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Landmark commission ‘reluctantly’ recommends demolition of stone cottage

Tuesday, December 8, 2020 by Victoria May

Members of the Bouldin Creek community are saying goodbye to a stone cottage some residents believed was emblematic of Austin culture.

Citing its lack of historical significance, Historic Landmark commissioners reluctantly upheld a motion to demolish the 83-year-old house at 910 W. Elizabeth St.

Three members of the community attended the meeting on Nov. 16 to voice their opposition to the demolition plan.

“What (the applicant is) proposing is going to take out a really nice house that is part of Austin’s culture, which is a cute, downtown, central area property,” said neighbor Pam Giblin. “If he wants a new building, he should go to some subdivision as opposed to trying to buy something in the Bouldin area.”

Cheryl Chandler, another neighbor of the property, echoed similar worries regarding the culture of the neighborhood. She and Giblin also expressed concern about the fact that the builder had not notified neighbors of the plans for the site.

“Is it a single-family home? Is it a two-story? A duplex? A fourplex?” Chandler wondered. “One of the appeals of the neighborhood historically is that it has this terrific little accessory dwelling unit which allows for the middle-income class to also be able to afford being close to the downtown area. With each destruction, it is completely changing the economic diversity of the neighborhood.”

Gabe Joseph, a partner of Joseph Builders, rebutted the neighbors’ arguments in favor of his company’s plan to demolish the old house and build a new home with comparable character in its place.

Joseph said the new home would be a two-story, single-family unit that would be much safer than the current property.

“The house is in disrepair,” Joseph said. “It’s falling down and nothing works. Although it has some very nice rocks on the front of it, (that) doesn’t make it a safer, habitable place to live.”

Incorporating different styles and ownerships into the Bouldin Creek community would further serve to enhance the neighborhood culture, according to Joseph.

Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky shared the sentiments of those testifying on behalf of the “little 1937 stone-faced house,” noting it’s an “excellent example of a vanishing breed.”

However, despite his support, he said the house had structural issues and did not rise to the level of landmark designation. Because of this, the commission “very reluctantly” recommended a release of the permit for demolition.

In the future, to prevent communities from losing homes residents feel are culturally important to the neighborhood, Commissioner Kevin Koch recommended the formation of a local historic district.

Local historic districts may have a “one-block face” that dictates citywide design standards to preserve certain homes and buildings, even when they do not meet the standards to receive a landmark status.

“It has to come from the grassroots, from the ground up and from the owners,” Koch said. “Otherwise, our hands are tied. And if we can’t landmark it individually, which is a very high standard, there is nothing else we can do as a commission.”

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.

This story has been changed since publication to correct a typo. The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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