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“Friendless” house to be demolished

Wednesday, June 1, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Though historic zoning was initiated for the 1911 home on San Bernard Street, a depleted Historic Landmark Commission did not show enough support to move historic landmark status forward for the “house with no friends” last week.

Because the homeowner opposed the historic zoning through a valid petition, a unanimous vote of the eight commissioners in attendance was required. That didn’t happen. Commissioners voted 5-3 to approve historic zoning, with Commissioners David Whitworth, Arif Panju and Alexander Papavasiliou voting in opposition, which was not enough for the historic zoning to move forward.

A motion to compile a package documenting the history of the house also failed, though the homeowner offered to put that history together voluntarily. Chair Mary Jo Galindo and Commissioners Terri Myers, Emily Reed and Beth Valenzuela were absent.

South Llano Strategies’ Glen Coleman represented the property owner, Margo Griffin Carter, in opposing historic zoning for the home. He said the home would cost $150,000 to $175,000 to restore and was “just not worth that money.”

“It is a house that, once restored, even if it was restored to its original, pristine condition, is not necessarily want(ed) in lieu of the money you could have spent,” said Coleman. “What could you do on that street for the $200,000 that you would have lost saving that house?”

Coleman showed a series of slides that illustrated the changes made to the home since its construction as well as its condition, which he called a “liability” in its current state.

“We’re afraid to even let people in it at this point,” he said.

Panju said that he voted against the zoning primarily because of the additions and changes to the house, despite assurances from Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky that those changes did not impact its historical character.

“Houses do not have to be pristine to qualify for historic zoning,” said Sadowsky. “They can have additions to them.”

That said, Sadowsky allowed that the home was not in great shape, given the “pretty bad” addition and windows. Nonetheless, city staff recommended historic zoning and attempted to strike a compromise by offering to zone the house and its footprint historic, but leave the rest of the property open to development.

That offer was not embraced by the owner.

Robert Kusumoto, secretary of the Robertson Hill Neighborhood Association, told the commission that his group had voted to oppose the demolition and “strongly supported” historic zoning for the home. He also said that the neighborhood was working toward establishing a local historic district.

Adding to the history of the location is the home at 1175 San Bernard St. Sadowsky called San Bernard “a very important street” that is populated almost entirely by original homes. He also noted that the street represents the transformation of East Austin from a middle-class Anglo neighborhood to a middle- and upper-class African-American neighborhood following the implementation of the 1928 Austin Master Plan that forced the city’s black population to move east.

“This was segregation at its finest, you could say, and this house really represents that story,” said Sadowsky.

Though the owner was unwilling to preserve the house, Sadowsky did offer assurances to the neighborhood that the demolition would not be a first step to subdivision or rezoning because of a 25-year restrictive covenant.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin

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