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West Austin home demolition moves forward

Monday, May 11, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

In accordance with the owners’ wishes, the demolition of a West Austin home built in 1939 will be moving forward.

“I think this is simply a case of a house that’s being demolished because it doesn’t fit somebody’s needs,” said Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky. “We’ve just seen so much of that happen in Austin lately. There’s got to be alternatives to demolition every once in a while.”

Historic Landmark Commission Chair Laurie Limbacher said she shared the concern expressed by staff that Austin’s history was being lost through a “death by a thousand cuts.” However, she explained, the commission has limited means of preserving such houses against the will of the homeowners.

In this case, the house would have had to qualify as an individual landmark. Staff and the commission agreed that it did not meet those criteria. Commissioners voted 4-1 to encourage rehabilitation of the house, but otherwise allow demolition. Commissioner Andrea Roberts voted in opposition. Commissioners Terry Myers and Dan Leary were absent.

Kari Blatchly spoke on behalf of Brandon and Jamie Holden, who have owned 1708 Vista Lane for the past six years. She said that, as a growing family, the Holdens needed a bigger house and did not want to leave the neighborhood.

Blatchly explained that a heritage tree and 25-foot right of way on the property complicated expansion of the house.

“If it could have worked for them, they would have absolutely kept (the house). Unfortunately, with their specific needs as a family, they are going to need to rebuild so they can accommodate their entire family,” said Blatchly.

Several neighbors spoke in favor of the demolition. Kevin Sweeney noted that in the past five years, families with young children have moved into the neighborhood. He asked for the demolition permit with the hope that it would “encourage families to stay on the properties.”

Chris Uglietta echoed the sentiment and explained that, by his count, the neighborhood would have 13 children by September, with half of them under 2 years of age.

“I’d like to see all of the families be able to stick around. If they have to grow a little bit with their homes, then I think that’s a worthy cause to make some changes,” said Uglietta.

Craig Overman spoke in opposition to the demolition permit. He said he not only resides in the neighborhood now, he lived in the house in question as a child. Overman explained that, as an architect, he has both supported and opposed demolition permits in the past. In this case, he advocated saving the front three walls to preserve one of the last houses that maintained the original character of the neighborhood style.

“I know that people who oppose don’t have much say. It’s their property, and they can pretty much do whatever they want in Texas,” said Overman. “(But) it’s hard for me to see, as an architect, that you can’t find some design to support a family. … The house was a quarter of the size when I lived in it, and there were three kids and two adults.”

Photo courtesy of the City of Austin.


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