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‘Sensitive’ addition prompts Historic Landmark Commission to open historic zoning case

Monday, July 8, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

In order to expand a home and obtain room to display a 300-piece Hispanic art collection, the owners of 1216 E. Seventh St. submitted plans to the city to construct a 2,200-square-foot addition to the back side of their 1919 Craftsman-style bungalow.

Although the homeowners did not file an application for historic zoning, Art Ramirez, who was representing the homeowners, said that they would be “amenable” to the idea. He explained that they did not file the application themselves as their paramount concern was constructing an addition that allowed for more living space. In the submitted designs, the addition would be two stories and have 1,306 square feet on the ground floor and 221 square feet on the second floor.

The Historic Preservation Office reviews changes to the exterior of all homes over 45 years old in the city. In reviewing this application, city staff from the Historic Preservation Office referred it to the Historic Landmark Commission at its June 24 meeting to consider the property for historic landmark designation.

“Because of the visibility of the house and its architecture in particular, I wanted to make sure you all had an opportunity to review it for landmark designation,” explained Steve Sadowsky, the city’s historic preservation officer.

“I’ve never seen a house like this in Austin … this is an exceptional Craftsman house,” said Commissioner Terri Myers.

Commissioners agreed that the plans for the addition were thoughtfully done and respected the historic nature of the home. Yet Commissioner Ben Heimsath noted that if the house were zoned historic, the addition would require a higher level of scrutiny on “little tiny things that might be appropriate,” which could incorporate the addition even more seamlessly into the historic structure.

While the plans did not adhere to the design requirements associated with historic structures, Commissioner Terri Myers said, “I think the addition is sensitive to the historic fabric and character of the house.”

The commissioners found themselves at a crossroads regarding the future of the home. While they were comfortable with the design of the addition, they worried that giving the design their blessing would prevent the owner from requesting the home to be zoned historic in the future.

Sadowsky said, “I would probably still recommend it for historic zoning with the addition because it is sensitively designed. It only takes out a little bit of the back, and the back of this house has been very much modified anyway.”

After considering several different approaches, both to allow for the construction of the addition and to initiate historic zoning, the commission decided 7-2 simply to initiate historic zoning on the property. Commissioners Alex Papavasiliou and Witt Featherston voted against the motion.

The commission pointed out that initiating the historic zoning process would alleviate a cost burden from the owners while also making the process smoother. An application for historic zoning costs $1,910.48.

However, Commissioner Kevin Koch made it clear that he didn’t want “to punish the owners whatsoever.”

As such, the commissioners made it clear that if the owners did not wish to pursue historic zoning, the commission would still favorably recommend the designs for the addition as they are drawn today. There will just be a one-month delay in the process.

Commissioners Emily Hibbs and Kelly Little were absent from the meeting.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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