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Wednesday, July 5, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Push to landmark 1960s dairy homestead gets new life, and death, at City Hall

For a second time, the Historic Landmark Commission has denied historic zoning for a home that was once the site of the Schieffer Dairy. Though the house at 3901 Brookview Road is now headed for demolition, it has spurred the neighborhood to push for the creation of a new local historic district to prevent such demolitions in the future.

The case was originally before the commission in February, when the commission initiated historic zoning. When it returned on March 27, neighbors were not aware they should come to the meeting, and so the city’s Planning and Zoning Department arranged for a rehearing. The commission opted not to move forward with historic zoning during the March meeting, but it’s been postponed since then.

Neighbor Gay Goforth explained that city process requires that a second hearing date be announced, which is why the case was being reheard.

The city’s Historic Preservation Office has not endorsed either bid for historic landmarking. Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky explained that the rehearing for historic zoning had been postponed for months because, with the owner opposed to the change, it would take eight commissioners (out of 11) to approve the rezoning and eight commissioners had not been in attendance.

“It has gone way past the 75 days” that a demolition can normally be delayed, said Sadowsky, though he explained the owners had gone along with the delays up until this point. “Let’s just say thank goodness eight of y’all showed up tonight,” he said.

Commissioner Kevin Koch said that the property represents the history of the neighborhood because it remains an intact, oversized lot. However, the fact that the original home is no longer there and this is a 1961 replacement home weakens the case for historic zoning enough that “it does not rise to the level of a historic landmark.”

Commissioner Terri Myers disagreed. “I feel that we as a landmark commission may not have been diligent in considering further when this reappeared before us and we declined to recommend historic zoning. I think we would have benefited from the … neighborhood presentation,” she said, arguing that the home is a good example of a “true ranch” and could meet the preservation criteria for community value and landscaping as well.

Koch said he agreed with Myers’ points, but did not think the case would make it past City Council, whose approval is necessary for a zoning change. Myers agreed, but said she wouldn’t base her own recommendation on that. “I think we need to recommend what we believe to be appropriate,” she said.

As a representative of the owner, Hector Avila pointed out that historic zoning was ultimately denied by the commission in a 9-0 vote, calling the lack of attendance by the neighborhood at that hearing “bad luck.”

“We’ve been just stranded for all this time,” said Avila. “We want closure on this property.”

Sherri Whitmarsh, who is one of the neighbors pushing for historic landmark designation, explained the Schieffer Willowbrook Neighborhood Association had voted to oppose the demolition and planned subdivision of the land. Whitmarsh argued that the home met the qualifications for landmarking through its architecture, historical association with the Schieffers and community value given the family’s connection to the land nearby. The lot is the cornerstone of the subdivision named after them and the family donated the land where Maplewood Elementary sits.

Whitmarsh also argued that deed restriction prohibits subdivision of the corner lot and additional buildings, though the city does not enforce private deed restrictions on property.

“They know about these deed restrictions and continue to ignore them,” she said, explaining that the proposed two- and three-story construction “would have an immediate, destabilizing effect on the community” and set a precedent for future development in the neighborhood.

The neighborhood has submitted an initial application for a local historic district, covering 13 properties in the central Schieffer neighborhood, including 3901 Brookview Road.

Eight commissioners were present at the June 26 meeting, meaning a unanimous vote was required to move forward, again, with historic zoning. Commissioners voted 5-3 to release the demolition permit, with Myers, Commissioner Emily Reed and Chair Mary Jo Galindo voting against, and with commissioners Tiffany Osburn and Andrew Brown absent. That isn’t the simple majority required to release the permit, but a second vote to recommend historic zoning also failed, meaning the demolition permit will be released.

The owner has agreed to erect a plaque on site of the home, commemorating the Schieffers and their farm.

This story has been updated to clarify that 3901 Brookview Road is in the Schieffer Willowbrook Neighborhood Association.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

historic preservation: Official actions of a municipality such as the City of Austin taken to preserve structures with their jurisdiction. Preservation is often accompanied by a property tax exemption.

local historic district: Geographic areas with a significant concentration of buildings united by their history and architecture.

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