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Plan to move Old Negro Women’s Home out of town stalls at City Hall

Thursday, August 3, 2017 by Elizabeth Pagano

Despite palpable compassion for its owner, the Historic Landmark Commission threw its full weight behind keeping the building that was once the Old Negro Women’s Home in East Austin at its last meeting.

Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of individual historic landmark status for the home at 1210 Rosewood Ave. over the objections of the current owner, who would like to move the home to Lockhart, Texas, in order to make way for a small mixed-use project.

“I feel for the owner’s financial situation,” said Commissioner Kevin Koch. “But our job is to identify properties that have historical significance and meet the criteria of a landmark and I still believe this meets the criteria of a landmark.”

The home, which is estimated to have been built in the 1920s, operated as the Old Negro Women’s Home under an African-American executive board until the 1970s, though there was a period in the 1940s when it was home to the Colored Branch of the Young Women’s Christian Association. The 2016 East Austin Historic Resources Survey identified the home as eligible for individual designation as both a city historic landmark and in the National Register of Historic Places.

Peter Staats, who is the owner of the home, said he has been a good steward of the commercial property for the past 18 years. When he purchased the home, it was boarded up, sat empty and had a long list of needed repairs. “At that time, you couldn’t ask for commercial rent,” he said. “No tenant would be able to move into it because it was dangerous.”

He explained they made repairs to the home “at a glacial mom and pop pace” to accommodate the first tenants. Repairs, though, were a manageable problem compared to the current state of affairs.

“The problem now is galloping property taxes,” he said. “I could handle some of the problems we’ve mentioned, but my property taxes have gone from $2,000 in 2002 to $22,000 this year, and they are only going up.”

Staats explained that he was not able to increase rent on the property fast enough to make up for the increased property tax.

A real-estate boom on the east side has impacted his plans in other ways too. Staats said that he had explored the possibility of moving the home to another East Austin lot, as suggested by the Historic Preservation Office, but the low-end value of commercial lots was $465,000, with larger commercial lots valued at $2.7 million. He explained the economics just weren’t there to move the house: “You aren’t going to get $18,000 per month for a 1,400-square-foot home,” he said.

Staats’ current plan to relocate the house to Lockhart would make way for a “small mixed-use project” by Dick Clark + Associates. Representatives from the company were on hand to explain how a new building that would include their office was in line with the vision for the 11th Street Corridor.

Johanna Reed, a designer at the company, pointed out the case was a difficult one that “navigated the line between progress and preservation.” She said she wasn’t aware of the property’s history when they began talking with the property owners, and she hoped to keep the history alive in the new building with a historic plaque.

Though no one spoke in opposition to the relocation of the house, the consensus on the dais was unanimous. Historic Landmark commissioners voted 8-0 to move forward with historic zoning for the home. Commissioners Emily Hibbs and Terri Myers were absent.

Koch said that, given the size of the lot, he thought there was a solution that would preserve the facade and majority of the building while allowing development in the back of the building and property.

“There has got to be a design solution that finds a balance between retaining this landmark in its location and full use of the property,” he said.

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