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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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Landmark Commission postpones decision on Hyde Park home
Thursday, September 29, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano
With controversy over historic tax abatements still raging, the Historic Landmark Commission voted Monday to postpone hearing a Hyde Park landmark designation case.
“The owners stand to gain enormously financially with this change, that’s clear,” said Joe Bedell, a neighbor that opposed the designation. “We’re talking about a tax abatement of $10,000 per year.”
One of the property owners, Blinda McClelland, stated that the $10,000 figure was new to her. She said her understanding was that City Council had restricted tax abatements to $2500.
In fact, the city estimates the total annual tax abatement at $9,639 according to the zoning change review sheet that was submitted, with $2000 coming from the city and the rest coming from the other taxing authorities in the region.
The house, which stands at 4001 Avenue G, is already part of the Hyde Park historic district. It was the residence of Cicero “Crutch” Crutchfield, who is known for developing and popularizing the city manager form of government across Texas.
Commissioner Joe Arriaga said that he would not support the designation, despite saying that the restoration is one of the best he’s seen in a long time.
“If you look at the photographs, obviously there have been a lot of modifications. If the main portion of the house would have remained intact, it would have probably changed my mind. However, the porch is different … what’s been restored is different, the stairs are different, the orientation of some of the windows are different, and obviously the majority of the new structure, which has been added recently,” said Arriaga.
The current owners, McClelland and Howard Liljestrand, purchased the house in 1995.They have since built a two-story addition, installed a metal roof, and replaced the landscaping with native plants. With permission from the Historic Landmark Office, the owners demolished the garage in 2006 and built a small cottage in the style of the main house.
McClelland said that she was very careful to make sure that all of the changes conformed to the standards of the neighborhood and the Landmark Commission and that she had hired an architect and the chairman of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Planning team to do the design work.
For some, the changes to the house are too extensive to warrant special designation.
“I think it would be a mistake to have redundancy of protection for this particular structure. I would encourage all of you to look at this house up close and look at the addition. It’s an enormous addition … It’s an enormous change of scale. It’s the kind of scale that wouldn’t be allowed in a historic district, or for a landmark,” said Bedell.
“Because landmark status carries such a significant monetary advantage, it is essential, at this point in time, that a landmark be significant,” said Bedell. “Budgets are in shortfall. Now is not the time to reduce potential city revenue without having very good reasons.”
Bedell went on to point out that the protection offered by the local historic district is the same as the landmark designation; the difference, Bedell said, is purely financial.
McClelland said that while the abatement was part of their motivation for seeking the zoning, it was not something that factored into their work to “bring it into the modern age, to restore it, and renovate it.”
“It was a diamond in the rough, and now we feel it is a jewel that needs to be put in the crown of the historic landmark homes of Hyde Park,” said McClelland. “What we are trying to do is just get the strongest possible protection for the house, for the future of our neighborhood.”
When asked about what additional preservation the house would have under the changed zoning, McClelland said, “As far as I know, it just kind of increases the protection on the house, from further alterations, etc.”
After an assurance that the house could be renamed to honor the original owner of the house, Commissioner Terri Myers moved to approve the rezoning.
The commission did not vote on that motion, opting instead to postpone the case until more information about the original structure could be supplied. When questioned, Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky stated that no plans from the original construction are available.
The Historic Landmark Commission expects to consider the case again on October 11.
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