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Clarksville addition distresses preservationists

Friday, July 10, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Plans to expand a 1935 Clarksville cottage have rattled Austinites worried about preserving the history of a neighborhood that they fear is disappearing piece by piece.

The house at 1704 West 10th St. is currently a contributing building to the Clarksville National Register Historic District, but neighbors and preservationists worry that, with the addition, this will no longer be the case.

The homeowner, Sharon Miller, is planning to construct a two-and-a-half-story addition behind the front facade of the existing house. The addition will bring the 450-square-foot house to 1,300 square feet.

Miller said that she has lived in Clarksville for about 15 years, seven of them in the house on West 10th Street. She explained that the lot configuration, setbacks and a heritage tree have conspired to limit her options in terms of adding on to the house.

“There was just sort of this really complicated constellation of problems to solve, and this seemed to be the best option,” said Miller.

Chair Laurie Limbacher said that she could see the challenges Miller faced in determining how to expand her house, but the addition as proposed “will fundamentally change the house.”

“Unfortunately, I think this project is going to render the house unrecognizable, and definitely make it a noncontributing structure in the district,” said Limbacher.

Because the house is in a National Register Historic District, the commission is required to review the application and offer comments, but it ultimately has no control over what is built unless commissioners opt to pursue individual historic landmark designation.

Clarksville Community Development Corporation President Mary Reed said that the group had voted unanimously to oppose the demolition and building permit, given the number of homes in the neighborhood that have already been lost. The proposed second story addition will “essentially engulf the existing house so it will no longer stand alone visibly,” she said.

That change, Reed said, will make the house a noncontributing house in the historic district.

Reed said the CCDC had offered alternative plans for an addition, but Miller said she was not interested because she wanted to maintain her entire side yard.

Neighbor Mark Kirkpatrick told the commission that Miller had the support of many neighbors, including those living adjacent to her. He said the design was “enthusiastically supported by the neighborhood” because it preserved the heritage tree, the yard and the garden, which he called neighborhood landmarks.

Kirkpatrick added that although he is a member and supporter of the CCDC, the group “is really strongly at variance with the wishes of the neighbors and the neighborhood” on this issue.

Clarksville was inducted into the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Founded in 1871 by Charles Clark, it is the oldest surviving freedomtown west of the Mississippi. It is one of the original settlements founded by former African-American slaves after the American Civil War.

The Historic Preservation Office recommended that the new construction be approved because, although much of the original structure will be demolished, plans do call for preservation of the front facade, and the design of the new building “is in keeping with the architectural elements of the original building,” explained Historic Preservation Office Senior Planner Beth Johnson.

Lin Team, who is the vice president of Preservation Austin, expressed concern that the project was not in compliance with Secretary of the Interior standards for rehabilitation and would “irreversibly alter one of the most intact contributing structures of this important historic district.”

“The visible reminders of the Clarksville story are vanishing at a rapid pace. So each structure that remains becomes more precious,” said Team.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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