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Landmark Commission blocks two demolitions in Bryker Woods

Tuesday, May 6, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Faced with increasingly large numbers of demolition permits for historic homes, and very few tools to stop them, the Historic Landmark Commission held out hope for compromise last week.

 

Commissioners stalled two demolitions in the Bryker Woods neighborhood alone. Both houses were contributing structures in the Old West Austin National Register District, but that designation gives the city limited regulatory power.

 

In the first case, the owners were seeking a demolition permit for the 1938 house at 3006 Glenview Avenue, in order to construct a two-and-a-half story house in its place. Though the property owners said they had worked with local residents to build something more in character with the neighborhood, those who spoke against the project remained unhappy.

 

“Monster homes are taking over, dwarfing the original homes in the area,” said neighbor Joan Holiday. “If you cannot oppose this application – and oppose it strongly – it’s important that we get the designation of Bryker Woods as a National Register Historic District removed. It gives some of us false hope and makes a farce of the label.”

 

Despite opposition from the neighborhood association, owner Chase Hamilton said they had worked hard to win support from the neighborhood, and revised their plans several times.

 

“We’ve gone to great lengths to try and make sure whatever we build to accommodate our family does fit in the neighborhood. We are going to be there for a while,” said Hamilton. “I can’t wait to send my kids to Bryker Woods Elementary School, but I need somewhere to put my kids.”

 

Hamilton said that he had spoken with all of their immediate neighbors, and more distant neighbors, and appreciated their input. He added that some of his neighbors were curious about the boards and commissions process itself because, “as it has said plenty of times, this is happening all over that neighborhood.”

 

“I do think it’s really important that we stick to something that, scale aside, is consistent with the way the neighborhood looks, because the way the neighborhood looks is the reason I want to live there,” said Hamilton.

 

But the scale proved too much to overcome for commissioners, who voted 7-0 to initiate historic zoning. Commissioner Terri Myers speculated that the initiation might be “disingenuous,” but said she was interested in finding out more about the original house.

 

“Somehow there is a misconnect between the neighborhood and the applicant,” said Commissioner Dan Leary. “What’s been proposed could obviously be reduced in size, but what we have here (the current house) is a very, very substantial contribution to the neighborhood.”

 

The other house, located at 1710 West 34th Street, is also a contributing structure in the Old West Austin National Register District. According to Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky, it “exemplifies the original construction in Bryker Woods,” though he didn’t think it would qualify for individual “landmarking.” The commission discussed the proposed replacement house, because with a proposed footprint of 2413 square feet and Neo-Colonial design, it is out-of-character with the neighborhood.

 

Commissioners voted to postpone the case in order to allow the owner to consider alternate plans for their house.

 

“If there ever was a case for a local historic designation in Bryker Woods, this is it. This is a neighborhood that seriously needs some design standards to help govern new construction and to help protect the integrity and character of the existing district,” said Sadowsky. “We see so many cases out of Bryker Woods… It’s time to get moving on a local historic district.”

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