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Commission unhappy about plan to remodel historic home

Thursday, April 7, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

In what Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky termed a “difficult case,” the Historic Landmark Commission last week was unable to prevent the remodel of a contributing structure in the Bryker Woods neighborhood.


The Kerbey Lane house is a contributing property to the Old West Austin National Register district. Built in 1941, Sadowsky described it as a “remarkably intact” Cape Cod style, colonial revival house. The homeowner, Clifford Zeifman, plans to remodel the house, covering the house with metal siding, and demolishing the existing attached one-car garage entirely, replacing it with a two-story garage with a storage loft above.


“The applicant proposes to transform this completely, so that it would not be contributing to the historic district anymore,” said Sadowsky. “This house is going to present itself as completely metal fabrication.”


Sadowsky requested that the applicant reconsider the proposal, as did the commission, but that was all they were able to do.


“I think what this represents is the incremental deterioration as a national register district and as a potential local historic district and it really saddens me,” said Commissioner Terri Myers. “I’m sorry that we can’t do anything about it.”


Architect Heidi Goebel represented the property owner, who was not present, at that hearing. Goebel is also a member of the Board of Adjustment but she was not appearing in that capacity.


“This is what my client likes. He sees no value in wood siding or wood windows, and he likes the metal because of the durability and the maintenance aspects,” said Goebel.


When questioned by the commission as to why her client seemed to have no concern about preserving original design features of the house, Goebel was blunt.


“It’s just not something that is important to him,” said Goebel. “As terrible as that sounds.”


“It’s hard to follow up on that,” said Commissioner Dan Leary, who seemed a bit stunned. “I assume, then, that he has absolutely no regard for the fact that he is in a historic district and is really not being very, I would say, friendly to the neighborhood and the fact that that neighborhood is very concerned about the designation.” Leary added that removing a contributing structure threatened the historic designation, which requires that the number of contributing structures not drop below 50 percent.


Several neighbors spoke against the remodel of the property, which will be Zeifman’s fourth in the neighborhood.


Margaret Ann Garner lives directly behind one of Zeifman’s other buildings, which she described as a “towering bright-orange metal structure.” She described his adjoining properties as “kind of a compound.”


Garner said another of Zeifman’s properties, a bright red building, is “very bizarre and kind of sinister.” She said it was “frightening to the children at Bryker Woods Elementary school, with clown faces on the side which are now eroding, and getting kind of chipped.”


“The proposed design changes detract disturbingly and in a harsh, jarring, fashion with the neighborhood character and have been very disturbing to the residents in the neighborhood,” said Garner


Vice Chair John Rosato reminded the commission that they could take no action on the remodel, but only an opportunity to make comments. He spoke to Goebel at the close of the hearing.


“I think it’s really clear the whole purpose of this is to get feedback to your owner and let him know how much opposition there is,” said Rosato. “Usually there are one or two things that we could suggest, but it seems the sentiment is the whole house is just inappropriate.”


“I take this very seriously, and they are making very valid points,” said Goebel. “I understand the conflict. I promise I do.”


The Historic Landmark Commission has advisory review over contributing structures in the National Register District. This means that they can review it and make recommendations, but the property owners are under no obligation to follow those recommendations. Local Historic districts, on the other hand, are bound by Historic Landmark Commission rulings, which are determined by design standards.

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