Thursday, February 6, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

HLC discusses when historic zoning should be removed from a property

The Reuter House, a National Register historic home, has perched atop a hill overlooking a substantial lot in Travis Heights since 1934. Seven years ago, the back portion of the lot was subdivided and three lots were sold to new owners to eventually become the Mariposa Development. Yet while the lots no longer belong to the historic home, they have continued to retain a historic designation.

“I don’t comprehend how in 2012 they could sell off half this property and there’s no notice?” Commissioner Blake Tollett asked at the Jan. 27 meeting of the Historic Landmark Commission. “Why are they still, for the last seven years, receiving tax abatements?”

Commissioner Kelly Little explained that retaining historic zoning on the properties after the sale allows the commission to review the proposed designs and issue a certificate of appropriateness. Without historic zoning on the property, the commission has no jurisdiction to help guide the designs.

Several commissioners expressed dismay about not knowing that the back portion of the property had been sold.

“We are acquiescing that we are losing that element of the historic site and that is something we should have been apprised of,” said Commissioner Terri Myers. She compared the property to Green Pastures, where she said both the grounds and the structure create the context for the historic nature of the site.

Commissioner Beth Valenzuela agreed the commission should have been alerted to the sale. However, “we can’t tell an owner not to build on land they’ve purchased,” she said.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky told commissioners that once the proposed houses are under construction, the city will begin the process to remove historic zoning from those properties. At the time historic zoning is removed, Sadowsky said, “There would be a possibility for up to three years’ worth of tax exemptions returned for this portion of the property.”

The portion of the property slated for the Mariposa Development will have three houses, two of which will have accessory dwelling units in the backyard. Since the expanse of property surrounding the Reuter House contributed to the historic home’s setting, all five new structures are situated behind a bank of trees and feature low rooflines so as not to block the view from the historic home to downtown Austin.

“While I’m not thrilled about noncontributing buildings … I thought you did a good job of finding historic references for your new construction,” Commissioner Myers said to Davey McEathron, the architect on the project.

Designs for the houses feature architectural references to the Tudor, Spanish Colonial and Federal styles that are found throughout the neighborhood. The overall layout has the homes discreetly tucked in among trees to minimize distraction from the Reuter House.

In addition to city staff support for the certificate of appropriateness for the houses, the Texas Historical Commission sent a letter of support for the architectural plans.

The Historic Landmark Commission also endorsed the designs with a unanimous vote to approve the certificate of appropriateness for the structures, contingent upon the assurance that when construction is finished, the historic zoning will be removed and three years of tax abatement will be returned to the city.

Commissioners Ben Heimsath and Emily Hibbs were absent from the discussion.

Photo by Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 3.0].

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