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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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Tuesday, May 6, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano
Backers of Baylor House need one more vote to block demolition
Those hoping to save Clarksville’s Baylor House won a symbolic victory at City Council last week. But without an additional vote in favor of historic zoning, the victory could be a hollow one.
Currently, the house at 1607 West 10th Street is slated for demolition in order for owner Sean Kubicek to construct a new, larger, house on the lot. But since the Historic Landmark Commission voted to initiate historic zoning, the process has been on hold.
The house was once home to community organizer Mary Freeman Baylor, who led the successful fight to save Clarksville from plans to route MoPac Boulevard through the neighborhood. Baylor also fought to get basic services to the area in the 1970s, when things like paved roads, street lights, sewers and sidewalks had not yet reached the neighborhood. Because of these and other accomplishments, Clarksville’s Baylor Park is named in her honor.
Council voted 5-2 to approve the historic designation, with Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Member Bill Spelman voting in opposition. That was enough to pass the change on first reading but ultimately the zoning requires six votes because the owner is opposed. His valid petition requires Council to support the change with a supermajority of six votes.
Council Member Laura Morrison said she was “very excited” to support the designation.
“I just think of the irony of having to deal with this gentrification issue with Ms. Baylor’s house, when she spent her life trying to fight gentrification and preserve some of Clarksville. What we can do here today is zone (her house) historic,” said Morrison. “This is about the history of our city.”
Leffingwell explained his opposition, citing a lack of support from both the Planning Commission and the city’s Historic Preservation Office. He also factored in his feeling that the owner had no reason to suspect that there would be any problem with demolishing the house, which they bought as a teardown.
“The structure itself does not look like it’s worth preserving,” said Leffingwell. “Perhaps there should be a marker saying this remarkable woman lived there for a while. But I think it’s unfair to the owners of the property not to grant the demolition permit.”
As in past hearings, there was plenty of support for a historic designation, with Baylor’s children, neighbors, and friends showing up to speak about her significance to the neighborhood and the importance of preserving her home, where she held community meetings.
At the same time, Kubicek didn’t seem to waiver in his determination to tear the house down in order build a house that would fit his growing family and accommodate his dreams of an “urban lifestyle.” He explained that preserving the house, even in part, would prevent him from having parking on his land, and he wasn’t willing to make that compromise.
To bolster his case, Kubicek brought forward his team of developers who explained the house was in extremely poor condition. His builder, Andrew Milam, told Council members that retaining the front facade and building on the back would mean “exorbitant costs.” He estimated the increase would be 40 to 120 percent more than what is currently planned.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.
Baylor House: Clarksville house once owned by Mary Baylor
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.