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Stone cottage raises passions at landmark commission

Wednesday, July 8, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

The new owners of one of the stone houses of the Bouldin Creek neighborhood would like to see it demolished to make way for their dream home. But at its last meeting, the Historic Landmark Commission bought a month’s time to see if there might be a way to save the house.

Justin and Lauren Hubbert are seeking permission to demolish their house at 901 Dawson Road. The house is one of the neighborhood’s four corner-lot stone houses that have been preserved since about 1930. All are situated on a block that has remained relatively intact despite rampant redevelopment. Both neighbors and commissioners hoped aloud that they could find a compromise that would retain the home.

Commissioners voted unanimously to initiate historic zoning on the house. That process will allow time for additional research, which the commission will review when the case returns for another vote on whether the house should be designated historic.

Commissioner Mary Jo Galindo said that she would be interested in seeing whether the area could be a local historic district and taking a “look at the broader context” of the house, based on the fact that there are four stone corner houses that closely resemble each other and nine of the 10 houses on the block are original.

Chair Laurie Limbacher said that she was “not unsympathetic to concerns about the condition of the house.”

“But,” Limbacher continued, “the success of your surrounding neighbors to use the existing houses and add on to them in ways that are still compatible with the character of the neighborhood is, hopefully, something you all can get a little more enthusiastic about.”

Justin Hubbert told the commission that the house had structural problems and, additionally, could not be moved. His wife, Lauren Hubbert, further explained their situation, saying that electrical, plumbing and HVAC issues had also surfaced since they purchased it.

“We’re simply a young couple looking to build our dream home in the neighborhood for our growing family,” she said. “We don’t intend to just build this house and then up and sell it and move away. I’m a native Austinite. … I plan on staying here a long time.”

Several people who live in the other stone homes in the neighborhood spoke in favor of preservation.

Bouldin resident Ellen Richards, for example, said that she lives in a house “almost identical” to the one up for demolition. She explained that she was able to add on to the house without changing its character, and she hoped there was a way the Hubberts could do the same.

“The Bouldin neighborhood is changing radically. … We are the only block with the series of homes that we have that are still intact,” said Richards. “All around us, there are homes being demolished and structures being built that are not at all in keeping with the character of the neighborhood. Basically, we are not going to look like a neighborhood anymore. We are just going to look like a series of houses.”

Justin Hubbert said that the couple’s love for the neighborhood was one of the reasons they were excited to move there, but he questioned whether his house met the criteria for historic landmark designation. In order to qualify for an individual designation, homes must meet two of five criteria. Hubbert said that his house fell short of that standard, qualifying based only on architectural significance.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky said that the house was notable primarily for its relation to the other stone houses in the neighborhood, which were built during the same time. He said that, despite the fact that its history “doesn’t necessarily suggest landmark worthiness or historical significance,” his office was recommending initiation of historic zoning to investigate alternatives to demolition.

Commissioners Terri Myers, Dan Leary and John Rosato were absent for the vote.

Photograph courtesy of the city of Austin website.

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