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Landmark Commission hears tale of two houses

Wednesday, September 30, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

A novel bid to preserve two unrelated homes in West Campus passed through the Historic Landmark Commission on Monday night. Commissioners approved a half-mile move for the historic Dabney-Horne House, in the hopes that its relocation could save the Clyde Littlefield Home just down the road.

Currently, the Dabney-Horne House is located at 507 West 23rd St. A prior proposal – to move the house 12 feet over – was approved early last year because the Historic Landmark Commission did not act within the required time frame when it denied a certificate of appropriateness for the move.

Down the road, the Clyde Littlefield House at 903 West Shoal Cliff Court is poised to go before City Council on Oct. 8. Council will consider whether to grant historic zoning to the home of the legendary University of Texas track coach, but because the owner has been opposed to the designation, it would have had to approve that change with a supermajority, and some worried that wasn’t likely to happen.

Mike McHone told the commission that he was representing “the white knight that had come to the rescue.” That rescue, he explained, would involve his client, David Kanne, moving the Dabney-Horne House, restoring the Clyde Littlefield House and building a 175-foot building to house students at 507 West 23rd St., the Dabney-Horne House’s current location.

Commissioners voted 9-3 to approve a certificate of appropriateness to move the home to 901 Shoal Cliff Court, though the release of that certificate is contingent on the owner of the Clyde Littlefield House waiving the demolition permit he is currently seeking and agreeing not to oppose the historic designation.

Chair Mary Jo Galindo and Commissioners Terri Myers and Madeline Clites voted in opposition, and Commissioner Grace McKenzie was absent.

Clites said that she hoped the approval wasn’t setting a bad precedent.

“I feel uncomfortable with removing a historic landmark out of context with its original site and setting a precedent for making deals like this at the last minute. I think that’s risky, and it’s put us in an awkward position,” she said.

Myers agreed, saying the move will cause the house to lose its integrity of location, association and feeling – which are all requirements of the secretary of the interior’s guidelines for historic properties.

Kanne explained that since purchasing the Dabney-Horne House last year, he had invested about $100,000 in its restoration. He said that they didn’t have 30 days to talk over the proposal and that an extended wait of that length would mean the Clyde Littlefield house would be torn down.

“If I don’t get the deal done before Oct. 8, they are going to continue moving forward with the demolition permit at City Council,” said Kanne. “If this deal doesn’t work, it no longer makes sense to me, and I don’t think you are going to find anybody else to come in and try to save that house. … If I don’t buy it, (the owners) are just going to demo it and do student housing.

“The fact is, we are trying to save them both. And if we don’t get this case through tonight, we won’t be able to,” said Kanne. “I feel like we are doing everything you guys stand for, everything you want. … (We’re) trying to make this a win for Preservation Austin, for the historic community,” he continued.

Preservation Austin opposed the plan, which it had gotten wind of only three days prior, after reading the Historic Landmark Commission agenda.

Tere O’Connell, who is co-chair of the Preservation Austin preservation committee, spoke against the plan. She said Preservation Austin was surprised to see the proposal on the commission agenda after dealing with the issue in 2013 and 2014. She reminded the commission that the house was designated historic in 1991 and is located in a perfectly appropriate context, across the street from another landmarked property and another older house.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky explained that staff supported the plan. Though not threatened by demolition, if the Dabney-Horne House were to remain in its current position, he said it would “most likely be surrounded by 175-foot towers.”

“What we have here is a situation where we have the chance to save two houses by moving one of them,” said Sadowsky, who called the plan “a total win-win.”

Sadowsky also asserted that approving the move to 901 Shoal Cliff Court would ensure the Clyde Littlefield House’s preservation “because there would be no incentive to develop one lot.”

Kanne backed up this claim, telling the commission that the current owners didn’t want to build on the lot, they just wanted to sell it, and there was “no way to get the price they are asking for without this type of agreement.”

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin. 

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