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East Austin cottage relocation plan worries some

Tuesday, October 13, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

A plan to relocate four Calcasieu cottages from East Austin has stalled at the Historic Landmark Commission for the time being, with some commissioners deciding the current plan is just too risky to endorse.

Built by the Calcasieu Lumber Company of Austin in the 1920s and 1930s, the cottages at 2819 and 2821 Manor Road are unique to Austin. Though they were once located all across the city, their numbers have now shrunk, and few remain. The four cottages were moved to the current site in 1963, from an unknown location.

Though developer David Kanne says that he would like to move them again, the fact that he was seeking a demolition permit gave some commissioners pause, resulting in two votes to release the demolition permit, both of which were stalemates. Ultimately, commissioners voted unanimously to postpone the case until their next meeting.

City staff has endorsed the plan. Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky explained that the demolition permit would be substituted with a relocation permit later, and he said that if the demolition permit was approved, he would take care of the relocation administratively.

“I believe that his intentions are good, and I believe that it will be really easy to find homes for these cottages,” said Sadowsky.

Mike McHone, who spoke on behalf of Kanne, said that they needed to have demolition permits in place while they sought out a place to move the homes.

“We do need to have some indication that it will be allowed to be demolished if we cannot find a relocation site. As you know, lots are very hard to find in the city of Austin, and we’ve been scouring the city to find one that is suitable for this,” said McHone.

But not everyone supports the plan. Elizabeth Carroll, who lives in the house at 2821 Manor Road, said she didn’t want to see it torn down. She said that the homes had been rented by the same group of friends for more than a decade, and they had invested time and money into organic farming on the property.

“I know that they are not zoned for there, but there’s people living there, and I’m one of them,” said Carroll.

Carroll pointed out that city staff’s assertion that the houses would be perfect low-cost homes for artists and musicians if they were moved was ironic, saying, “We don’t own the houses, but we’re renters, and they are occupied by low-income artists and musicians right now.”

However, explained McHone, the cottages currently reside within a Transit Oriented Development, or TOD, by the Red Line. McHone described TODs as “high-density hubs” near public transit, and he provided pictures of several nearby developments showing that dense, mixed-use development is indeed what is being built in the area.

He told the commission that there was a plan to build 45 apartments on the land currently occupied by the cottages.

“There’s no context for these little houses,” said McHone.

Though Commissioner Terri Myers said she wasn’t strictly opposed to moving the cottages, she did convey concern with the “trust me” approach to application, and she said she was uneasy with the idea of voting in favor of a demolition.

Earlier, Myers made her position clear by proposing that she would investigate the possibility of pursuing historic zoning for all of the Calcasieu cottages scattered across the city “in her spare time.”

In contrast, Commissioner Arif Panju said the commission should encourage proposals such as the one before them, and he noted that the developer’s “reputation was on the line” when it came to honoring his word to relocate the buildings.

Kanne explained that it would cost about $10,000 per unit to demolish the cottages, and someone had offered $10,000 per unit to move the cottages, so it “made perfect sense to relocate.” The demolition permit, he said, was because they had no idea where they would go.

“It is to our benefit to relocate, so we’re incentivized to do that,” said Kanne. “It’s just, to start the process, to start the site plan, without knowing that you guys would approve demo doesn’t make sense.”

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin

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