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Council to pass judgment on tax exemptions for historic properties

Thursday, April 25, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

As part of the ongoing city budget process, Austin City Council members will take a look at a list of historic properties today, and consider which will be granted a partial tax exemption for the coming year. In total, 448 landmarks are being recommended for partial tax exemptions.


Ten properties are being recommended for denial of the exemption based on insufficient or absent affidavits of need. Much of this is thanks to increased enforcement on the part of the city.


The affidavits of need, a statement about why a given property needs a historic exemption, are the result of a lawsuit brought by Dominic Chavez, Mike Levy, and Alfred Stanley.


If Council members follow the Historic Landmark Commission’s lead, among those that will lose their partial exemptions is the Paggi House at 200 Lee Barton Drive The restaurant failed an inspection by Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky and its owners did not respond to a deficiency letter from the city. 


The 907 Congress Avenue Gandberry Building and 909 Mitchell-Robertson Building both had insufficient affidavit statements. Dos Banderos at 410 East Sixth Street and Schneider Vaults at 400 West 2nd Street both failed to provide statements on their affidavits.


Meanwhile, another suit from Chavez, Levy, and Ed Wendler Jr. over historic exemptions continues to move forward. This action asks the city’s taxing authorities to stop granting tax exemptions to properties without actively ruling on the affidavits of need – as is currently the case.


A bench trial for that case is set to begin May 6.


None of the legal issues came up when the commission weighed in on the properties under consideration for historic tax exemptions on Monday night. Indeed, only one person spoke to the commission about the exemptions.


Brendon Puthoff, who is on the board of the housing corporation that owns 910 Poplar, asked the commission preserve tax exemption for the property. In total, the property received $6079.32 in exemptions from all of the taxing authorities in 2012.


“This year, when inspections occurred, the property was found to have numerous deficiencies and be in very bad repair,” said Deputy Preservation Officer Alyson McGee. “There were damaged windows, damaged doors, quite a lot of refuse – garbage and stuff – that indicates the property is not being maintained, which is why staff, at this point, is recommending it not be approved.”


“On the grounds not meeting the city code to preserve and repair,” said McGee.


“We’ve struggled over the last couple of years,” explained Puthoff, who explained that owners had managed to wrest the property out of the hands of developers, but at a very high price. “We have taken whatever steps we can to meeting those requirements. To be perfectly honest, we’re all volunteers with this organization, and four years ago I had twin boys, so I’ve (had less time) to personally go down there and make sure it’s being well maintained by the tenants that live there,” said Puthoff.


Puthoff said that a letter asking owners to address property deficiencies took months to arrive because the letter was sent to an address he no longer used. He assured the commission that he could address the deficiencies in short order, adding that after a refinance, owners would finally be able to deal with some more serious repairs that had been needed for a while.


“We don’t have the authority to say, ‘You meant well, so we are going to set aside these code requirements’,” said Chair Laurie Limbacher.


Still, the commission added the Poplar property to the list of approved property, with a requirement that a written commitment and timeline be provided to staff. Limbacher voted against the home’s inclusion, calling the property a “repeat offender” and saying that she needed “something more.”


Aside from that one vote, the commission voted unanimously in favor of staff’s recommendations. Commissioners Dan Leary and Leslie Wolfenden Guidry were absent.


Once finalized, the City Council-approved list will be shared with the Austin Independent School District, which also grants historic tax exemptions.

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