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Will Smoot Terrace Park be a local historic district?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018 by Sommer Brugal

Old West Austin could be home to another local historic district, if a proposal for Smoot Terrace Park is approved by City Council. The district is located between West Sixth and Ninth streets, covering 17.5 acres of land along Highland Avenue, Oakland Avenue and Pressler Street.

City Council heard the proposal at its regular meeting on May 10, where residents from the area voiced strong opinions both in favor of and against the amendment. Those in favor of the historic district shared much of the same sentiments, expressing their desires to preserve the area’s physical characteristics, personality, sense of community and diversity.

Donna Carter, an architect and resident of the neighborhood, said the proposed district would enable the community to lay a foundation for future growth and viability.

“Austin will grow, but we don’t have a lot of the historic neighborhoods of quality,” said Carter.

The proposed area is already a part of the West Line National Register Historic District. According to Cara Bertron, who works for the Historic Preservation Office, that means the Historic Landmark Commission only has advisory reviews and little control over things like preventing demolitions. Unless a contributing property is a designated landmark, it is not protected in a national register district. Under the proposed local historic district, however, Bertron said even contributing properties are subject to enforceable design standards and protections.

A property’s classification, and the effect it has on a home, played a large role for those who spoke in opposition to the proposal. Linda Candelosi, a homeowner living on Oakland Avenue, said contributing and noncontributing properties will be held to a different set of standards under the local historic district. Such standards, she argued, will make remodeling more difficult for contributing property homeowners, leaving them with an unfair disadvantage.

Candelosi also said that those in favor of the district are largely unaffected by the regulations it would create, and she cited Pressler Street to support her claim.

“Pressler Street is a sea of noncontributing homes, and virtually all of them voted for the district,” Candelosi said. “The design requirements won’t apply to them but will apply to others.” She said many homeowners who support the proposal have already made changes to their properties that wouldn’t be allowed under the local historic district.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo supported the passing of the district at first read, and she commended the efforts of the community members who worked to initiate the proposal.

“I’m very supportive of the local historic district,” Tovo said. “This is a tool that, as our historic preservation officer articulated, is a really important piece of how we preserve the integrity of the community.”

Tovo also said the district will enable the city to uphold the neighborhood’s integrity in a way that also preserves the historic nature and character of the community. “It affords us opportunities that are beyond what we can achieve through individual designations.”

Other Council members raised concerns regarding the proposal. Council Member Jimmy Flannigan voted no and said he needed to have a better understanding of certain factors that were mentioned, like the ability to add housing under the district, before voting on the matter.

Council members Delia Garza and Greg Casar pointed to affordable housing in the area. Garza said both sides of the argument made valid points regarding the topic, but was curious to know what was considered affordable to residents in the area. The lowest price she found for a 400-square-foot apartment, she said wouldn’t be affordable for residents in her district.

She continued, “I’m hearing, ‘We have a very diverse community, this great school and support system, and we love our community.’ All of that is under a situation where we do not have a historic preservation district,” Garza said. She said adding an additional layer or title so people could simply add on to their homes wasn’t something she could support at the time.

The motion to move the proposal forward passed 7-3, with Garza, Flannigan and Council Member Pio Renteria voting against the proposal and Council Member Ellen Troxclair absent. The second reading is scheduled for City Council’s meeting on June 28.

This story has been corrected. It originally identified the local historic district as located in Clarksville, which is not the case. Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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