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Historic zoning for Chrysler Air Temp house draws mixed opinions

Friday, April 1, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

An Allandale house that helped pioneer the use of air conditioning in middle-class homes is up for historic zoning against the owner’s wishes.

The Zoning and Platting Commission was split Tuesday on whether to recommend historic zoning, as members wrestled with preserving what is clearly a historic house versus allowing the owner to keep the full rights to his property. The final decision is up to City Council.

City preservationists say the 1954 home at 2502 Park View Drive merits historic zoning because it was part of the Air-Conditioned Village, a 22-home experiment by various manufacturers to show that central air-conditioning could be affordable; at the time, it wasn’t all that common in middle-class homes. The village’s success helped bring A/C to homes across the country. Chrysler tested its Air Temp model in the home. 

“This particular house is the most architecturally distinctive and best preserved example of a house within the Air-Conditioned Village,” Elizabeth Brummett with the Historic Preservation Office said. The home is also a classic example of midcentury modern architecture.

The Historic Landmark Commission voted unanimously in August to initiate historic zoning after the owner, Hugh Corrigan, applied to demolish the home. 

If Council zones the property historic, Corrigan won’t be able to significantly change the home. The home is in poor condition in part because outdated materials – including asbestos – make it difficult and expensive to renovate. Because of its condition, the house has been vacant for several years. Corrigan, who currently lives in a different house on Park View Drive, hopes to build his “dream house” on the site. 

Corrigan said this has “been a difficult time,” with the case weighing on his mental health. He also criticized the city’s handling of the case. “Overall, I feel like I’ve been treated very unfairly by the city preservation team throughout this,” he said. Corrigan felt like staffers did not reach out to him enough, leaving him unaware of the case’s first hearing at the HLC and of his right to protest the rezoning.

Nearly two dozen Allandale residents and preservationists from elsewhere in the city spoke on the case. Opinion was divided, though many residents nearest to the house oppose historic zoning. A push last year to create an Air-Conditioned Village National Register Historic District failed, with 71 percent of residents in the proposed district opposed.

The house has come before the commission five times in the past two years. The previous owner, a developer named Barry Williamson, had planned in 2020 to demolish the house. In response, the HLC initiated historic zoning only to later drop the case after Williamson committed to restoring the house instead. Williamson then sold the property to Corrigan.

Commissioner Betsy Greenberg moved to recommend zoning the property historic. “I don’t think this is a difficult case,” she said, explaining that the recommendations by city staffers and the HLC show that the property merits historic zoning. “The issue of owner opposition is really the Council’s issue,” Greenberg said. “Ours is to say, is this the appropriate zoning for the property?”

“I very much respect the property rights of this owner,” Commissioner Carrie Thompson said, “but I also feel tasked with thinking about the broader values of the city of Austin and the story that this property tells.” 

Commissioner Hank Smith sympathized with Corrigan. “I have a really hard time with the city coming in and zoning … against a homeowner’s wishes,” he said. 

Greenberg’s motion failed 5-2-2, meaning the case goes to Council without ZAP’s recommendation. Commissioners Cesar Acosta and Hank Smith voted against and Roy Woody and Nadia Barrera-Ramirez abstained. 

Council is scheduled to decide the case on April 21. A supermajority of nine votes is needed to approve historic zoning over the owner’s objection.

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