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HLC accepts demolition of West Lynn home for ‘Tudor mansion’

Thursday, March 28, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

After last month’s revelation of the design plans for 1602 West Lynn St. left members of the Historic Landmark Commission reeling, the four weeks between then and now allowed the commissioners to begrudgingly accept the previously presented plans and comments from staff at their March 25 meeting.

“Unfortunately, things went awry at the end and we’re out of options,” Commissioner Kevin Koch said.

Although Koch clarified that there was never any promise to use the existing structure on the property as guidance for reconstruction plans, he and other commissioners continued to be disgruntled by the fact that the agreement to forgo the third story was ignored.

Per an agreement presented last fall to Council, there was documented correspondence to “begin (the) design with the original plans of the home” as well as to “forgo a third story massing along the front of the house.”

In an attempt to repair relations, Lida Sease from McAlpine Architecture flew in from Atlanta, Georgia, to explain the firm’s design choices. According to her, the massing of the facade and the three gables were in line with the scale of the neighborhood. At the same time, she acknowledged that on paper the house is indeed a three-story house. However, Sease explained that since she was not in attendance at the Oct. 4 City Council hearing, she was unable to speak to any of the assurances made regarding the design at that time.

Nevertheless, the scale of the home is not intended to dwarf its neighbors.

“It was very important that we maintain a profile that offers it as a two-story (house) to the street,” she told the commission. Speaking with the Austin Monitor, Sease clarified that this required creative construction that would make the third floor – which has two playrooms, a media room, a bedroom and a bathroom – conform to the McMansion compatibility standards that limit building height to 32 feet. Keeping within these parameters requires the roof to be an A-frame that slopes to the floor on the third story, meaning that the ceilings will only reach their peak height of eight feet at the center of the home.

“They should have gone to West Lake if they wanted to build this huge structure,” Clarksville neighbor Marianne Dorman said upon seeing the design plans. While she noted that the architect’s designs were “beautiful,” she said the neighborhood was “sad about this one (house) being demolished.”

Peggy Pickle, the daughter of former U.S. Rep. J.J. Pickle and granddaughter of the home’s former tenants, also made an appearance at the hearing to lament the fate of her family property. “I’m sorry I was not here two months ago to take a firmer stand on this,” she said. According to her, “the couple who bought it said they appreciated the architectural integrity of the house,” so she was surprised when she drove by and saw a demolition permit posted on the property.

Despite the sentiment from neighbors and commissioners, Koch noted that they were “at the end of this process.” Making one last stand, he agreed to take over the duty of writing a letter to Council to explain the commission’s disappointment at the fate of the house.

Commissioner Blake Tollett agreed, saying, “to have (the commission’s efforts) thwarted at the end. (It’s) very disheartening.”

Commissioners Emily Reed, Alex Papavasiliou and Beth Valenzuela were absent.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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