Tuesday, April 26, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

City gathers input on restoring Norwood House, fate of dog park

With accusations about the homeless ruining the historic Norwood house and accosting elderly ladies, and worries about closing the dog park and eliminating public access, the process to renovate Norwood Park got off to a spirited start last week.

 

The Parks and Recreation Department is paying CasaBella Architects $105,137 for feasibility planning on the potential restoration and reuse of the original Norwood house and grounds. The park, located at Riverside Drive and I-35, has been a city property since 1985.

 

Once the grounds to the majestic Norwood House, the city land is now used as a dog park, with the house long ago falling into disrepair after decades of sitting empty and untended. Many groups have taken an interest in it over the years, most recently the Norwood Posse, a group of volunteers from the South River City Citizens, formed to promote the restoration of the estate and raise money.

 

The Norwood House was built in 1922 by local developer Ollie O. Norwood and his wife, Calie Norwood, who are best known for building the Norwood Tower in downtown Austin.

 

Though the house has been recognized by the City of Austin as a Historic Landmark since 1998, due to its current condition the estate is not considered eligible for then National Register of Historic Places or Recorded State Historic Landmark listings.

 

A video at the presentation showed a thoroughly trashed house that barely resembled photographs of the estate in its heyday.

 

“We do think that about 40 percent of what’s remaining is compromised by rotting wood,” said preservation consultant Anna Mod. “I do not believe, or could not recommend, that if we were going for city of Austin landmark right now today… I don’t think we could. We have it, so the house is protected.”

 

“A lot of people think that if you are on the national registry you’re eligible for all of these grants,” said Mod. “That’s really not something to stand on.”

 

Many of the people at the meeting were there to ensure future use of the off-leash dog park. They wore neon dog bones pinned to their chests, gathering emails for an upcoming rally to save the dog park. One woman in the crowd told the consultants that the dog park had high status in Texas and is spoken of as a “dog park to emulate.”

 

Though presenters avoided talk of specific plans for the park at this first meeting, and focused on public input, it seems that the fears of Norwood dog park lovers are well-founded.

 

“We are working with our off-leash advisory committee to find sites that are more appropriate,” said Marty Stump, the Park Development Coordinator for Austin Parks and Recreation. Stump told In Fact Daily that the committee had recommended the eventual “phase out” and relocation of the dog park. “The way that park is used is a little different than what specialists would say is how to use an off-leash park,” said Stump.

“We have to think about the other 95 percent of Austinites and visitors to the city, and what the presence of the off-leash park here means to their positive impression of the city or negative impression of the city,” said Stump.

 

A combination of factors has pushed it into the forefront recently. Talk of an urban rail line near the park, and the potential use as a trail head for the Lady Bird Lake Boardwalk have contributed to renewed interest in the project.

 

“This is the first attempt to start a process that, up until now, until Sara Hensely came on as director, was just a step-child that no one wanted to deal with,” said Linda Guerrero, Chair of the Parks and Recreation Board.

 

The meeting was the first of four designed to garner public input.

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