Photo by city of Austin
Thursday, May 27, 2021 by Sean Saldaña

Jackson-Novy-Kelly-Hoey House gets approval for front-yard pool

This week, the Historic Landmark Commission revisited a case from March in which homeowners at 2406 Harris Blvd. had requested a certificate of appropriateness to put a pool in their front yard.

The issue raised concerns among commissioners because the property is home to the historic Jackson-Novy-Kelly-Hoey House. At the time, the commissioners seemed to be in agreement with Chair Terri Myers that a front-yard pool would set a “bad precedent.”

At this meeting, though, the homeowners, Robert and Michelle Kinney, had a change in fortune. Voting 6-3, the commission reluctantly voted to allow a front-yard swimming pool to be constructed on the historic property.

The approval is likely the result of the homeowners’ patience and willingness to work with the landmark commission.

Robert Kinney said the outcome is the “culmination of a nine-month process during which we listened to and executed on significant feedback from the committee.” The biggest change to the proposal was aimed at addressing the commission’s primary issue – that the presence of a swimming pool would distract from the historic nature of the home.

Since the commission last heard the request, the plans have been altered and the pool will no longer be visible from the street.

To strengthen their case further, the homeowners compiled a list of other historic homes in the area that have had pools installed in recent years.

One of the examples highlighted during the meeting was the Davis-Sibley House at 2210 Windsor Road. The property, which was constructed in 1932, didn’t have a pool installed until the 1960s. Despite the decades-long gap between the initial construction and the installation of a pool, the Davis-Sibley House is still a historic landmark.

Another, less contentious bottleneck in the application process was the proposal for a fence that would go around the perimeter of the property.

To make their case, the homeowners took a similar approach as they did to justify the pool installation by gathering examples of historic homes that had fences installed after their designation.

One example cited in the application proposal is the Steck House at 305 E. 34th St., where an ornate metal fence was approved by the commission. The broad conclusion in that case was that open fencing didn’t have much of an impact on the historic character of the home.

The homeowners found an advocate in Elizabeth Brummett with the Historic Preservation Office, who told the commissioners that, “at this point, we have an applicant who has been working in good faith to try to arrive at a design that the commission will approve and so I would like to try to meet them halfway in terms of the fence.”

This time around, the Kinney proposal received an outpouring of community support. Before the meeting, the Historic Landmark Commission received nearly 40 written comments from homeowners and citizens supporting the project.

In one comment, Tommy Craddick Jr. said, “2406 Harris is in excellent shape and I fully support the changes they have requested. The changes are an awesome addition to the neighborhood.”

When it came time to discuss the findings and the case, the commissioners didn’t have much pushback about the installation of the fence. However, they were still very much divided on the pool.

Commissioner Kelly Little told the commission, “I do think in this case that construction of the pool in the front yard of this house, where it’s not removing any historic features … and will not be visible from the street, I think that does not meet the criteria for having an effect on historic property.”

Commissioner Carl Larosche said his issue with the proposal was that “there’s not enough context one way or the other to understand this pool. There’s no document put forth that shows the pool, the geometry, the configuration. Is there a diving board? Is there not?”

In the end, there was no clean resolution among the commissioners. When it came time to vote, commissioners Beth Valenzuela, Caroline Wright and Larosche all voted against.

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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.

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