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Big changes at Green Pastures get HLC blessing

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Plans to develop beloved institutions in Austin rarely go smoothly. But at the most recent Historic Landmark Commission meeting, South Austin’s Green Pastures proved the exception to the rule, when proposed development was embraced.

The new owners of Green Pastures are proposing to construct two three-story hotel buildings, a greenhouse, a laundry room/office and a parking structure. To do so, they need a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Historic Landmark Commission.

That certificate was granted, with commissioners voting unanimously 6-0 to grant the certificate. Commissioners Madeline Clites and Tiffany Osburn were recused, and commissioners Arif Panju and Michelle Trevino were absent. The project also has the blessing of the city’s Historic Preservation Office, and the Texas Historical Commission had no objections.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky noted that Green Pastures “is one of the most beloved spots in the entire city.” The original house at 811 West Live Oak Street was built in 1894, and the more well-known house on the property was built in 1895.

“While there are a lot of us who would love to see Green Pastures stay exactly the way it is, this development is the most sensitive way of developing this site, as far as maintaining the integrity of the historic house and making it into more than it is today,” Sadowsky said. “What we have is a really good combination of old and new, where new is not the focal point.”

Across-the-street neighbor Lorie Brazano said she “really didn’t oppose” the project.

“Obviously, with everything that’s happening, everyone in my neighborhood is fearful. Truly, it’s been like the locusts descending on our neighborhood in the last couple of years,” said Brazano. “(The developers) really have been sensitive to that, and have gone about it in the right way by coming to the neighbors and neighborhood associations first before they did anything else. … As silly as it may sound, we really are at a point where we trust, but we intend to verify.”

Greg Porter, who is one of the developers, acknowledged the “amazing amount of history” on the property. He explained that the site is challenging to develop and that their main goal is to make sure the new structures “submit” to the original house, which will remain open as a restaurant and event center.

“We’ve seen some shots where we’ve actually superimposed these buildings on the site, and you can’t even see them,” said Porter. “It’s really, really neat.”

He told the commission that there are 250 live oaks on the site and that their current plan affects only 16 of those trees, none of which are heritage trees. Porter also said the project is in accordance with the neighborhood plan and requires no variances from the city.

Adjacent neighbor Nick Sargologos spoke in opposition to the project. He said he that although he lives just down the street and is a member of the neighborhood association, he is concerned because this was the first time he had seen anything about the project, and he hoped the commission could postpone the case in order for the neighborhood to get more information. Sargologos noted that he had called the Historic Preservation Office to get details about the project, but his phone call had not been returned.

Though Sargologos said he was unfamiliar with the online backup for the Historic Landmark Commission, both Chair Mary Jo Galindo and Commissioner Terri Myers pointed out that there was information about the project posted there.

“The information that’s on the agenda and the agenda backup is available to anyone. You can go online and see all the plans. And they’ve come to the Certificate of Appropriateness Commission at least three times and probably the commission as a whole that many times,” said Myers, reiterating a point made by Galindo earlier.

“Again, not being familiar with the website, I would have been happy to take a look at that and reviewed it prior to the meeting tonight, had someone returned my call or given me any information with regards to how to access it,” said Sargologos.

Porter said that he spoke with the president of the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association before closing on the property in July 2015 and had met with them multiple times about the project. He assured Sargologos that he would be happy to talk to him but added, “We have made exhaustive efforts outside what is required.”

“We met with the neighborhood just because we wanted to keep them up to speed,” said Porter, who pointed out that their site plan had not been approved yet but would be through a separate process. He added, “We’ve been working with them hand-in-hand on the peacock issue, which you might have heard about. That’s been kind of a big deal.”

Photo by Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.

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