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City may initiate demolition-by-neglect case in effort to save I.Q. Hurdle House

Wednesday, April 17, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

For several years, one North Texas company has been stealthily purchasing properties along East 12th Street and now owns nearly four dozen properties between Interstate 35 and Walnut Avenue, according to Travis County property records.

One of those properties happens to be the I.Q. Hurdle House at 1416 E. 12th St.

Just over three years have passed since Dallas-based Eureka Holdings – under the name of Poisonous Poinsettia –  bought the home that once belonged to Isaiah Quit Hurdle, an African-American minister and public school educator who died in 1968, but the property still remains boarded up with no public plans for renovation.

This lack of activity has landed the property on the April 22 agenda of the Historic Landmark Commission where the city will ask the commissioners to initiate a case for a demolition-by-neglect permit. Demolition by neglect is a process in the city code that’s intended to protect historically important buildings from becoming unsalvageable due to neglect or inattention from their owners. When such a permit is issued, the city sets a timeline for an owner to rehabilitate the structure.

In response to the treatment of this house and its upcoming appearance at the HLC, the Urban Renewal Board unanimously approved a letter at its April 15 meeting urging the Historic Landmark Commission to “recommended historic landmarks within the boundaries of the East 11th and 12th Street Urban Renewal Plan to be renovated in their current location and not be moved.” Movement, according to the letter, includes both relocation and demolition.

“We’d like to see things renovated in their current location,” said Chair Joe Babb.

According to an article in the Austin American-Statesman, the seller of the I.Q. Hurdle house, Irving Henry Allen Jr., explained, “We thought we had made arrangements for the buyer to fix it up and move it.” However, Eureka Holdings maintains that the agreement was never a condition of sale.

Trey Salinas, who is representing Eureka Holdings for the project, told the Austin Monitor that there are no definitive plans for the house until there has been an involved discussion with the community. Keeping and restoring the house on the property, however, is “certainly under consideration.”

The result is that the house is in a state of “continued degradation,” according to Tracy Witte of the Swede Hill Neighborhood Association, who came to address the Urban Renewal Board at its meeting. “At that time (of the sale) they had no plan for the property and never contacted us again,” she told board members.

Although representatives of Eureka Holdings were invited to the board meeting and were listed on the agenda, no reps appeared. Salinas told the Monitor that members of their team were out of town for the meeting and that they intend to come in May. He said they were aware of the agenda item and were working with the city to voluntarily restore the house. “Right now, no one is considering demolition,” he said.

According to Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky, “They (Eureka) want to avoid the demolition-by-neglect case.”

He told the Monitor that Eureka is looking into filing a certificate of appropriateness with plans to restore the house. Although Eureka’s reps have yet to file the certificate, if they do, the hearing will occur in May, according to Sadowsky, who says that voluntary restoration of this property is the ideal path forward. A plan for maintenance of the property will not contain any indication of future use at this stage.

To give more weight to the opinion voiced in the letter from the board, Board Member Maegan Ellis volunteered to attend the next meeting of the Historic Landmark Commission to offer additional rationale and public testimony.

Although Board Member Manuel Escobar pointed out that the letter was written in response to specific concerns about the I.Q. Hurdle house, he noted that it was written in a way as to make it non-site-specific and hopefully protect other structures within the Urban Renewal Plan boundaries of East 11th and 12th streets.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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