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Proposal would revamp historic commission rules

Wednesday, November 2, 2016 by Jo Clifton

Recent events at the Historic Landmark Commission – which resulted in the panel’s failure to act either to begin the historic zoning process for a property or to allow a demolition permit to move forward – have highlighted a need for change, according to Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo. Mayor Steve Adler agrees, but he doesn’t necessarily agree with the solution she is proposing.

On Thursday, City Council will be considering a resolution to initiate historic zoning for the property at 1618 Palma Plaza. Tovo is sponsoring that resolution, which includes an amendment to City Code Chapter 25-11, which relates to demolition permits.

Under Tovo’s proposal, if a motion to initiate historic zoning at the Historic Landmark Commission does not receive the two-thirds vote required when the property owner opposes it, the commission will be required to take a separate vote on the demolition permit. Currently, the demolition permit may be released if a majority of the commission votes in favor of it. However, Tovo would like to see that rule changed to require a two-thirds vote to release the permit.

The biggest problem facing the commission is absenteeism. Tovo’s amendment would require that two-thirds of the commission be present and eligible to vote for both historic zoning and demolition cases.

Adler told the Austin Monitor that he was trying to find a better solution for a dysfunctional commission. “I think it’s something that needs to be discussed, but I’m not sure we can do that on the dais. … Perhaps a supermajority of those present rather than a supermajority of the commission would be required to approve a demolition permit.”

Adler also suggested that since there is a problem with attendance, Council should appoint more members and that the commission could act like the Board of Adjustment, which has alternates who can attend and vote in case regular members are not available.

He added, “We should talk to the people on that commission and find out why everybody wasn’t showing up.”

Tovo told the Austin Monitor that Council members should talk to their appointees on the commission to find out why they have not been attending the meetings. However, she pointed out that the Historic Landmark Commission has some rules that are quite different from other commissions. She said if you have to have a two-thirds vote to initiate historic zoning, then two-thirds vote should be required for a demolition permit also.

“And if it’s in limbo, it proceeds on to Council,” Tovo said. She said she also wants to explore the possibility of allowing remodeling while not allowing demolition if a property is not zoned historic.

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