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Landmark commission OKs rooftop deck in historic district

Monday, November 9, 2020 by Jasmine Lopez

The Historic Landmark Commission has approved a renovation plan in the Smoot/Terrace Park Historic District that includes a rooftop deck, possibly setting a precedent for such decks going forward.

Neighbors had objected to plans that would add a rear second floor and a detached carport at 602 Highland Ave., saying it would disrupt the structure’s historic integrity. While the commission approved the proposal in a 7-3 vote at the Oct. 26 meeting, Commission Chair Terri Myers and Commissioner Blake Tollett objected to the rooftop deck included in the renovation plan.

Commissioner Kevin Koch said he didn’t think the Historic Landmark Commission could reject rooftop decks since they were not mentioned in the design standards and the deck was not visible from the street.

As a “contributing structure” to the historic district, the house must comply with certain design standards. However, neighbor Maureen Metteauer told the commission that the addition “overpowers the original house.”

Metteauer and other neighbors argued that the proposed construction plans for a new second floor would essentially become a third floor because of ongoing construction of a basement that shares the same footprint as the house above.

Another neighbor, Sheila Lyon, said that because Highland Avenue slopes, the proposed addition “seems highly prominent and intrusive at different angles.”

The property owners, Eleni Martinez and her husband, proposed the plan to allow for more space to start a family as well as accommodate working from home, as the couple had turned their spare room into a work office.

Martinez said they had taken neighbors’ and an architect’s recommendations into account and restructured their proposal around the recommendations.

“We have worked diligently with our architect, Becky, and the city to make sure this second floor will flow and really blend beautifully into our home and the neighborhood charm,” Martinez said. “We’ve been really transparent with our next-door neighbor and neighborhood association.”

The proposal had previously received feedback from the Certificate of Appropriateness Review Committee, the Architectural Review Committee and the Historic Landmark Commission at its meeting in September.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky said while the applicant had complied with the recommendations of the commission and the committee to pull back the addition and rooftop deck, city staffers still had some concerns about the carport’s proposed location.

“(Staff) recommends that the carport be pulled back and refer to the Architectural Review Committee before final approval,” Sadowsky said. “Staff would also like to see if there’s any possibility of moving the location of the rooftop deck so that it’s not on the front of the house.”

“If there is no precedent for a rooftop deck, I don’t want to establish one,” Tollett said.

Myers, Tollett and Commissioner Ben Heimsath voted against the proposal. Commissioner Alexander Papavasiliou was absent.

“(Rooftop decks) are now a precedent in the Smoot/Terrace Historic District,” Myers said of the motion passing.

This story was written by a journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin. The Austin Monitor is working in partnership with the UT School of Journalism to teach and publish stories produced by students in the City and County Government Reporting course.

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