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Historic gambit could derail east side condo plan

Monday, February 2, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

A bid to stave off an East Austin condominium development gained traction last week when a neighborhood push to save the houses on land slated for development found unanimous support at the Historic Landmark Commission.

Swede Hill neighbors came forward to ask that the city consider historic zoning for the Stasswender House and cottages, which are located near East 16th Street and Waller Street.

On Feb. 10, developer WJP Swede Hill, LLC will ask the Planning Commission to recommend rezoning the lots from single-family (SF-3) to Community Commercial – Mixed-Use Zoning. That change will allow developers to move forward with a mixed-use condominium project that has the neighborhood up in arms.

Commissioners voted unanimously to initiate historic zoning on the complex, with Commissioner Terri Myers absent. If historic zoning is ultimately approved by the city, it could prevent the houses from being torn down.

Though the Historic Landmark Commission approved the demolition permit for three of the cottages last year, that permit has expired. Since the demolition permit was issued, the neighborhood has done more research on the homes and their significance.

Louisa Brinsmade, who is a member of the Swede Hill Neighborhood Association and the Central East Austin Planning Contact Team, said that they believed the five houses warrant historic zoning and are contributing structures to a potential national historic register district.

Brinsmade said Anton Stasswender had originally owned the five homes in question, and that they had been occupied by his family for decades. She described Stasswender as an “immigrant artisan everyman” who was part of the community that helped build Austin. In her detailing of the history, she explained that he had worked on projects such as the Commodore Perry Estate and had carved grave monuments for some of the city’s most prominent residents.

“I am overwhelmed by what this family signifies for our neighborhood and for the city,” said Brinsmade. “Our plea is urgent. Please take action tonight to maximize preservation of this one-of-a-kind family complex, with so many ties to our entire city and so much significance to an imperiled central historical neighborhood struggling to maintain its dignity.”

Bruce Sheehan, who is also a member of the Swede Hill Neighborhood Association, added that Stasswender eventually owned his own workshop as well as several showrooms. His son and grandsons created and installed the 12 stone medallions on the state capitol building that represent the six flags of Texas and the LBJ gravesite monument, among other things.

The Historic Landmark Commission will consider the case for historic zoning at its next meeting.

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