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Oakmont Heights neighbors concerned over demos

Monday, November 3, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

With three houses in their neighborhood slated for removal to make way for new construction, residents in Oakmont Heights are concerned.

At their most recent meeting, Historic Landmark Commissioners voted 4-0 to postpone the release of the demolition permit for both 1819 and 1823 West 39th St. in order to allow the developers to discuss their plans with the neighborhood. They also urged the developers to try to relocate the houses, if possible. Chair Laurie Limbacher and Commissioners Terri Myers and Andrea Roberts were absent.

The properties at 1819, 1821 and 1823 West 39th St. share an owner. The residence at 1821 West 39th St. has already been approved for demolition, and the commission considered the fate of the other two houses last week. Chester Wilson, with Greater Austin Homebuilders, spoke in favor of the demolition permit. His company plans to develop the three lots.

Wilson said that, before the commission meeting, the developers had not been approached about the proposed demolitions. Wilson promised a “cohesive product” that will complement the area in their place and said that the properties weren’t eligible for a historic landmark, in his opinion.

However, there were several neighbors at the commission meeting who spoke against the demolitions.

Traci Garner said she wouldn’t oppose remodeling the homes, but was concerned about what might be built in their place. Though there are no plans on file, she said that the builders’ website shows “very modern structures.”

Garner spoke about the proposed demolition of 1823 West 39th St.

“I don’t know that it’s worth 100 percent saving, but by tearing it down it (allows) these huge modern structures that do not fit our neighborhood,” said Garner. “This isn’t just one lot … this is a huge corner that makes up our neighborhood. It isn’t a matter of just changing a house that is in the middle of the street. This landmarks our whole area.”

Wilson said that, while he was glad to talk to the neighborhood about his company’s future plans, he didn’t think that had anything to do with delaying the case at the Historic Landmark Commission.

“There’s a whole host of things that we feel like we bring to the table by developing,” said Wilson. “Although we agree you can do anything with a remodel, that’s not what we intend to do.” He said they wouldn’t be building a modern structures and promised to build something “elegant” that would make the neighborhood proud.

“We are following the guidelines of the City of Austin, and everything that we will be doing is exactly what we should be doing as a developer,” said Wilson. “We always try to do the right thing. It’s not easy to stand in my shoes and see the change that we have in Austin. But we feel like we are good stewards.”

Garner remained concerned.

“If any of these homes get fully demoed, it will be the first time, ever, on this street to let a house be taken down completely,” said Garner. “I appreciate him saying that they always try to do the right thing, but we haven’t seen what they are going to try to do yet.”

Cathy Negrel, who has owned her home in the neighborhood since 1958, spoke against the proposed demolition. She noted that the house is on a street where “all of the homes that have been remodeled or updated have done so in keeping with the neighborhood,” unlike other streets in the area. She said she would like to preserve that character.

Wilson said that his company always tries to move homes, which is usually successful, before resorting to demolition.


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