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Landmark commission initiates historic zoning against wishes of property owners

Thursday, August 5, 2021 by Sean Saldaña

At last month’s Historic Landmark Commission meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to initiate the historic zoning process at 2502 Park View Drive against the request of the homeowners, who were seeking to demolish the aging home.

The house was under review by the commission last year for a demolition case that was eventually dropped when the owners agreed to implement only a partial demolition. Eventually, however, the property was sold to the current owner and applicant, who is pushing forward with the original plan to completely demolish the building.

The home is located in Austin’s Air Conditioned Village, a cluster of homes built in the 1950s to test out central air conditioning, a relatively new concept at the time. It was a pivotal moment in the history of in-home air conditioning, proving that it was feasible to implement across the country.

Despite the decisive role the homes played in American history, they don’t hold up to modern-day standards of efficiency.

Speaking on behalf of the applicant, contractor Dominique Levesque noted that the homes are “structurally inefficient in their original design and don’t actually even support good quality or energy efficiency.”

The demolition permit received a broad range of community support. In addition to several people showing up to speak at the meeting, there were many citizen comments requesting the demolition permit be released.

One comment submitted by Leslie Currens asked the commission to “please allow these homeowners to do what they want with their property … rather than forcing the preservation of a home that has little historic value and holds little interest for people today.”

Ultimately, city staff and the commission sided with a group of citizens and groups pushing back against the demolition. Despite strong community support and the wishes of the property owners, city staffers urged the landmark commission to initiate the historic zoning process.

In one citizen comment advocating against the demolition, John Tate said, “My wife and I enjoy seeing this house and others that were part of the Austin Air‐Conditioned Village on our walks around the neighborhood …. We need to preserve buildings such as this one, whose historical value rests on their intrinsic quality.”

Another noteworthy voice weighing in against the demolition permit was Preservation Austin, which said, “The Air Conditioned Village has seen too many demolitions, at a rapidly increased rate, over the past several years. … We urge the Historic Landmark Commission to consider taking action on this issue, and offer our support to help protect this irreplaceable piece of Austin’s history.”

Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky told commissioners, “I know this is not going to be good news for the applicant, but staff believes this is a very important house to maintain and hopes that the applicant will consider rehabbing the house.”

Commissioner Kelly Little told the commissioners, “We got quite a bit of comments from people in the neighborhood who were opposed to the demolition of this property and I would encourage them to explore local landmark designation.”

Neither Little nor the other commissioners addressed the equally strong support in favor of demolition.

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