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Historic district will get new homes with commission blessing

Friday, July 17, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

A plan to build four new units in the Hyde Park Local Historic District sailed through the Historic Landmark Commission at its most recent meeting. Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the project, despite some worry from a neighbor that it could be better.

Chair Laurie Limbacher explained their vote. “We are charged with being a consistent interpreter of requirements and best-practice standards,” she said.

Here, Limbacher refers to the design standards of the local historic district. Though at least one neighbor objected to the project as proposed, city staff assured the commission that the project did adhere to the standards established by the neighborhood.

“It’s not that we’re unsympathetic to the concerns from the neighborhood. It does seem, though, that we need to evaluate the concerns in the context of the standards. If the neighborhood continues to be concerned about those issues, we may need to revisit the standards to address them.”

BDB Ventures proposes to build four neo-Craftsman style units on two vacant lots at 3814 and 3816 Duval St. Developer Dale Thornton said that they had adjusted their plans several times to accommodate neighbors.

“We get a lot of conflicts because there are a lot of neighbors. And so there’s always going to be someone who’s upset,” said Thornton, who explained that he had focused on the objections of the immediate neighbors and given them priority.

“I don’t know that we are ever going to get everybody happy,” said Thornton. “We have tried to accommodate, specifically, the people that are closest to these properties … and then worked out from there. When there’s a conflict, we just kind of went with what seems to be the majority of folks. We can’t address all conflicting concerns.”

Hyde Park resident Wanda Penn acknowledged that the developers had made a lot of concessions, but she still had objections.

“My goal in coming to talk to you tonight is to try to ensure that when this project is finished, we can point to it and say, ‘This is the type of development we want,’ not that ‘this is real close’ or ‘this is as good as we can get,’” said Penn.

Penn asked the commissioners to take a hard look at the plans. In particular, she pointed to a single-car garage, which she worried was too close to the back of the house, and the planned front doors, which she said should be “more of a Craftsman style” in order to blend in with existing houses.

Penn also questioned the front porch on the back house, saying it was not 7 feet deep, as is required in the local historic district.

“I realize it is not the front building, but it is the front porch of a house in Hyde Park,” said Penn.

Thornton said that he had not heard complaints about the garage in the past. As for the porches, Thornton explained that they had redesigned the front houses to accommodate the neighborhood’s porch standards.

Historic Preservation Office Senior Planner Beth Johnson told the commission that, as ancillary buildings, the rear homes were not required to have 7-foot front porches in order to comply with design standards.

Thornton told commissioners that he had made numerous changes in order to work with the neighborhood and that, at some point, that was all he could do.

“We can go on forever, and that’s not our intent,” said Thornton.

Image courtesy of the city of Austin.

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