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Commission backs Crestview neighbors’ request for historic zoning

Thursday, September 12, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Siding with the neighborhood and defying the owner’s request, the Historic Landmark Commission has unanimously backed initiating historic zoning for a beloved Crestview property.


The house at 1501 Richcreek is one of a cluster of larger homes in the Crestview neighborhood that residents see as a cornerstone. The new owner is seeking a permit to demolish the house entirely, sparking dismay from those who live nearby.


The commission voted 4-0 to initiate historic zoning, with Commissioners John Rosato, Andrea Roberts and Dan Leary absent. The case will return to the Landmark Commission for its October meeting, where staff will present additional information about the house. Historic zoning could stave off demolition of the house, but it would have to be approved by City Council.


Though residents fear the house will be torn down to make way for duplexes, new owner Lori Smyth says there are no concrete plans for the lot yet.


Smyth, who said she had just moved into town via Santa Barbara, identified herself as a “big proponent of preserving historic landmarks and architecturally significant homes.”


“I would never knock down a house that I thought was architecturally significant to the neighborhood,” said Smyth. “The house just isn’t what I want. It doesn’t appeal to me. It’s not my style. I don’t care for the home.”


“I love the location,” said Smyth. “I love the neighborhood.”


Testimony from Crestview residents was filled with emotion, with neighbor after neighbor citing the significance of the property to the neighborhood.


Nancy Harris, who has lived in Crestview for more than 30 years, explained the role the home had played in her life, calling it “the jewel of Crestview.”


“This corner gave many in this neighborhood a sense of pride in our community, even if we did not have actual ownership,” said Harris.


Harris told the commission that several neighbors who had hoped to restore the house had put in offers when it was for sale, but were turned down by the bank, allegedly, because theirs were not cash offers.


It’s clear that the neighborhood was caught off guard by the proposed demolition.


“It was unfathomable to us that this house would ever be torn down,” said Crestview resident Mike Lavigne, “until we started getting offers for a half-million dollars for tear-downs. This is kind of a new phenomenon for us.”


“Otherwise, I’m sure someone would have put in for landmark status a while ago.”


Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky explained his recommendation against initiating historic zoning.


“This house is almost an anomaly in relation to the neighborhood. It does not really fit into the context of the rest of Crestview,” said Sadowsky. “This house does not really express the historic character of Crestview in and of itself…It really does sort of stand out as an anomaly rather than an integral part of history.”


Commissioner Terri Myers suggested that the distinct nature of the house could make it historically significant.


“This property stands out in Crestview. On the one hand, you say it’s an anomaly. In some ways it is, but if you think about a village in Europe where the castle is in the center of the community– this seems to be the center of the community,” said Myers.


The house was built by R.J. McKown in 1951 for his own use. A letter from his granddaughter, Marilyn McKown, was read aloud. The letter explained that after working on Red River levees and rebuilding the town of Frisco after a fire, her grandfather relocated to Austin, where the family has lived to this day. The fifth generation of McKowns continues to work in construction presently.


“It would be a shame to tear down this well-built house that my grandfather built for many, many years and replace it with commercial properties,” wrote McKown.


Laurel Dundee, who was raised in Crestview and returned after college, fought back tears when she spoke about the property.


“I feel compelled to do all I can to save this beautiful home,” said Dundee. “I take a lot of pride in Crestview and I urge you to consider how much the aesthetic heritage of our neighborhood could change if you approve the demolition or relocation of this wonderful house.”


“Here in Austin we are going through changes, and I welcome the new cultural additions. But must we lose our neighborhood cultures as well? It’s not only the east side that’s at risk, but all well-established older neighborhoods of Austin. Are we to lose what it means to be an Austin original merely for the sake of profit?”

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