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Landmark commissioners say they feel double-crossed over West Austin property

Friday, March 1, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Despite a local homeowner and the city spending months compromising, negotiating and working to comply with suggestions from Austin’s Historic Preservation Office, Historic Landmark commissioners were flabbergasted Monday night at the final plans for a multimillion-dollar home in Old West Austin.

After the Historic Preservation Office failed to get a supermajority at Council to designate the home at 1602 West Lynn as a historic landmark, the property reappeared in front of the Historic Landmark Commission at its Feb. 25 meeting in order for the commissioners to review the design plans for the new structure.

The initial plans for the home were scrapped due to negative feedback from the commission and a new architect was engaged for the project. 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.”

At the meeting of the Historic Landmark Commission, the presented plans, according to staff, were not in the Italian Renaissance Revival style of the original home and instead showed “the house has a heavy Elizabethan character.” Similarly, the floor plans depict a third story with a guest bedroom and a playroom.

Unhappy with the presented plans, the commission voted to postpone the case until next month as well as write a letter to Council detailing the situation and expressing their disappointment that “all of (the promises) have clearly been broken in this design” and that the will of Council was undermined.

“Yes, that’s a tad punitive,” said Commissioner Blake Tollett. “But I think it’s important.”

Glen Coleman came on behalf of the owner and McAlpine Architecture to present the final design, and in his presentation he said, “I think this (plan) demonstrates that we have been here before and we have listened.”

The commissioners were not of the same mind.

“This makes me very angry to be double-crossed like this,” said Commissioner Kevin Koch. He referenced the October 4 hearing of City Council where this property failed by one vote on second reading to be designated historic. The understanding between Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky and Council was that the recently engaged McAlpine Architecture would craft a historically sensitive design that would use the existing facade to the greatest extent. At the time of the Council hearing, there were no design plans available but the architect and the owner had given their word in “good faith” that they would be sensitive to the Historic Register district in which the home was located.

Testimony from Coleman during the hearing shows a record of him saying “the house would be rebuilt” and “I don’t want to hide that.” Similarly, when Historic Landmark commissioners expressed surprise at a design which Commissioner Terri Myers said “bears no resemblance at all to the original house,” Coleman responded, “I certainly hope not.”

Commissioner Koch told the Austin Monitor that “he was very clear about removing the whole house but he said that they were going to use the original style, they were going to keep it two stories, and it was going to become a high-style Italian Renaissance Revival home.” At the Council meeting he said, “I mean, we could sneak off and build a Tudor mansion, but you have the architect’s signature (that that would not be the case).”

Koch told the Monitor that he became frazzled at the Landmark Commission meeting because his expectations were dashed, “and what they presented was a Tudor mansion.”

Other commissioners took issue with the fact that the home did not seem to reflect the Italian Renaissance Revival style. Commissioner Myers explained that it had elements of Dutch Colonial and Tudor. “These elements are all out of character with the existing district,” she said.

Since the house was not designated as historic, the commissioners have no final say over the plans, but their opinion is heavily weighted and as such, they hope to have their grievances heard through their formal letter to Council.

The motion passed 6-0-2 with commissioners Andrew Brown and Alex Papavasiliou abstaining. Brown indicated that he was uncomfortable with the body doling out punitive rulings and Papavasiliou said that the postponement was extraneous. “We’re postponing a rec that I think for all intents and purposes is already given,” he said.

Rendering of planned house and photo of current house at 1602 West Lynn courtesy of the city of Austin.

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