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Why would two homes cross the street? Preservation.

Monday, April 11, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Though there were some initial reservations about the plan, Historic Landmark commissioners unanimously approved the relocation of two downtown homes at their last meeting.

Commissioners approved the release of relocation permits for 606 and 608 E. Third St. on the condition that the developer, Manchester Financial Group, complete a state-required archaeological study and follow through with the promised preservation of the homes either through historic landmarking or a restrictive covenant.

In addition, the relocation is contingent on a future approval to move the nearby Wedding House, which is zoned historic and located at 604 E. Third St. Doug Manchester, who is applying for the relocation permit on behalf of the Manchester Financial Group, explained that Manchester is interested in purchasing and moving the Wedding House and would return to the commission about its plans as a second step, once this case is resolved.

Currently, the two homes are located on the north side of East Third Street, but the plan would relocate them to the south side of the street on the same block.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky explained that he had been working on the application for months and that it had seen multiple trips to the Certificate of Appropriateness Committee. He told the commission that, in his opinion, it was “a really good proposal.”

“Let’s just say if relocation doesn’t become an option, then we are looking at landmarking both of these houses to preserve them. And the case for landmarking them is not the best,” said Sadowsky. He explained that although the houses would qualify for landmarking because of their architecture, the overall cases “weren’t stellar.”

In addition to moving the homes, the proposal involves a long-term strategy for preservation of the homes and revitalization of the area in conjunction with the construction of the Fairmont Hotel.

“Right now these homes are almost in a wasteland,” said Sadowsky. “Beyond these houses, it’s parking lots and junk.”

Sadowsky disagreed with the suggestion that moving the homes would create a “petting zoo” of historic homes, saying that would be the case if the homes had no connection to the area, creating an artificial context. “That doesn’t exist here,” he said. “We’re moving the houses from one side of the street to the other.”

Manchester said he would be in favor of designating the homes as landmarks if they were moved, as that would be the best way to protect the homes.

He also said he didn’t believe it was a “right approach” to develop the area in a way that overshadows the historic homes, adding that it wouldn’t be a practical or feasible plan, either.

Alyson McGee, who is the president of the board of Preservation Austin, also spoke in favor of the plan to relocate the homes. She said it could be a “win-win situation,” given the commitment to restoring the homes and giving them a new purpose as well as the plan to restore the nearby Castleman-Bull and Trask houses, also located on Third Street, on the side to which the homes will be moved. She said those things mitigated the loss of context that might come from the move.

“We don’t usually support the relocation of historic properties. But in this case, because they are just being moved across the street, they are not being moved out of the area where they have the historical ties,” said McGee, who added that discussions would continue in order to ensure that the promises from Manchester “will come to fruition” and there will be a long-term preservation of the properties.

608 East Third

Top photo: 606 E. Third St.
Bottom photo: 608 E. Third St.

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