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Addition delayed to allow neighbors research time

Wednesday, December 23, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

A plan to expand a 1910 house in an area of town known as “Gypsy Grove” has some neighbors unsettled, but they will have at least one more month to come up with a solution, or reconcile themselves with the addition.

Jacob Weisfeld, who is currently a junior attending UT-Austin, purchased the house at 610 West 31½ St. with his father with plans to demolish it entirely and “rebuild a nice, big, new house.” He told the Historic Landmark Commission at its meeting on Dec. 14 that his plans changed after talking with neighbors and Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky, and now he is planning instead to partially demolish the house in order to build an addition on its right side.

Weisfeld told the commission that the house currently is 1,250 square feet and has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. He plans to expand it to a five- or six-bedroom home, adding about 2,400 square feet to the footprint. Preempting concerns that the house would be a “stealth dorm,” he explained that the intention was to keep the house in the family.

Because the house is not in a historic district, the Historic Landmark Commission has no say in what the addition looks like. However, the owner agreed to a partial demolition after speaking with preservation staff, who felt like the home did not qualify for individual historic landmark status.

Weisfeld told the commission that he has been speaking with the neighborhood and city about those plans since April. Though he said there had been “plenty of time” to research the historic significance of the home in the meantime, at the last meeting of the commission, it became clear that not everyone had had a chance to weigh in.

Heritage Neighborhood Association member Betsy Greenberg read a letter from the association president requesting a postponement. The group asked for more time to research the history of the house and talk to the owner about changes to the design. Greenberg explained that the addition was not set back from the street “at all” and echoed concerns about a six-bedroom home just 1 mile from the university. Though that issue is not within the commission’s purview, Greenberg asked for the postponement in order to give neighbors a chance to talk about the project before plans moved forward.

“We never met with the owner,” said Greenberg. “We did not know about a demolition until about 10 days prior to today.”

Michelle Cutrer also supported the idea of postponing the case in order to give her time to review the plans and speak with the owner. She lives two doors down from the home and had heard of the proposed demolition only a week prior to the meeting, as she was on a silent meditation retreat.

Commissioner Terri Myers made a motion to postpone the case to allow time for that research. “From an architectural point of view, I differ from staff. I think this is a significant house and a significant feature of the street. It would, I think, behoove us to see what historical associations could be further made.”

Commissioners voted 7-3 to postpone the case until their Jan. 25 meeting, with commissioners Arif Panju, David Whitworth and Alex Papavasiliou voting in opposition.

Panju said that he understood the request, but because the commission has “zero purview on the design,” asking for time to review the plans did not fall within its jurisdiction. Cutrer explained that she also wanted time to review the history of the house and speak with the owner, which had not yet happened.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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