 with new evidence. The bottom line is that this is a 98-year-old cottage that has always been a part of 3800 Duval, on the grounds beyond the house.”


Local neighbors, including ones who knew the last resident of Callan-Boswell House, however, contradicted Ingle’s claims, saying the home was moved and repositioned onto the subdivided lot in 1945. Susan Pryor, who had lived in the neighborhood for 18 years and sought historic designation for her own home, said those pursuing a historic agenda for the Callan-Boswell House wanted to evidence to the contrary, even when it was offered for free.


“The Krueger family made a point of telling us that his (property at 408 E 33rd St) was never a part of their property,” Pryor said. “They led us to believe that this property was moved there in the ‘40s and there was no reason to consider it historic… I was appalled that I could not submit information to their files, even though I had to do significant work on my own property.”


Spelman had enough doubts to call for further review, noting that Planning Commission should have the full array of evidence on the Callan-Boswell House, in order to make an informed decision. Others, like Martinez, were less inclined to believe another review would make a significant impact on a future decision.

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