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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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Commission delays demolition of Hyde Park home
Friday, November 2, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano
The Historic Landmark Commission put off approving the demolition permit for a long-abandoned Hyde Park house last week, hoping the delay would give rise to an alternative solution.
In a unanimous 4-0 vote, the commission postponed the property buyer’s effort to demolish a 1945 house at 4406 Avenue F to make way for a new house. Commissioners asked the buyer to get together with the neighborhood association’s development review committee in the meantime. Chair Laurie Limbacher, and Commissioners Dan Leary and John Rosato were absent.
The house is a contributing structure to the Hyde Park Local Historic District. This means that the commission must approve its demolition and issue a certificate of appropriateness for any replacement building.
Janell Ross, who is the temporary administrator of the estate (following the death of her cousin, John David Peck, who was the property owner), explained the circumstances of the house, which has been uninhabited for fifteen years, were unique.
The former owner of the house, Lenore Priest, died in 1988. The next year, in 1999, Peck began an “adverse possession” of the house. Under the laws of adverse possession, one can pay taxes on an abandoned property. If it remains unclaimed for ten years, it becomes theirs. However, heirs to the house have the right to take possession during this time, making the incentive for investment low.
Ross explained that in 2008, the city asked Peck to demolish the property. At that time, not having full possession of the house and looking at a cost of about $25,000, Peck declined. Instead, he offered the keys to the city.
According to Ross, the city also did not want to pay for the demo, and told Peck that if he continued to pay taxes, painted the house, and put a new roof on it, the adverse possession could continue.
Currently, Scott Miller hopes to buy the property, tear down the house, and build something new that will fit in with the neighborhood.
“My first goal was to rehab, but I couldn’t get anyone to back me, or for contractors to follow through with wanting to take part in it,” said Miller.
A structural engineering report from the applicant indicates the slab foundation is damaged to a degree that it is irreparable. Complicating matters, the house is located in both the 25 and 100-year flood plain.
Pictures show the house to be in disrepair, but the neighborhood development review committee stood up to the demolition, explaining that they felt the structure was salvageable.
Commissioner Terri Myers agreed.
“I was one of those people who went in to buy and restore a small, historic house… It had been vacant for over 30 years,” said Myers. “I think that any house can be saved and restored.”
Unusually, there is no recommendation from staff on the case. Allison McGee, with the city’s Historic Preservation Office, said that she was waiting on the opinions of the structural engineer, who would provide additional information on the condition of the foundation.
The structural engineer, Jeffery Tucker, said that the foundation was irreparable. He was non-committal when asked by the commission about the feasibility of removing the foundation and replacing it with a pier and beam foundation.
Commissioner Leslie Wolfenden Guidry said she had mixed feelings about the demolition, noting that while the structure was contributing, it wasn’t a “fantastic example of its type.”
“One thing about the local historic district is that it (the house) doesn’t have to be fantastic,” said Myers.