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Photo by by the city of Austin: 2505 Park View Drive

Air-Conditioned Village to lose two more houses

Thursday, December 3, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Two more houses in a development that once served as a test bed for bringing central air conditioning to the American middle class are scheduled for demolition.

In a single vote, the Historic Landmark Commission approved demolition permits for 2505 and 2507 Park View Drive. Commissioners voted 8-2 in favor of the motion, with commissioners Kelly Little and Ben Heimsath voting in opposition.

“I am sad,” Chair Terri Myers said.

At the most recent meeting of the commission, Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky walked back a previous recommendation asking for the facade to be preserved. However, he expressed concern that the demolitions could jeopardize a proposed listing for the Air-Conditioned Village on the National Register of Historic Places.

Unlike many demolition cases in the city, there appeared to be neighborhood support for the demolitions. Several neighbors spoke at the meeting to offer their support and verify that the properties have long had drainage and flooding issues. One neighbor testified that the original namesake air conditioners in the village had all been removed.

Audrea Moyers spoke in support of the demolitions both as a neighbor and as a graduate of the UT School of Architecture who appreciated the significance of the Air-Conditioned Village.

“I think it’s important to note that you cannot visually identify the air-conditioned houses,” she said. “There’s no identifiable shared style beyond the generic midcentury, and examples of this style are being demolished regularly in the neighborhood … I think you could reasonably consider the Air-Conditioned Village to be a clever marketing strategy to promote air conditioning.”

She noted the suggestion to maintain the facade of the house falsely implied that the facade was significant.

Azim Hajjar said flooding was “extremely common” in the houses, such as his own, which were build on “tight budgets” to appeal to hopeful, middle-class families.

“I think that as a neighbor and as someone that’s building a family on the street, it’s extremely exciting that Dominique Levesque is the builder on these two demolition applications,” he said. “I consider this the best-case scenario for the city and our neighborhood.”

2507 Park View Drive

The sole speaker opposing the demolition was Hanna Stark, with Preservation Austin.

“We are dismayed at the proposed demolition(s),” she said, urging the commission to recommend historic zoning on the houses. “The Air-Conditioned Village has seen too many demolitions at a rapidly increased rate over the past several years. Only 15 of the original 23 homes retain integrity. Every loss brings us closer to losing any chance for a historic district to honor and protect these buildings.”

Expanding on staffers’ revised recommendation, Sadowsky told the commission that the two homes in question did “not rise to the same level” as the home at 2502 Park View Drive, which will now be preserved after the commission voted to initiate historic zoning in October. That home, he said, is “much more intact, architecturally” though he maintained the two houses in question were very significant.

“Staff is sympathetic to the property owners …. They’re dealing with houses that have significant issues that they have now provided a structural report that documents those,” he said. “We didn’t have that last month, so it was more difficult to make a fair and impartial determination as to whether these houses could be rehabbed.”

Tim Packard, the owner of 2505 Park View Drive, reiterated his concerns about drainage on the property, and produced a structural engineering report that showed an addition could not safely be built on the property. Packard also took a moment to note concerns about the process being employed by the Historic Landmark Commission during its virtual meeting.

Specifically, Packard said that holding all public comment at the beginning of the meeting, then later hearing the staff recommendation without an opportunity for rebuttal or comment, was unfair. He asked for that process to be changed moving forward.

“We agree with you,” Commissioner Heimsath responded. “There’s been a lot of discussion about this, but we are beholden to the city’s process thanks to Covid. We’re trying to make it as fair as possible.”

Heimsath told Packard he could stay on the line after his comments in order to answer any questions the commission might have.

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