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Old home in new historic district is approved for demolition

Thursday, January 10, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

All things have their moment in the sun, and for an East Austin home at 4200 Wildwood Road, that moment seems to have come and gone. Today, the home is merely a cracked contribution to the Wilshire Woods National Register Historic District, but the Historic Landmark Commission hopes some new owners will spruce up the worn facade.

At the Dec. 7 meeting of the Historic Landmark Commission, commissioners released a demolition permit to owners Paula and Ernest Smith with the understanding that when they review the reconstruction plans they will be in line with the character of the neighborhood.

“I’m looking forward to seeing a compatible design at the certificate of appropriateness meeting,” emphasized Commissioner Kevin Koch after the commissioners unanimously approved the release of the demo permit, contingent upon the commission’s approval of the building plans.

Paula Smith assured the commission that she and her husband “have no interest in doing something new and different.” According to her, the couple had two purposes in rehabilitating the home. First, the house is next door to their children and grandson and they want all three generations to be able to use it. Second, they plan to design the home to enable them to age in place for the rest of their years.

“The most compelling reason for demolition is, the building is not really able to be rehabbed for adaptive use for the purpose of an older couple that does have mobility problems,” explained Lance Tompkins with Austin Lancer Properties, who was representing the applicant.

He noted that when inspectors surveyed the home at the time of purchase in September 2018, it had deteriorated tremendously. Initial inquiries into a remodel demonstrated that “a great deal of work would be necessary to make it appropriate for us to live in,” said Smith.

Part of the reason for the deterioration is that the home has served as a rental property and periodic Airbnb for the last decade.

Commissioner Terri Myers noted that with such a history attached to it, the neighbors are likely to have concerns with the proposed plans.

Stacy Smith, the daughter-in-law who lives next door, assured the commission that neighbors are supportive of the preliminary plans, which feature the characteristic stone facade of the neighborhood and a one-story floor plan. “Their biggest concern was (that) it wasn’t going to be a two-story house and consume the lot.” The Smiths, who currently live in a two-story townhome in West Austin, said a large reason they are moving is to be able to reside in a single story.

Although no plans have been finalized, Stacy Smith explained that “our goal is to build something that is going to live way beyond Ernest and Paula.” The family is working with the architect to create a footprint that is almost “as the house sits now. That’s pretty much how it’s going to lay out,” said Smith.

The finalized plans will be presented to the commissioners at a later date, at which point they will be reviewed before the demolition permit is released. Commissioners Mary Jo Galindo and Andrew Brown were absent from the meeting.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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