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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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West Point Society continues to push for new Mount Bonnell monument
Monday, June 10, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano
Though they didn’t win the recommendation of the Zoning and Platting Commission, the group hoping to make improvements to Mount Bonnell Park won a victory last week nonetheless.
Ultimately, the commission had no recommendation on the appeal itself. But perhaps more significantly, the commission rejected a suggestion from city legal that the group, who has adopted the park, didn’t have standing to appeal an earlier decision by the Historic Landmark Commission. (See In Fact Daily, May 6)
Assistant City Attorney Maria Sanchez told the commission that West Point Society of Central Texas was not an interested party under city code. She explained that under city code, interested parties must occupy or own a residence within 500 feet of the site, or be an officer of an environmental or neighborhood association that has an interest in site.
Though the West Point Society of Central Texas is not officially an environmental organization, its members adopted the park in 2010. Society member Fred Bothwell told the commission that they had maintained the park with the help of volunteers, even clearing the park of invasive species on occasion. He added that there were probably several members of his group who would qualify as interested parties, should that be necessary.
“I’m not sure there is an interested party, with the way this monument looks,” quipped ZAP Chair Betty Baker. Though the group hopes to make more general improvements to the park and landscaping, the appeal only concerns the badly-damaged monument that commemorates the gift of the park by the Covert Family in 1938. The group would like to replace the limestone marker with one made of granite, which is a more durable material.
More than $120,000 in funds for the larger project hinge on approval of a granite monument. Seed money for the project is coming from the Covert Family, who would like this one to last.
In April, the Historic Landmark Commission approved a certificate of appropriateness for restoration of the monument in-place. It is that decision that the WPSCT was appealing.
“The decision is guaranteeing that it will be exposed to the elements, and result in its continued future deterioration,” said Bothwell. “This is basically an issue of whether the city will benefit from $130,000 worth of enhancements funded through private funding, or whether it will undertake an infinite expense based on an attempt to maintain an object that is going to be subject to continuous deterioration.”
ZAP members voted 5-0-1 in favor of hearing the case, determining that the society has standing. Commissioner Sean Compton abstained, and Commissioner Gabriel Rojas was absent.
The commission was more divided about the actual appeal. In a vote of 3-3, Baker and Commissioners Cynthia Banks and Compton voted to deny the appeal. Commissioners Rahm McDaniel, Jason Meeker and Patricia Seeger voted in favor.
Baker noted that the neglect to the monument must have occurred over a number of years. The monument is currently in pieces, and some of those pieces are missing.
“This is embarrassing. Here’s the city of Austin, which can deny or approve tax exemptions for other property owners if they do not maintain their property, not maintaining its own property,” said Baker. “I’m sorry to say that this monument is not the only thing that the city has neglected, as far as historic properties go.”
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