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Landmark Commission considers Travis Heights bungalow relocation

Monday, August 4, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Historic Landmark Commission is taking a month to ponder whether it is worth going out on a limb to keep a Travis Heights bungalow in place.

Don Garner is seeking permission to relocate his 1926 bungalow at 206 East Live Oak Street, as well as the property’s 1939 addition, although he did not specify where he plans to move the house if the city approves his request. Commissioners said they needed more time to determine whether it is the right move.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky spoke in favor of initiating historic zoning for the property.

“This house is truly a landmark in this neighborhood,” said Sadowsky, who said its removal would have a deleterious effect on the ability for the neighborhood to maintain its character into the future.

Sadowsky pointed to a new condominium project just to the east of the house as proof that neighborhood preservation was becoming increasingly important.

Garner, who has lived in the neighborhood for 39 years, also referenced the new construction. He explained that his property taxes have doubled in the year since the day care was redeveloped.

The property has been a commercial rental for the past 26 years, which Garner said has worked fine until recently. The change in property taxes has made that use an economic burden.

“I could sell it, but I see what’s going on in the neighborhood. I think that I could do a more sensitive development than some unknown builder or buyer,” said Garner, who is working with architect Tom Hatch to develop Art Nouveau style town homes.

Garner said that he believed the project would be a major contribution to the architectural fabric of the neighborhood, especially when compared to the house that currently stands on the property.

“Yes, the original house is old. And, being old, it has a history, but that doesn’t make it a historic landmark,” said Garner. He explained that while the Craftsman house looked like it currently does when he bought it, the addition was “an absolutely atrocious cube” that was improved by Hatch-designed porch about 20 years ago.

Evan Thompson of Preservation Texas encouraged the commission to initiate historic zoning. He explained that in 2004, Preservation Texas had included working-class neighborhoods on their most-endangered list, and the “poster child” for that listing had been very similar to the Craftsman at 206 East Live Oak Street.

Hatch told the commissioners that the section of Live Oak Street in question was no longer very residential at all, and though he thought the bungalow was a “sweetheart,” he believed in selective densification of Austin’s inner city. Hatch spoke in support of saving the house through relocation.

Garner purchased the property in 1988, as an investment. At the time, it was zoned CS (General Commercial Services,) but he agreed to voluntarily reduce the zoning to GR (Community Commercial) when the neighborhood plan was established. That change greatly reduced the allowed improvements on the property.

The Historic Landmark Commission voted 5-0 to postpone the case until Aug. 25 in order to allow for more research about its history.  Commissioners Dan Leary and John Rosato were absent.

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