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New supermajority law for historic districts now in effect

Thursday, September 16, 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

The already tough task of creating historic districts in Austin just got a little harder, thanks to new state laws. 

In 2019, the Texas Legislature changed the rules governing the designation of historic landmarks by requiring a supermajority of the Historic Landmark Commission or Planning Commission, and a supermajority of City Council, to zone a property historic over the owner’s objections.

This year, the Legislature amended that rule once again. As of Sept. 1, the supermajority threshold also applies to the creation of historic districts if there is an objection by a property owner that would be included in the proposed district. 

Under the city’s Land Development Code, historic districts must be contiguous and at least one block, with an explicit prohibition on “carving out” properties when creating a district. While the landmark commission could eliminate properties on the perimeter, should a property owner in the interior of a proposed district object to the district, the commission could not simply remove that property from the district to eliminate the supermajority requirement.

Historic Landmark Commission Chair Terri Myers noted that, under the new rules, the Aldridge Place Local Historic District, which was approved in 2017, would not have been created.

State law was also amended to clarify that a supermajority of the Historic Landmark Commission – or nine votes – is the threshold to move such a case on to the Planning Commission, then to City Council.

“More hand-wringing,” Historic Landmark Commissioner Witt Featherston said. “I don’t think this was well thought out, but I think that we’re stuck with it. And I hope that, as time goes on, the importance and integrity of our work will be appreciated and supported.”

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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