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New balcony approved for Ma and Pa Ferguson house

Wednesday, August 24, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Though it took a reluctant Historic Landmark Commission two votes to approve it last month, the Ma and Pa Ferguson House gets to have a nonhistoric balcony. Again.

The home at 1200 Enfield Road was once home to Ma and Pa Ferguson, each of whom served as governor of Texas. Despite their significance, their house was designated a historic landmark only 14 years ago. At the time, the home had a wooden deck that had been added well after its construction and historic period. Now the current owner, Jack Lieberman, is in the process of replacing the wooden balcony with a safer, metal balcony.

Initially, a motion to approve a certificate of appropriateness, which would allow construction, failed. After that vote, however, commissioners took a second vote, and the certificate was approved in a vote of 7-2, with commissioners Blake Tollett and Terri Myers voting in opposition.

As a neighbor and a former member of the Historic Landmark Commission, Jim Christianson spoke against the balcony. He asked commissioners not to grant the certificate of appropriateness.

“We give tax abatement to people (and) in exchange for tax abatement, they give up the rights to alter their historic structures,” he said.

Christianson said that he reported the balcony when it was constructed illegally in 2001 and that the metal balcony Lieberman is now seeking permission to build is already there. “They ignored you,” he said. “I think that’s just a slap in the face to your authority.”

“This is Ma and Pa Ferguson’s house. A very important landmark,” he said. “Are you saying to the public we are going to allow people to alter the front of a historically designated structure?”

Myers said she agreed with Christianson. “This balcony is actually not appropriate to the building – whether it was the wooden one or the wrought iron one. And I’m surprised they got a permit,” said Myers. “Are we going to approve a certificate of appropriateness for something that actually isn’t appropriate?”

Arguing in favor of the certificate, Commissioner Arif Panju explored the alternative. “I don’t think asking a property owner to rip off a balcony and make it unsafe, when they are trying to make it a safer balcony, has any connection in a logical sense,” said Panju. “It’s a nice balcony.”

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky acknowledged that there was some question about whether the balcony should be allowed to remain given the fact that it is not historic, but he said that, in his opinion, “the balcony is a rather unobtrusive feature on the house.”

“Since there was something there at the time of designation, it’s not a big deal,” said Sadowsky. “Making it a safe feature on the house is a big deal, and that’s what this application truly is about.”

Jeanne Schultz, who designed the new balcony, said that she focused on not taking away from the architectural integrity of the building. She told the commission that they had begun construction but ceased when they became aware that they needed a certificate of appropriateness.

“We were under the impression that all we needed was a building permit,” she said.

Sadowsky explained that the owners had originally gone through an expedited permitting process, which did not include a required review by his office. When they became aware of the work being done on the balcony, they asked them to stop and pursue the certificate of appropriateness, which is required for historic landmarks in the city.

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