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Austin to soon have one less A.D. Stenger home

Monday, August 10, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

When the Historic Landmark Commission meets later this month, it will not consider whether to grant historic zoning on a Barton Hills home designed by A.D. Stenger. That ship sailed last month, when a bare-bones commission did not have the unanimous votes needed for a postponement.

With three commissioners absent and two positions vacant, any motion commissioners made at their first meeting required a unanimous six votes to be successful. In the case of historic zoning for a house at 1000 Lund St., the lack of consensus about the postponement meant that the demolition permit was released.

Though the city’s Historic Preservation Office recommended historic zoning for the home, it was against the wishes of the owner, who filed an official petition against the change.

Commissioners David Whitworth and Arif Panju voted against a postponement to their next meeting. Panju took the opportunity to make his stance on owner-opposed historic zoning cases crystal clear.

Panju said that he saw the case as “a very aggressive type of public policy.”

“I frankly find it kind of offensive,” said Panju. “You have the city that waited all these years, until someone actually wanted to do something with their property … then go against the property owner’s wishes and, on their own, target their house to try to control what it’s going to look like.”

Commissioner Blake Tollett said that although he understood the point, it was the application for the demolition permit that had triggered the proceedings. He said he didn’t see the city as being “malicious” in its pursuit of historic zoning.

Stenger was a prominent midcentury modern architect in Austin. Beth Johnson, who is a senior planner in the Historic Preservation Office, explained that the house is a good example of how Stenger designed his homes to fit the natural features and topography of each lot.

Additionally, Johnson said, the home is one of a number in the Barton Hills neighborhood, making it important to the surrounding community.

Armbrust & Brown attorney Richard Suttle spoke on behalf of the homeowners, David and Hayley Killiam. He explained that he meant no disrespect toward Stenger in his assertion that the home didn’t warrant historic zoning.

“I maintain to you that the only thing that is interesting about this house is that it was built by Mr. Stenger,” said Suttle. “It’s one of many. It’s one where my clients don’t want the tax breaks. … We urge that you not vote for historic zoning.”

Suttle said that, according to his research, Stenger had built about 100 homes in Austin and, of those, about 50 are left. He said that the house in question was not “an outstanding representation of (Stenger’s) work.”

Of the remaining homes designed by Stenger in Austin, only one has historic landmark status.

Commissioners Terri Myers, Grace McKenzie and Michelle Trevino were absent.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin. 

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