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A divided landmark commission recommends Green Pastures Hotel

Wednesday, December 18, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

In the decades since Green Pastures opened in 1946, the restaurant has become a beloved venue known for its elegant, porch-wrapped home and verdant grounds. It was noteworthy when the proposed addition of a hotel to the property swept through the Historic Landmark Commission with full support in 2016.

The approved project remained unrealized on the ground until this week, when a revised set of plans reappeared in front of the commission at its Dec. 16 meeting. The new design was not as warmly received.

In the end, the commission voted 6-2 to grant a Certificate of Appropriateness for the design. Commissioners Terri Myers and Beth Valenzuela voted against the motion.

“To me this looks like a modern office building,” said Myers. “I think it’s not appropriate for this site.”

Valenzuela noted that the placement of the original structure in a rural setting is what gives the property context. Adding any building in the area, she explained, will disrupt that. Comments from the Certificate of Appropriateness committee show that committee members felt the current proposal presents too much of a commercial appearance, and they expressed a desire for a transition between the existing structure and the proposed hotel.

Myers explained that she considered the proposed three-story hotel so out of character with the historic site that the two should be permanently divorced. “I think if we approve this, we need to remove part of the landmark designation,” she said.

There was some consideration from commissioners as to the feasibility of removing the historic designation from the hotel-occupied portion of the 5-acre site. However, Chair Emily Reed cautioned commissioners that removing the historic designation from any part of the property will make the site susceptible to density pressures. “We remove that, and they (will) want to put a 20-story apartment building there,” she said.

Commissioner Ben Heimsath said it would be “ironic” if the commission recommended the removal of part of the property’s historic landmark status after supervising the designs for the buildings. Without historic zoning on the site, the proposed building would not need the approval of the Historic Landmark Commission.

The new hotel differs from the original proposal in several aspects. The stucco siding that was formerly proposed is replaced with brick siding, and the walls of the building are muted, dark colors in an effort to fade the modern structure into the surrounding landscape. In addition, the design only requires the removal of six of the 210 protected trees on the site. The prior design affected 16 trees.

Emily Little, of the project design firm Clayton & Little Architects, told the commission that the goal of the new design is to reference the historic home while leaving the original home to “remain the celebrated queen of Green Pastures.”

Heimsath commended the design efforts, calling the hotel a “very artful modern building that is in dialogue with (the original structure).” He explained that the relationship stems from the context of the two buildings, which are “finer buildings” that are representative of their respective eras.

However, Myers said the aesthetic changes were “phony historic elements” with “very cold, hard, clean geometric lines.” She had voted in favor of the 2016 designs.

Rather than the hotel honoring the past, Myers said the design violates the intent of the landmark status. Following the commission’s approval of the Certificate of Appropriateness, she said that instead of a hotel, “Let’s put a service station on it, and, you know, a convenience store.”

Rendering by Clayton & Little courtesy of the city of Austin.

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