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Reporter’s Notebook: Something we agree on

Monday, March 25, 2019 by Elizabeth Pagano

The link between governmental and residential Texas houses… Occasionally a contentious zoning case stirs up old memories that have been tucked away, but not forgotten. In the wake of the Historic Landmark commissioners’ reaction to the presented plans for 1602 West Lynn, Bergan Casey, the granddaughter of former U.S. Rep. J.J. “Jake” Pickle and a member of the family that formerly owned the home, reached out to the Austin Monitor to highlight the property as an example of a misguided attempt by lawmakers to legislate preservation. Casey explained to the Monitor that property preservation is already an arduous process and that giving property owners the ability to opt out of the zoning designation (which takes a supermajority at Council to overturn) further endangers preservation efforts. The opportunity to defer a historical landmark designation already exists. However, Texas lawmakers are working to codify what the capital city already does with the introduction of House Bill 2496 and Senate Bill 1488. Casey said situations like 1602 West Lynn illustrate why “HB 2496 and SB 1488 are not only unnecessary but also even more harmful to neighborhoods.” While these bills only have about a quarter of the support necessary for passage, it’s worth watching their progression to understand the fate of historical landmarks statewide.

Let’s play ballpark… Residents of an East Austin apartment complex are hoping more members of City Council will join them and Council Member Greg Casar to oppose a zoning request that could cause the complex to be demolished to make way for 1,000 units as part of a mixed-use project. An online petition is urging City Council not to approve the rezoning request for the Town Lake Circle property containing the 244-unit Mesh Apartments without a written agreement from the complex owners to address a variety of demands and concerns. (The zoning request returns to Council this week for its next reading after an initial approval last month.) Casar, who tends to vote in favor of higher-density housing, has drawn attention for being the sole “no” vote on the first approval. In a recent opinion piece in the Austin American-Statesman, Casar said his vote was based on concerns over displacement and gentrification in that part of East Austin, writing, “the proposed demolition will accelerate this trend in an area that is heavily comprised of working class families of color.”

Strange bedfellows… Leave it to the Tourism Commission to give credence to the old proverb, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” There was a brief but significant thawing of relations at the group’s March meeting, where discussion turned to the growing role of short-term rentals in Austin and their impact on local Hotel Occupancy Tax revenues. That topic took attention away from the possible expansion of the Austin Convention Center, with commissioners Scott Joslove and Ed Bailey – both from the tourism and hospitality industry and thus largely in favor of the expansion – weighing in with opinions about how casual tourists flocking to STRs are starting to turn residential neighborhoods into decentralized hotels. Those feelings mostly mirrored those of Commissioner John Riedie, who has frequently sparred with the two and is solidly against the expansion. Following a mini anti-STR monologue from Bailey, Riedie drew chuckles by dryly offering, “I’m so excited. We might have found something we agree on.”

This week’s Reporter’s Notebook comes from the notebooks of Jessi Devenyns and Chad Swiatecki.

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