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Survey finds a wealth of history in East Austin

Monday, November 28, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

At long last, the East Austin Historic Resources Survey is complete and ready for review.

The survey covered the area of Austin east of Interstate 35, north of Lady Bird Lake, south of Manor Road and east of Pleasant Valley Road and the MetroRail line. Though some of the area was surveyed in 1984 and 2000, other areas have never been surveyed at all.

This time, consultants Hardy-Heck-Moore Inc. looked at 6,600 resources within the boundaries. Under city of Austin criteria, 99 of those places would be eligible for historic designation, and 136 would qualify for listing on the national register.

The draft survey also identified 19 potential local historic districts, or neighborhoods that have a substantial density of properties that are similar enough, significant enough and intact enough to convey historic character. The consultants found that about 1,400 buildings would be considered “contributing” to these districts. As with historic landmarks, creating the districts would involve a separate public process that can be difficult to navigate.

In Austin, historic districts must be initiated by the community and have a majority of buildings within the proposed district contributing. Also, a majority of the owners within the proposed boundaries of a district must agree to initiate the process.

Kalan Contreras, who works in the city’s Historic Preservation Office, presented the final draft of the historic resources survey at the Historic Landmark Commission’s most recent meeting. It was a condensed version of the 1,000-page report, which is available online for the intrepid.

Though it was not required of them, members of the Historic Landmark Commission recommended the survey unanimously, with commissioners David Whitworth, Michelle Trevino and Arif Panju absent.

Hardy-Heck-Moore Inc. conducted the survey this year in the spring and fall in order to establish a “comprehensive snapshot” of the area’s historic sites. That snapshot, Contreras explained, allows the community to plan for development and preservation along with promoting awareness of local history.

Specifically, the survey located structures that could be designated as historic and potential historic districts.

Though it was the first time the commission tackled the survey officially, the survey’s existence featured heavily at a recent meeting thanks to the brief postponing of several east side demolitions at the request of City Council Member Ora Houston. At the next meeting, that plan was discarded.

Given the timing of the report and limits on how long demolitions can be postponed, the survey was unlikely to have an immediate impact on cases already in progress. But Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky told the commission that he had high hopes for the survey, which he said would have a “fantastic” impact in the future.

“It’s going to really enable us to be much more proactive in preservation efforts in East Austin,” said Sadowsky, who added that his office looked forward to it “being put into play in December,” after Council officially accepts the document.

Contreras explained that the “overwhelming” majority of recommended individual landmarks are residential properties. Indeed, residential properties account for 81 percent of the recommendations, with commercial properties coming in second at only 8 percent.

Photo by Jeremy Hill made available under a Creative Commons license.

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