Monday, January 7, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

New construction is approved for historical lot in South Austin

Putting new construction on a historically zoned lot with an emblematic structure is not an everyday occurrence in Austin, so when it happens, it should be no surprise that it involves months of negotiation.

After several months of back-and-forth with the Historic Landmark Commission, on Dec. 17, the commission unanimously approved the construction of three contemporary homes on the back side of the Stanley Homestead property at 1809 Newton Street.

“We have basically made these properties to where they are the true backdrop,” said William Hodge, the architect for the developer, Brenda Walton.

To achieve backdrop status, city staff and the Historic Landmark Commission had previously recommended that the developer reduce the square footage of the buildings and move them farther away from the historical structures. Hodge explained that the developer not only complied with these requests but went further, selecting muted building materials in order to avoid drawing the gaze away from the “star of this property.”

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky agreed that the design successfully blended in and that “the context of the original house and the outbuilding is being preserved,” which he explained was the goal of historical preservation.

Still, not everyone was in agreement that the proposed plans were the ideal solution. Jim Stockbauer, the owner of the Stanley house, and Commissioner Terri Myers expressed dissatisfaction at the lack of communication. “My understanding was that there was going to be one (building) and now there’s three,” Commissioner Myers said.

“I haven’t been briefed on anything they’re going to do,” said Stockbauer.

The developer, Brenda Walton, similarly expressed frustration at the complexities of the process. “It’s costing me a lot of money to try and get to the end of this process,” she said. “I’m willing to do whatever you guys need me to do to move forward.” She explained that when she purchased the property a year and a half ago for $550,000, she “didn’t understand everything about the historical preservation” but that she has been trying to cooperate with the city as effectively as possible to get the project completed.

While the commission did not require any further modifications to the proposed plans, members did recommend that Walton and Hodges email the plans to Preservation Austin, which holds the covenant on the two lots.

This historical preservation covenant was not removed at the Dec. 17 hearing when the commission granted the certificate of appropriateness for the proposed design. The case to remove the historical zoning from the back side of the lot will come back before the commission at a later date.

Commissioner Blake Tollett suggested that when the historical zoning removal case returns to the commission that they consider “how the city can claw back some of the property taxes on that (property).”

Kate Singleton, the executive director of Preservation Austin, suggested that they use some, if not all, of the money to work on rewriting the historic preservation ordinance to bring it up to date.

Photo of the historic “backdrop” courtesy of the city of Austin.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Historic Landmark Commission: The city’s Historic Landmark Commission promotes historic preservation of buildings and structures. The commission also reviews applications and permits for historic zoning and historic grants.

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