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Landmark Commission delays fate of Pine Street

Monday, November 24, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

The future of East Austin’s Pine Street Station will remain in limbo for at least another month after last week’s postponement of a grass-roots bid for historic landmark designation.

Though the Historic Landmark Commission again discussed the buildings at Fifth and Waller streets, the case was postponed again. Following public outcry about the proposed demolition of the buildings, the Historic Landmark Commission has opted to consider whether the buildings qualify for historic landmark status. The removal of the buildings is part of a plan to redevelop the Plaza Saltillo area, with Endeavor Group heading the effort to develop about 10 acres in East Austin as housing, parkland and a grocery store.

Though the discussion at the commission was abbreviated, the backup contained an Oct. 24 letter from the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The backup also contained a proposal from Capital Metro to move the building at 414 Waller St. to Springdale and Bolm Road, next to the railroad tracks. Currently, there is a train depot on the site.

That letter, written by Capital Metro Vice President of Real Estate & Asset Management John Hodges, clarified several inaccuracies that he said were reported by the Austin Chronicle. The letter explained that the current resident who has been fighting to save the building — Reji Thomas — has been evicted, though the organization has granted her two extensions “to remove her belongings.”

Additionally, the letter questions the historic nature of Pine Street Station.

“The building was reviewed by two outside organizations and in both cases it was determined that this building does not meet the requirements of a historical building. As part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process required for potential future use of the property, the Texas Historical Commission determined that Capital Metro’s proposed use of the property would have no effect on historical properties,” wrote Hodges.

At last week’s Historic Landmark Commission meeting — and in a 21-page report of her own — ESP Design Consultants owner Elizabeth Purcell disputed Capital Metro’s report. She pointed out that they were seeking to preserve three buildings, not one, for starters.

“It appears by the reconnaissance survey that Capital Metro’s expert team didn’t even drive by or go into the buildings at all to perform their investigation. It also appears that they did no research whatsoever about the history of the buildings and the major impact and growth they brought to the city of Austin,” said Purcell.

Purcell said the building should not be moved, and wondered what would happen to the other buildings.

The four commissioners present at the meeting moved to postpone the case until their Dec. 15 meeting in order to give them more time to read Purcell’s report, which she explained contained the complete history of the building, which was built in 1925 as a warehouse for Humble Oil and Refining Company.

Staff has made no recommendation on the initiation of historic zoning.


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