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Landmark commission approves changes to historic Mary Street home

Monday, April 5, 2021 by Sean Saldaña

Last week, the Historic Landmark Commission gave the go-ahead for some repairs and upgrades to a home at 508 E. Mary St., a property in the Mary Street Historic District.

Originally established in 1928, “the 500 block of E. Mary Street was part of a working-class neighborhood comprised of a mix of homeowners and renters, including many World War I veterans,” according to the city. The small district, made up of 18 houses in total, is now located in the heart of the city, down the road from Lady Bird Lake, the Greenbelt and downtown Austin.

The historic district includes a number of design standards that properties need to comply with to “help preserve and protect the character-defining features.”

The proposal for 508 E. Mary is less about completely redesigning the home and more about updating it for the current homeowners, who are retirees looking to make their home more accessible.

One change would involve replacing a concrete porch with one that has fewer steps, making it easier for the elderly couple to navigate the property.

According to Nick Deaver, the architect taking the lead on the project, the porch alteration would allow “a little easier access as a retirement home” and make it “easier to get into the house.”

The homeowner, Roger Fisher, showed up to speak at the meeting to clarify that the requested changes are motivated primarily by accessibility and that neighborhood residents have been involved in the process.

“My wife and I retired and we hope that this house will be the last house we live in. We love the neighbors we have made. I’ve made a very concerted effort to keep all the neighbors on the streets informed as to what our plans are as they have developed,” he said.

The proposal has received high praise from community members. In a citizen comment submitted to the commission, Tom Fitzpatrick said, “I am pleased to see this house’s facade restored and the additions thoughtfully scaled. I look forward to having a new neighbor.”

One resident even showed up to speak on Fisher’s behalf to say he “wanted to thank Mr. and Mrs. Fisher for the effort they put in rehabilitating this house” and that the “communication has been excellent.”

On the whole, the commission was very receptive to the proposal – with a single caveat.

In addition to all the accessibility and restoration changes, there were also plans to grade and landscape the front lawn. Commission Chair Terri Myers felt as if the lawn alterations would “detract from the historic character” of the neighborhood, though she didn’t offer a detailed explanation.

Speaking to the rest of the commission, she said, “I move that we approve all aspects of this application except the landscaping. I would like to see the landscape come back more in keeping with the historic streetscape of Mary Street.”

When it came time to vote, the commission gave the approval 7-3 to move forward with the restoration process.

Rendering courtesy of the city of Austin.

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