Tuesday, February 4, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Commission votes to initiate historic zoning on Clarksville house

A band of Clarksville residents won their first victory at the Historic Landmark Commission last week. They found unanimous support for historic zoning on a house that they say is integral to their community’s history.

 

The commission voted 5-0 to initiate historic zoning at 1607 West 10th Street, despite protests from the new owner, who hopes to remove the house and build a new structure.

 

The house, which is a contributing historic structure in the Clarksville National Register Historic District, was built in 1950 by Cary Baylor. Beginning in 1953, Mary Frances Freeman Baylor and Charles Edward Baylor resided in the house, where they lived until 1971.

 

Mary Baylor is well known in Austin for her work as a community organizer. She was the first director of the Clarksville Neighborhood Center and founder of the Clarksville Community Development Corporation in 1978. Though Baylor was unsuccessful in her protests against the construction of MoPac Boulevard, she did spearhead a successful effort to stop a planned cross-town expressway that threatened to destroy Clarksville.

 

Baylor held community meetings at the house that addressed the need for paved roads, street lights and better drainage for neighborhood. Many of those conditions persisted until the 1970s.

 

“In a lot of African-American settlements, particularly this one, what Mary’s house was the equivalent of this City Hall,” said Commissioner Andrea Roberts. “Because they were so separate and apart from the mainstream. They didn’t have pavement. They didn’t have roads. They had no way of penetrating the system… (That) might help you re-think the nature of the kind of significance we are talking about here.”

 

When Baylor passed away in 1997, the 75th Texas Legislature passed a resolution commemorating her achievements. Clarksville’s Baylor Park is named in her honor.

 

Two of Baylor’s children spoke against the relocation, as well as several neighbors. Those opposed included Malcolm Greenstein, who was an attorney for and helped found the development corporation with Baylor.                                                                   

 

“Mary Baylor was my friend, and she was my conscience,” said Greenstein. “She got people to do things. And because of her, the neighborhood is the way it is. We started a corporation to slow down gentrification in Clarksville. We own 14 units of low- and moderate- housing. Clarksville is a mixed neighborhood, in large part, to Mary Baylor’s vision.”

 

Though initially the owners were asking for permission to demolish the house, they are now hoping to move the house outside the city limits. This is despite assertions from professional home mover Kevin Whitworth, who told the commission that the house “is worth zero dollars.”

 

“It just doesn’t make sense, with the values of the properties in that neighborhood, to try and restore it,” said Whitworth, who went on to explain that a new house would help the neighborhood to improve, essentially honoring Baylor’s legacy.

 

Owner Sean Kubicek told the commission that he purchased the property a year ago and, at the time, it was advertised as a great place to build. Kubicek is a real estate agent, and he told the commission that in the past he had renovated houses, and as a principle tried not to demolish or relocate houses if possible.

 

“I’m trying to create a 2,000 squarefoot house. I’m trying to live an urban lifestyle. I want two off-street parking (spaces.)…This gets back to property rights, folks. I bought this property. I want to live downtown. As far as I see it, there’s two choices: we either go against the property owner‘s wish and attempt to zone it historic, or you release the relocation permit, which is what I’m requesting,” said Kubicek.

 

Clarksville Community Development Organization President Mary Reed told the commission that their Board of Directors voted unanimously to oppose moving the house, which could chip away at the integrity of their historic district. She said the planned 2,100 square foot house was not in character for the neighborhood and “would irreparably change the look of the street.”

 

“The owner is in this situation because he made a bad decision when he purchased 1607, despite the fact that he is a realtor,” said Reed. “He went ahead and bought a home that presents him with a whole host of problems. A tiny, historically-contributing house in a National Historic District. A home that sits on a very small lot… He would have been far better off purchasing a house in a less-urban neighborhood.”

 

Though the Historic Landmark Commission voted unanimously to approve the historic zoning, City Council will ultimately have to approve the change for it to take effect. Chair Laurie Limbacher and Commissioner Terri Myers were absent.

 

“I think it’s our responsibility to maintain the character of historic districts and, particular, buildings of significance,” said Commissioner Dan Leary. “I think we would be remiss if we didn’t establish historic zoning on this house.”

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Historic Landmark Commission: The city’s Historic Landmark Commission promotes historic preservation of buildings and structures. The commission also reviews applications and permits for historic zoning and historic grants.

historic preservation: Official actions of a municipality such as the City of Austin taken to preserve structures with their jurisdiction. Preservation is often accompanied by a property tax exemption.

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