Photo by city of Austin
Thursday, April 8, 2021 by Sean Saldaña

Landmark Commission votes against front-yard pool proposal

At last month’s meeting on March 22, the Historic Landmark Commission discussed a certificate of appropriateness application to modify the landscape, construct a terrace and build a swimming pool at the historic Jackson-Novy-Kelly-Hoey House at 2406 Harris Blvd.

First recommended for historic zoning in 2009, the property has been home to “some of the most influential people in the business, religious and cultural life of Austin,” according to city documents.

Some of the prominent figures associated with the home are Dr. N. Riley Jackson, a World War I veteran, and Jim Novy, a Jewish community leader who helped found Congregation Agudas Achim, a synagogue in Northwest Austin.

Novy, who immigrated to Austin in the early 20th century, was a successful entrepreneur who used many of his own resources to relocate European Jews at the start of the Second World War and went on to earn the Purple Heart.

The redesign process for the property has been in the works for months. The Architectural Review Committee provided feedback on the project in October of last year and again in January.

Thus far, many of the aspects of the proposal have been relatively uncontroversial. The primary point of contention is a swimming pool that would be located in the front yard.

Tina Contros, the project’s lead architect, showed up at the meeting to further explain why the homeowners are pushing for a pool in the front of the property instead of in the back, a more standard location.

According to her, it comes down to the surroundings in the backyard.

She explained, “The reason we’ve chosen the front yard over the rear yard is, in the rear yard, we have overhead power lines which serve the neighborhood entirely as well as other communication lines … and very large live trees.”

The property owners, Robert and Michelle Kinney, also showed up to speak, hoping to put commissioners at ease.

Michelle Kinney wanted to “reiterate that (the couple doesn’t) plan on touching the facade of the home at all, only enhancing the landscaping, which at the moment is pretty dead as a result of (the February) snowstorm.”

Robert Kinney added that the couple “care a lot about the historic preservation” and have put “a lot into the project restoring and renewing this home for the last 10 years and expect to continue to do so.”

During the discussion period, Historic Preservation Officer Elizabeth Brummett made it clear that the homeowners and the architect “made every effort to comply with the feedback” from previous proposals, but that city staffers were still skeptical about allowing a front-yard pool, deferring to the landmark commission.

Chair Terri Myers minced no words in her feedback about the potential pool: “I think this a bad precedent.”

She felt as if the presence of a pool would detract from the historic nature of the property, especially because it hasn’t been a part of the property historically.

Speaking to the other commissioners, she went on to say that a pool “screams non-historic, and this is a designated historic landmark.”

Commissioner Beth Valenzuela also spoke up in agreement with Myers, saying she did not “like the precedent that it would set if (the commission) were to approve it.”

In the end, the commission voted 9-1 to approve all aspects of the proposal except for the pool installation, with Commissioner Ben Heimsath the only one opposed.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Historic Landmark Commission: The city’s Historic Landmark Commission promotes historic preservation of buildings and structures. The commission also reviews applications and permits for historic zoning and historic grants.

historic preservation: Official actions of a municipality such as the City of Austin taken to preserve structures with their jurisdiction. Preservation is often accompanied by a property tax exemption.

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