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Commission considers duplex in national register district

Friday, February 11, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

Architect Jeff Barger wants to design a duplex in the Old West Austin National Register District that would be inspired by the nearby Bohn House, but his Bryker Woods neighbors aren’t particularly impressed.


Old West Austin is one of 13 national register districts in Austin, which means plans for new construction there are reviewed by the Historic Landmark Commission. With the potential to put new construction on nearby Wooldridge Drive, Barger and his wife, Betty Trent, want to add some more modern touches to their duplex concept, which will either be “regular-” or “super-sized” once the couple makes its case before the Residential Design and Compatibility Commission early next month.


“This property is at the corner of 29th and Wooldridge, just up the street from the historic Bohn House,” Trent said. “We loved the concept of having a duplex, and we love the Moderne architectural styles in the neighborhood.”


Built in the 1930s on the banks of Shoal Creek, the distinctive Hubert Bohn House, with its Moderne style, wasn’t designated historic until after the death of the Bohns in 2005. Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky said Hubert Bohn simply didn’t consider his house to be all that special.


The Historic Landmark Commission does not take up-or-down votes on whether structures like the one Barger is requesting can be built. Under current city code, commissioners can only make suggestions as to how construction can be improved.


Joyce Basciano of Bryker Woods and Candace Volz of Pemberton Heights spoke out against the construction plans, saying the house’s design is not in keeping with the neighborhood, and Commissioner Terri Myers agreed that solar panels on the house’s roof would make the roof profile very jarring.


The RDCC will get to decide whether the new duplex can exceed its current floor-to-area ratios. Volz, who showed pictures of the architecture in the neighborhood to the commission on her iPad, said the request for increased density at the RDCC will be, in essence, a request for a variance.


“This is essentially a variance being requested,” Volz said. “We do not support variances in most cases.”


Keith Tanaguchi, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1963, said the property already reaps the benefit of backing up to a city right of way. While most homes on the street have a 10-foot setback, the Bargers’ lot has a built-in 25-foot setback because of adjacent city right of way. Trent argued that the style and design of the house would be superior to what currently exists on the property.


As required by code, the commissioners’ comments were confined to the design elements of the house and its compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood. Commissioners, unlike many of the neighborhood leaders in attendance, did not appear to consider the new construction style to be out of place in the neighborhood.


The commissioners’ suggestions included wanting to see a form for the roof that would leave it “less aggressive” and more articulated with the façade. Solar collectors were discussed as an option for the garage building but not the main house itself. The commission also recommended the owner stick with either wood frame or stucco, in a neutral palette, rather than both types of materials on the façade.

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