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ZAP seeks delay on changes to Historic Preservation Code

Monday, December 12, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

An attempt to rush changes to the city’s Historic Preservation Code fell flat at the Zoning and Platting Commission last week. After a briefing – and extensive – discussion, the board voted to ask for a 90-day delay to further consider the proposed changes.


Commissioner Sandra Baldridge moved to “object to passage of this ordinance due to short notice to the public, and due to short notice to this commission, specifically and ask for a 90-day extension on approval.” The commission voted 6-1 in favor of the deal, with Commissioner Patricia Seeger voting against.


Tere O’Connell, president-elect of the Heritage Society of Austin, spoke in opposition to the changes due to the short notice.


“We haven’t had time to review the work that is before you tonight. It was just posted on the city website today. I asked city staff for this information several days ago, and never received it… Based on principle, we are in opposition to the changes at this time,” said O’Connell.


Commissioner Gregory Bourgeois agreed.


“If it makes you feel any better, I think we are in the same boat, because we got the ordinance when we sat down here tonight,” he said. “I wholeheartedly echo that concern, and I do feel some frustration in that we are here to help and to get the ordinance, which I understand was started in August, but to get it and have such a short period of time before it is scheduled to go to Council is frustrating.”


Council has scheduled a public hearing and possible action on the ordinance for this Thursday, but a 90-day delay would move that to sometime in March. According to Jerry Rusthoven of the Planning and Development Review Department, the ordinance changes are going to the Historic Landmark Commission tonight and the Planning Commission on Tuesday. Staff still plans to bring the item to Council on Thursday.

The Historic Landmark Commission has spent about two years working on the topic. After a briefing in April, City Council passed a resolution in August to develop an ordinance relating to changes in the city’s historic preservation program.


Since that time, staff has been working with the Law Department to put together proposed code amendments.


Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky briefed the commission, explaining that he would only address some of the proposed amendments.


“The resolution addressed quite a few things, and we are only going to take up a couple of those tonight,” said Sadowsky.


He presented amendments dealing with designation criteria, tax exemptions, and a demolition delay for contributing buildings in historic districts.


“This is still in extremely rough form, so basically we’ll take your comments tonight, your input and we’ll work on a more refined ordinance based on that,” explained Sadowsky.


Judging from the discussion, there is a lot that remains to be worked out.


Though the Zoning and Platting Commission did ask for more time to consider the changes, they did have two recommendations on the topic of designation.


The commission asked that for buildings deemed historic due to an association with person of significance, a 10-year association with that person be a baseline.


They also asked that the word “neighborhood” be omitted from the community value criterion for designating a historic landmark, in line with staff’s recommendation.


Chair Betty Baker noted the difference between a community value and a neighborhood value, saying, “I am going to concur, because the 7-11 is important to you if you need milk at midnight. I think it should be taken out.”

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