An East Austin family unites to fight against historical designation for their home
Wednesday, October 24, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns
Sometimes, despite their home’s historical ties, a family still believes it is time to sell it to a developer.
One such example is a small 19th-century Victorian folk-style home at 1705 East Sixth St. It is one of the few buildings in the area still inhabited by a family, while the majority of the surrounding properties have been converted into commercial enterprises, including longtime staple Tamale House and Mexican-inspired newcomer Suerte.
Although once a family home, now it is “no longer a viable place for us to call home,” Alex Benites, one of the four sibling owners, told the Historic Landmark Commission at its Oct. 22 meeting. He described scenes of being woken at night by raucous parties, his family’s inability to even access the house because of the cars parked alongside the street, and the rat and cockroach infestation that the dumpsters surrounding their home have caused.
In an effort to save the home as a historic landmark, the commission originally requested that the Historic Preservation Office review the house to change its zoning to historic. In 2016 the East Austin Historic Resources Survey recommended that the city zone the house as a local landmark due to its contribution to a potential historic district. However, city staff was unable to support the commission’s request for a rezoning. Instead, Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky recommended that the commissioners release the permit for demolition but “strongly encourage” the relocation of the property to a new site.
Michael Whellan of Armbrust & Brown told the Austin Monitor that he fully intends to relocate the home as part of the demolition package.
As a part of the relocation, the structure would need to be repaired in order to preserve it long-term. According to a city assessment, the property is still inhabitable, but Benites said that “the ceiling is cracking; the walls are starting to crumble.” In a familiar refrain, he explained to the commission through his unabashed tears that he and his siblings inherited the home from his parents, but they are unable to finance the upkeep and necessary repairs. Instead, he decided to sell.
As a lot in a prime location, the home is appraised at $1,086,022.
“I don’t think it’s anyone’s right not to allow them to sell it at a good price,” said Diane Valera, who owns Tamale House. She explained that the narrative of historical properties disappearing is not new in this neighborhood. “I have watched our tortilla factories, tamales factories, a lot of our homes … a lot of that was historical, and now it’s gone,” she said.
When asked what the plans for this property were, Whellan told the Monitor that there are no specific development plans but that it will be zoned as a mixed-use property.
The Benites family noted that although they value this home, selling the property would be an opportunity for them to begin their own lives in a more congenial setting.
Despite the commissioners’ original inclination to zone this home as historic, they unanimously decided to issue the release of a demolition permit with a recommendation to relocate the property.
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