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Jenny Lind Porter home to be demolished

Monday, October 17, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

It took several months of deliberation, but in the end members of the Historic Landmark Commission voted unanimously to allow the demolition of Texas poet laureate Jenny Lind Porter’s home.

The 1928 home at 1715 Summit View Place is a contributing structure in the Old West Austin National Register Historic District, but years of neglect and structural problems left its new owner with what he said was no other choice but demolition. After the case’s three trips to the city’s Historic Landmark Commission, commissioners and staff agreed with that assessment.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky told the commissioners at their Sept. 26 meeting that the structural integrity of the home had been destroyed and that the owners could not come up with an ”economically feasible” way to restore the home.

“The condition of the house is not a criteria for designation, but it is a factor this commission can take into consideration,” said Sadowsky. “In this case, this house has suffered for years and years and years of neglect. … The condition of this house is such that demolition appears to be the only answer at this point.

“This is a wonderful house, but you can see from the pictures the cracks in the walls,” said Sadowsky. “This house is literally beyond repair.”

Jennifer Marsh, who is the project manager and the sister of owner Jonathan Sands, explained that they were unable to save the house because the foundation was beyond repair and the structure was so compromised that “there would be almost nothing left” following mold remediation, termite remediation and other repairs. Marsh had “10 licensed professionals” supporting those facts.

Marsh said that the June and July postponement had allowed her time to meet with multiple neighbors, historians, preservation architects, representatives of Preservation Austin and anyone else who had an opinion about the house.

“Many neighbors contacted me in support of the demolition and consider this house an eyesore or a blight and look forward to seeing a new home replace this neglected one,” said Marsh.

Indeed, unlike the previous times the case was before the commission, no one spoke against the demolition. Old Enfield Homeowners Association President Marlene Romanczak, who was once opposed to the demolition, now spoke in favor. “It’s an honor and a privilege to live in a historic neighborhood, but with this honor and privilege comes great responsibility,” she said. She explained that her neighborhood was committed to preserving its historic character, even in the “increasingly difficult, pro-development environment” of Austin. She explained that, given the limited resources of city staff, they work to thoroughly research proposed demolitions and extensive remodels, and she thanked the commission for the time those efforts took.

Romanczak thanked Marsh for a verbal commitment made to the neighborhood agreeing to a restrictive covenant that would prevent the lot from being developed as a multifamily development if it is sold. In addition, plans for new development will require a certificate of appropriateness and have already been reviewed by the commission’s certificate of appropriateness committee.

Commissioner Terri Myers, who is a member of that committee, said she appreciated the design of the new home, which she said “fit in very nicely with the architecture of Old Enfield.”

“I don’t like to see historic properties go, but I think that this applicant has done due diligence on this,” said Myers.

“I would agree,” said Chair Mary Jo Galindo. “Your patience and all your efforts are deeply appreciated.”

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