Monday, October 5, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

‘Air Temp’ home to be restored rather than demolished

Following months of hand-wringing from the community and negotiations between city staff and property owners, the “Air Temp” home at 2502 Park View Drive is going to get a new lease on life.

On Sept. 28, the Historic Landmark Commission voted to withdraw its application for historic zoning for the property with the understanding that the property owner will rehabilitate the home to a standard vetted by the city’s historic preservation staff that qualifies it for historic zoning.

Although commissioners agreed to withdraw the historic zoning case, the property owner still had a demolition permit on file at the time of the meeting that staff could have administratively approved without a decision by the commission to continue with the historic zoning process. However, with assurances from Barry Williamson, the applicant for the property, that he will rehabilitate the house rather than rebuild a new structure, Commissioner Blake Tollett said, “I’m going to trust Mr. Williamson.”

“The owners of the property have proposed a plan for the rehabilitation of the house that will preserve the look and character of the house from the street,” staffers wrote in the review comments. “The owner’s proposal is very sensitive to the historic character of the house and the importance and context of the neighborhood. “

Commissioner Terri Myers similarly felt that the plans for the revitalization of the structure were well done. “I feel like the applicant really did make substantive changes and listen to the commission’s recommendations on that,” she said. However, she did note, “We want to believe (Mr. Williamson), but we’ve been burned in the past.”

The Air Temp house is one of 22 homes in Northwest Austin that served as the test case for the feasibility of central air conditioning in middle-class structures. Today only 15 of those homes remain standing, and the demolition of the Air Temp house was scheduled to further reduce that number. The neighborhood is trying to obtain a National Register historic nomination for the district.

Although Williamson requested an application for the demolition of the structure in June, he told the commission this week he has spent months working directly with staff to determine a solution that was both financially feasible and met the standards for historic preservation.

Williamson is a developer who previously said he was looking to replace the 1,220-square-foot home with a 3,500-square-foot structure to sell for between $590,000 and $650,000. His estimation for rehabilitating the home to sell would result in a $218,000 loss for his company.

Since August, the developer changed his opinion on rehabilitation, but continued to reject the commissioners’ suggestion that he pursue historic zoning.

The commission included a caveat in its recommendation that it reserves the option to pursue historic zoning of the property at a later date.

Photo and clipping from the city of Austin.

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