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Landmark Commission rejects Crestview bid to designate home

Thursday, October 31, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Some Crestview Neighborhood residents were left crestfallen at Monday night’s Historic Landmark Commission meeting after their bid to designate the McKown-James House fell flat.


The commission voted to initiate the historic zoning process at its Sept. 9 meeting, despite opposition from the owner. However, Monday’s meeting ended with the commission opting not to preserve the house at 1501 Richcreek Road despite heartfelt pleas from Crestview neighbors about its significance to the area.


Lori Smyth purchased the property recently, and is planning to demolish the house entirely, much to the dismay of neighbors.


“This corner gave many in the neighborhood a sense of pride in the community, even if we didn’t have actual ownership. There was, and still is, something magical, mysterious, and majestic that drew people to it,” said neighbor Nancy Harris. “If a small group of people had not fought to preserve the French Quarter when it was considered a blight, or the Alamo, which stood in the way of the development of downtown San Antonio, they would not exist today.”


Those who hoped to preserve their “jewel of Crestview” fought against the proposed demolition with a website, petition, and flyers. In the process, they collected testimony from across the city about the house, and compiled an extensive history of its architecture and inhabitants. The Crestview Neighborhood Plan Contact Team passed a resolution in support of designating the McKown House a City of Austin historic landmark.


But in the end, the commission voted 4-2 to deny historic zoning. Commissioners Terri Myers and Andrea Roberts voted in opposition and Commissioner Mary Jo Galindo was absent.


The property’s owner, Smyth, submitted a petition opposing the zoning change on Oct. 9.


“I’ll just offer to all that did come out tonight that there is a lot of emotion associated with this, but the decision before us is a simple one, and it is: does the house conform to the criteria for designation as an individual landmark in the City of Austin? Staff has made an assessment that it does not,” said Chair Laurie Limbacher. “I appreciate all of the sentiment and interest in the preservation of the house, but I believe that staff has made an accurate assessment.”


Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky explained staff’s reasoning behind recommending against historic zoning. Sadowsky praised the work of the neighborhood, who he said “put together the most incredible compilation of materials about Mr. McKown,” but stated that the effort did not change his mind.


“That level of neighborhood interest is something that we rarely see in any commission.. unfortunately staff doesn’t think that it made the difference between whether the house should be designated a landmark or not,” said Sadowsky, who said that both the historical and architectural significance fell short.


In addition to those speaking in favor of preserving the house, there were several speakers who spoke in favor of its demolition, including adjacent neighbor Fred Bosse, neighbor Heidi Goebel and  agent Mike McHone who was representing the property owner.


In a letter to the commission, Goebel wrote, “The idea that this house could be designated a City of Austin Historic Landmark is frankly bemusing to me, and I think many casual viewers would agree. To be blunt, it’s my opinion that to award Landmark status to the house at 1501 Richcreek might make a mockery of the entire program.


Still, there were dozens of Crestview residents who disagreed strongly enough to speak at the meeting.


“I appreciate the property rights argument. However, sometimes community outweighs that,” said  Harris. “This has nothing to do with what she wants to do with the property. It has to do with the fact that many, many people in the community love this home and feel that it’s a part of our community.”

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