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Chestnut house will stay put, for now

Tuesday, June 30, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Last week, an East Austin house got a temporary stay of relocation at the Historic Landmark Commission. Though the owner would like to see the house relocated to make way for more houses, the neighborhood and commission are certain that an alternate plan could be found, giving the house another month in its current location.

Citing the neighborhood’s interest in working with the developer, the Historic Landmark Commission voted to “encourage the applicant to further consider retaining the house on-site.” In this case, that recommendation came with a request that the owner return to the commission in July after working with the neighborhood.

Commissioners voted unanimously to encourage the homeowner to maintain the house at 1307 Cedar Ave., with Commissioners Dan Leary, John Rosato and Terri Myers absent.

The recommendation is in line with city staff’s position, explained Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky.

Sadowsky said that while there was “some significance to the house,” most people would not find it worthy of an individual designation — yet that could be an advantage in terms of preservation in conjunction with development. His office urged the homeowner to reconsider keeping the house at its current location.

“This is a plain house that can be added on to without overwhelming it,” said Sadowsky. “This is a house that has all kinds of possibilities in its current setting. I think despite its lack of architectural interest, it does have a central part in this community.”

William Hodge represented the homeowner at the meeting. He explained that his client was hoping, in accordance with the Chestnut Neighborhood Plan, to subdivide the lot, which isn’t possible with the house in its current position. He stressed that the homeowner did not want to demolish the house but relocate it, even though the latter is a more expensive option. The owner plans to move the house to Del Valle.

Chair Laurie Limbacher thanked Hodge for the “care and effort that has gone into relocation as a method of saving the house.”

But commissioners also expressed concern about the plan. Commissioner Mary Jo Galindo pointed out that the area is “rapidly changing and losing a lot of its character.”

Cavan Merski spoke on behalf of the Chestnut Neighborhood Plan Contact Team. He explained that the team’s plan does include cottage lots as an infill tool, but it is not a neighborhood goal to subdivide lots. He said that the team is aiming, though, to preserve the historic style and character of the neighborhood.

However, said Merski, there is momentum to amend the plan and remove the cottage-lot infill approach because of the impact it is having on the neighborhood. He said that the team had intended to maintain the scale of the area, but it is having the opposite effect.

Merski asked that the decision be postponed so the team can get more information about the plan and said he hoped there was a way to maintain the house in its current location. He pointed out that the neighborhood had a track record of working with developers to support variances that allowed new construction alongside preserved homes.

In his presentation on the history of the house, Sadowsky said it is “very plain Jane,” but typical of the time it was built — in 1912, when “little box houses were being built all over the city.” Sadowsky explained that the first owners of the house were German. Subsequent owners, however, were African-American after the adoption of the 1928 city plan, which forced African-American Austinites to the east side of Austin. Sadowsky pointed out that the house represents that history.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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