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Commission okays ‘pending’ demolition order for Habitat Hunters building

Thursday, July 11, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Historic Landmark Commission has given the green light to developers wanting to demolish the building that has been home to Habitat Hunters for almost 30 years.


Though a preexisting lease may prevent the immediate destruction of the house, the commission voted 4-0 to approve the permit, which will allow the potential buyers to demolish the circa 1921 house at 503 West 30th Street just north of the UT campus.


Chair Laurie Limbacher and Commissioners Dan Leary and John Rosato were absent.


Because of changes to the structure, and lack of historical significance, staff did not recommend historic landmark status for the house, though Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky did encourage relocation.


Peter Aronoff spoke on behalf of the company that currently has the property in escrow, Scotia Western States Housing LLC., saying that if they went forward with the purchase of the property they would like to demolish it and redevelop the site.


Though Aronoff says that he would honor their tenant’s rights if Habitat Hunters choose to renew their lease, he explained he was seeking a demolition permit for the house just in case. Habitat Hunters has the option to renew their lease for five years in October. 


“We would like the permission to demolish now. That doesn’t mean we are going to move forward with it,” said Aronoff. “If they don’t extend, we will move forward with the demolition.”


After a recent change, demolition permits can be good for up to three years (including extensions,) so if Habitat Hunters do renew their lease for five years, the owners will most certainly need to apply for a new permit.


“We are in a valid lease. We have a five year option to renew that lease. So my question is, why are we here today? Because nothing can be done to that building so long as I renew the lease,” said Jeff Plotkin, who is the Vice President of Habitat Hunters.


Plotkin spoke to save the building. He told the commission that they had not made a decision about renewing the lease yet. He said his understanding was that the land, and the surrounding land was slated for a three-story condo project.


“It wouldn’t make any sense for us to give notice without knowing who the building owner is going to be,” said Plotkin. 


Plotkin explained that their decision to renew was dependent on what happened with the adjacent property – at 501 West 30th – which did not require a demolition permit. He explained that while the applicant may not even the purchase the property, a plan to build condos around his business could make his life “somewhat miserable.”


“We’re a known fixture and part of the history of that part of Austin. When people think of Habitat Hunters…they know it’s the blue and purple building between Trudy’s and the CVS,” said Plotkin.


“I urge you to look at the historical significance of 503 West 30th, how it fits in right now, what surrounds it, and certainly the emotional attachment that myself and my business partner have to this 28-year relationship,” said Plotkin. “People know where we’re at, and we’d like to be able to stay there.”


Paul Russell also spoke in opposition to the demolition. Russell lives and works next door to the property.


“I just don’t want it to change. I want this neighborhood to stay a lot like it is,” said Russell. “It’s a charming area, and I’d like it to be exactly like it is. We have no idea what the plans are to replace it. We’re worried that it’s going to become big buildings instead of charming little houses. That’s why I’m here. I would like to see it stay the same.”

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