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Another house, another fight at the Historic Landmark Commission

Wednesday, January 18, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Once again, the Historic Landmark Commission was transformed into an ideological battleground. This time, the battle was centered on what ultimately proved to be a fairly uncontroversial landmark designation in the North University neighborhood.

The Brundrett-Winkler House, which was built in 1916, is located at 104 West 32nd St. Though it resembles a bungalow, Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky explained that it is actually a “classic example of a transitional Craftsman bungalow” that predates the typical, one-story bungalow that is a product of the 1920s.

Commissioners voted 9-1 in favor of the historic zoning at their most recent meeting, with Commissioner Arif Panju voting in opposition.

In addition to the architecture, staff was recommending historic zoning based on the home’s association with Ernest Winkler in particular. Winkler, who lived in the house from about 1926 until his death, was a leader in establishing the Benson Latin American Collection and the Barker Texas History Center at the University of Texas. According to the staff report, he served as the state librarian of Texas in 1906 and again in 1909, and went to work for the University of Texas in 1915. “In 1923,” the report read, “he was appointed the librarian of the University of Texas, and through his tireless efforts, was able to build the University’s collections of Texas, Southern, and Latin American historical documents.”

A question from Panju about the cost of the tax abatement to Austin taxpayers did not sit well with fellow Commissioner Blake Tollett. He pointed out that, as a member of the operations subcommittee, Panju could have raised the question much earlier.

“You have these opportunities, but you sit here and berate people from the dais,” said Tollett. “You could have said that you want to limit tax breaks going forward … but you haven’t done that.”

Panju said he understood that Tollett was “bugged” by the question because he received a historic tax abatement for his own home, but Tollett denied that that was the source of his agitation. Panju clarified his own intentions as well, saying that he wanted the cost of the abatement in the public record.

“It’s online,” said Tollett. “It’s in the record now.”

The estimated annual tax abatement for the home is $8,500, and the city’s portion is $2,500 of that.

Panju said he was opposing the designation given the fact that the owners were already engaged in “voluntary preservation,” which is why it was so well-preserved today and likely to stay that way in the future.

“We don’t have unlimited resources,” said Panju. “This is $255,000 over 30 years.”

Chair Mary Jo Galindo noted that Panju’s points were beyond the purview of the commission. “I would call out your inconsistency there and would just like to emphasize that you’re not doing your job.”

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