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HLC recommends design in Old West Austin historic district, sidesteps opposition’s concerns

Thursday, August 1, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

In Austin, commissions are divided based on their areas of expertise and are required to remain within their purview when addressing the merits of a case.

This question of jurisdiction was raised at the July 22 meeting of the Historic Landmark Commission as it heard the case for 3000 Funston St., which members of the community had pulled from the consent agenda.

“None of the other things you’ve raised are appropriate for us to even talk about,” Commissioner Ben Heimsath said in response to community members’ concerns about community space, flooding and easements.

The property at 3000 Funston is currently a vacant lot owned by the Austin Housing Finance Corporation, which is working to construct affordable housing in a West Austin neighborhood that is part of the Old West Austin National Register Historic District.

The designs presented to the Historic Landmark Commission depict a 1,336-square-foot single family home with two stories and a large front porch.

Javier Delgado, who was representing the applicant, told commissioners, “It will be an affordable unit in the area where there are not many affordable units at all.”

Michael Robb, who was the first neighbor to speak against the approval of the building plans, pointed out that the plans would require developers to remove several large trees from the property and that due to a history of flooding on the street, “We see safety issues related to flooding as a result of the new house displacing water.”

According to the Travis Central Appraisal District, the Austin Housing Finance Corporation is the first entity to purchase the property. Several of the neighbors said this was because despite previous attempts by neighbors to buy the property, the city said the property was a water easement and not for sale. Robb said this was due in part to the outdated drainage system that sits beneath the house, which the city acknowledged needs to be modernized, but has not yet been updated.

When Heimsath reiterated that while these concerns were valid, they were not applicable to the commission’s vote on the designs and their appropriateness in the context of a national register historic district, Robb responded, “It is unclear to us if the home actually preserves the historic architecture and heritage of the neighborhood in an attempt to build the cheapest home possible.”

Deputy Historic Preservation Officer Cara Bertron noted that this particular street in the historic district was a “very mixed area,” and based on design and proportions, city staff recommended the designs.

The applicant previously went before the Certificate of Appropriateness Committee where commissioners requested the architect alter the gable on the roof to be more compatible with the surrounding neighborhood. The plans presented at the full commission meeting in July reflected those changes.

“I think it does look a lot better with the window change and the roof change,” said Commissioner Terri Myers.

Basing their vote strictly on the new designs for the home, the commission voted unanimously to approve the presented plans. Commissioners Beth Valenzuela and Kevin Koch were absent.

Despite the unanimous approval, Heimsath told the applicants that going forward, they may want to further discuss the presented concerns with the neighborhood.

“You have some hot neighbors, so you may want to talk to them about all the other stuff,” he noted.

Plans courtesy of the Austin Housing Finance Corporation.

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