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Historic Landmark Commission denies request to remove historic zoning

Thursday, April 30, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

For over a year now, the owners of the historic Majors-Butler-Thomas House at 1119 E. 11th St. have been asking the city to remove historic zoning from the property. Despite repeated attempts, their requests have been met with denial.

The first blow to the case came last April when the Planning Commission voted unanimously not to initiate the case to remove historic zoning at the request of the family whose name is carried in the history of the home. On Monday, the newest applicants were once again denied the request to remove historic zoning with a unanimous vote by the Historic Landmark Commission.

“There should have been no question about its preservation and its status,” said Commissioner Terri Myers, who said she recommended the property for historic zoning in 2000, 14 years before it was granted the status.

“I’m curious about what has changed that would warrant a change in the status,” said Commissioner Ben Heimsath, who called the request an example of “an owner that has taken advantage of a system they initiated.”

The owners of the property have failed in recent years to maintain the property, resulting in the city rescinding its tax abatement privileges for the last two years. “Honestly, we figured that would get their attention, but what they did was put it on the market instead,” Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky said.

The new applicants petitioning to remove the historic zoning from the property are the Amini brothers, who proposed a three-story mixed-use building on the commercially zoned property as a replacement for the historic home. Sadowsky clarified for the Austin Monitor that the brothers do not own the property. “They did pay the outstanding taxes on the property in order to be able to file the zoning change,” he explained.

“The writing is on the wall for this property,” said Neema Amini, who said the condition of the property is so deteriorated it is no longer economically feasible either to relocate or restore the property. He told the commission he had explored the possibility of relocation and had conversations with interested parties, but it is not a viable solution.

When commissioners asked whether he had pursued the idea of restoration, Amini said, “I’m of the belief that anything on earth can be restored, but it’s just a matter of economic feasibility.” However, he clarified, “The costs and economics do not make sense for the restoration of the house.”

Chair Emily Reed said granting the removal of historic zoning is incentivizing demolition by neglect, a status for which the house is eligible. Demolition by neglect is a process in the city code 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.

The commission agreed that while the home has a significant amount of deferred maintenance, it is a salvageable structure.

“If it’s on the market, it should be marketed to a historic-interested buyer,” said Heimsath. “I think this is a classic example of what we need to be working on so that we don’t continue to just plow down our history because it’s inconvenient.”

Commissioners Alex Papavasiliou and Mathew Jacob were absent.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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