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Historic commission approves moving Rainey Street houses

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Historic Landmark Commission faced a tough choice: approve the relocation of five structures in the Rainey Street historic district or risk having them demolished.


Commissioners opted to approve the relocation.


“This represents a compromise,” Commissioner Mary Jo Galindo said at the commission’s final meeting of 2012. “I don’t feel good about approving this, but it is a compromise, and it is something better than just watching them be torn down.”


The Rainey Street Historic District has long been a conundrum for the commission, which has hoped to preserve the neighborhood despite development pressures, which arose after the area was zoned for downtown development – and included in the Waller Creek Tax Increment Financing district.


In light of those pressures, and little neighborhood support of preservation, the commission is trying a new tack to encourage relocation of contributing structures to compatible neighborhoods.


Only Commissioner Terri Myers resisted the compromise. She made several impassioned speeches against allowing staff to work with developers on relocation. Myers warned that approving the relocation was “ringing the death knell for the Rainey Street Historic District.”


“This is one of the oldest residential historic districts in Austin. It’s the only one that’s downtown. It represents the initial development of the city after the Civil War and I can’t just wash my hands of this district,” said Myers.


The development firm, LSIR Ltd., has offered to fund up to $25,000 per property for relocation expenses. Moreover, it has also offered to warehouse the buildings if a place hasn’t been found prior to the anticipated move date of October 2013.


Recently, the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation has expressed interest in the houses. The organization hopes to relocate the houses to East Austin, where they would be used as affordable housing.


“All the groups that we are talking to would use these as affordable housing stock. That’s the idea,” attorney Steve Metcalfe of Metcalfe Wolff Stuart & Williams, LLP. He told the commission that the developers were committed to relocation. “We certainly aren’t going to make any profit out of it.”


Commissioner Andrea Roberts said, “As much as we do not want to destroy historic districts … I do appreciate moving towards more creative solutions in trying to address, at least, relocation of the properties. If at the same time we can further other interests, such as affordable housing or infill in East Austin, that’s something I can support.”


Despite Myers’ last-ditch effort to initiate a local historic district, which would offer greater protections to individual houses, the commission voted to allow for relocation in a vote of 4-1, with Myers voting against and Commissioner Dan Leary and Chair Laurie Limbacher absent. This is in line with proposed code amendments that would reward developers in the area for appropriate relocation of houses (See In Fact Daily Dec. 4, 2012.)


“There’s never going to be another Rainey Street. This is the last one, and this is the only one of its kind. Moving the properties may be a good thing for the individual properties, but what will happen ultimately is the entire history of a residential neighborhood … will be gone,” said Myers. “If you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.”

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