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Landmark Commission uses ‘demolition delay’ policy to study home

Tuesday, March 6, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

Last week, the Historic Landmark Commission voted to use a brand new “demolition delay” policy that allows the city to put a hold on demolition plans for structures that do not have historic landmark status.


With the demolition permit on hold, the city will now research the history of the house located at 2410 Pemberton Parkway in order to determine whether or not they will initiate historic zoning.


City Council approved code changes in December that allow the Historic Landmark Commission to delay the release of total demolition permits for properties in a National Register Historic District or a pending Local Historic District for up to 180 days.


After 180 days, the city has to either release the permit or take some other action, such as initiating historic zoning.


“The demolition delay accomplishes several things. First of all, it allows staff additional time without necessarily initiating a historic zoning case on the property. It allows staff additional time to evaluate this house… in order to make a good, cogent evaluation of its architectural significance, and it also allows the opportunity to open discussions about alternatives to demolition of the house,” said Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky.


The home was constructed in 1950 by Fehr & Granger Architects. It is a contributing structure in the Old West Austin National Register Historic District.


The current owner, Susan McElroy, inherited the house from her father in 2005, and is seeking demolition in order to construct two houses on the property.


“The way the city of Austin has grown, an acre that close to downtown is kind of, tax-wise, it’s kind of inappropriate for it to only be a single family at this point,” said McElroy.


In an email, McElroy stated that while she had dreams of preserving the house after her father’s passing, haphazard remodeling and maintenance issues caused her to give up. She wrote “The best way to honor Fehr & Granger’s sensitivity to the site would be to rebuild, making this piece of property accessible to several families, instead of just one.”


Applicant Rance Clouse told the commission that the current house sits on two lots and the placement of the house prevents a second house from being built.


Clouse, who noted that he is partners with the great-grandson of Charles Granger himself, explained, “The challenge we have with this property is that we have two legal lots on a property that is significantly underutilized. It’s underutilized and undervalued for the current owner. It’s underutilized and undervalued for its urban location. That in and of itself is inconsistent with the philosophies with Fehr & Granger.”


Both the applicant and owner also described the condition of the house as poor and currently uninhabitable.


This is somewhat backed up by a staff report, which recommends the applicant consider rehabilitating the house, but states, “The property has been vacant and poorly maintained for a number of years, and has open and broken windows, allowing exposure to the elements. The grounds are overgrown and cluttered with debris; however, the house appears, from exterior visual inspection, to be structurally sound. This would have to be confirmed by an appropriate professional.”


The Historic Landmark Commission voted 5-0 to approve the delay, with Chair Laurie Limbacher and Commissioner Joe Arriaga absent. The vote places it back on the March 26 agenda for a report, at which point the commission can opt to either continue the demolition delay, initiate historic zoning on the property, or approve the demolition.

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