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“House with no friends” wins over commission

Wednesday, May 4, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Only one neighborhood representative spoke against the demolition. But the home at 1175 San Bernard St. found enough allies on the Historic Landmark Commission to ensure it will stay standing for another month.

Commissioners voted to initiate historic zoning on the home in a vote of 7-3, with Commissioners Arif Panju, David Whitworth and Alex Papavasiliou voting in opposition. Panju said that he opposed the initiation, which he called a “hodgepodge,” though those voting in favor strenuously disagreed.

The Historic Preservation Office was recommending historic zoning on the 1903 home, which preservation officer Steve Sadowsky said was emblematic of the history of the neighborhood in addition to maintaining a relatively high degree of structural integrity.

Sadowsky said there are “undeniable structural issues with the home,” which is currently being sold to settle an estate. However, he believed there were alternatives to demolition, including state and local tax incentives for rehabilitation. He also suggested a “creative” approach to historic zoning for the home, such as landmarking the front and leaving the depth of the back open to development.

South Llano Strategies’ Glen Coleman, who was representing the homeowner, Margo Griffin Carter, explained that his client was attempting to sell the home to clear her father’s estate. The house was left to her father, a reverend, by a “well-meaning parishioner.” However, said Coleman, the house faces about $150,000 in rehabilitation costs. And, he said, at the end of those costs was “not something that was desirable.”

“The problem with this house is not just that it’s in horrible shape,” said Coleman. “It’s that if you spent all of that money, you could so much more easily have built something serviceable, and new, and charming.”

Stan Strickland, who lives directly across the street, spoke in opposition to the demolition. He told the commission that there had been “very little” dialogue with the Robertson Hill Neighborhood Association or the contact team, offering little opportunity for neighbors to opine.

He recognized that there had been a demolition notice from the city, but said that in East Austin, they “typically received 10 of those a month or more, because there is so much demolition going on.”

In this case, Strickland said that was especially important, given the fact that San Bernard Street is dotted with “11 or so” historic landmarks and could qualify to be a historic district.

“You won’t find another street like this in all of Austin,” Strickland said. “I think it’s imperative that people be aware of what is about to happen to a potentially contributing house on the street that has been recommended as a historic district.”

Coleman said they had reached out to the church and the Organization of Central East Austin Neighborhoods (OCEAN) and that everyone had been noticed twice at this point. “It’s always a problem in East Austin to figure out who the community is,” he said. “It is not a bar that anyone can reasonably meet — to reach out to every single party. It’s just not possible.”

“I think if this house were valuable to the community, you would know,” said Coleman. “This house just doesn’t have a lot of friends, and I don’t think that is going to change between now and the next 30 days.”

Coleman questioned whether the home had retained its integrity after a 1922 addition on the right of the home that altered the front facade. There is also a 1962 addition to the rear. As for moving it, Coleman said he could find no one willing to incur the cost and effort to move and rehab it.

Commissioner Terri Myers said that historic period additions — those made during the time of historic significance — also had historic value.

According to the backup, the house was “inexplicably” not included in the Cultural Resources Survey of East Austin. But, on Monday, Myers said that it was due to an error that she had made.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin

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