Sections

About Us

 
Make a Donation
Fully-Local • Non-Partisan • Public-Service Journalism
 
Photo by city of Austin

Landmark commissioners stall Travis Heights demolition

Wednesday, April 6, 2022 by Elizabeth Pagano

Faced with the proposition of losing another historic home in Travis Heights, Historic Landmark commissioners have pushed their decision to another day.

On the table is the total demolition of the 1937 house at 1803 Kenwood Ave. in order to build a two-story home with an in-ground pool on the lot. Since the house is a contributing resource in a National Register district, the case can be postponed for up to 180 days. Commissioners voted unanimously to postpone it to May 4.

“I want to give the owner a little more time to reconsider,” Commissioner Kevin Koch said.“I’m compelled by the testimony here and by the integrity of the street and the possibilities for expanding on the property.”

Ben Goudy, who spoke to commissioners on behalf of the owner, said that, since the home did not merit historic landmarking on its own, they were asking for the demolition permit to move forward. 

“I appreciate and respect the viewpoints that were expressed here …. But the owner has asked that we proceed and that we go ahead and get the demolition permit. So that is what I’m here to do,” Goudy said. “It is a speculative new construction.”

Though no one else spoke in favor of the demolition, several neighbors spoke in opposition, asking that the owner instead build to expand the existing 84-year-old home.

Neighbor Paula Kothmann explained that, while there was a high bar for granting historic zoning to individual buildings in Austin, the house in question was part of a historic district. She pointed out that there were ways to add on to a historic home to preserve its character from the street while adding more modern amenities and square footage.

“We’ve also talked to developers who found that they really made a lot more profit when they reused a house that was already there and added on to it, as opposed to demolishing it (and) starting over,” Kothmann said. “We just want the developers to realize that this historic designation is there so that they have a conversation with us.”

A committee of the Historic Landmark Commission reviewed plans for the new house and determined that the proposed new home is not compatible with the Travis Heights-Fairview Park National Register District. Instead, explained Amber Allen, who is with the city’s Historic Preservation Office, they found that “the proposed design was a barrier to its surroundings” and “stark” and recommended moving parking to the side and making the front of the house one story in order to make the design more approachable and congruous with the one-story homes that populate the street. 

“It significantly diverges from the historic streetscape,” Allen said. “Although there have been modifications to improve the design, the project still does not meet the applicable standards, primarily due to the proposed construction’s mass scale, orientation and material choice.”

These concerns were echoed in an email from Frank Clark, who wrote in to oppose the plan.  

“Individual rights do not supersede the community at large,” he wrote. “We have designated Travis Heights worthy of a National Historic district for a reason. Anyone who is going to make an investment in our community should understand the need to maintain the intrinsic nature of the homes here and the long-term value. Demolishing charming homes might pay off for speculators in the short term but at a cost to our community with irrevocable loss.”  

Commissioner Witt Featherston focused his comments on the lost opportunity to build more units on the lot.

“I feel like I’m sort of becoming an old man shaking my fist at the weather about this stuff,” Featherston said. “In a better functioning Land Development Code, could we not have a fourplex rather than another single-family home with a pool? … I don’t think there’s a proud history of personal pools in Travis Heights that needs to be maintained. There has to be a better future where we can have more neighbors rather than more pools.”

The property was just one of seven Travis Heights homes slated for demolition on the landmark commission’s agenda. “In the past year, this neighborhood has come under a lot of demolition, even though it’s a National Register district now. That’s why there’s a lot of concern,” Chair Terri Myers said.

“Every neighborhood is like a storybook,” Travis Heights resident Melanie Martinez said. “Houses, they are chapters within the story. Then you start ripping out the pages and then you don’t have a story anymore.” 

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

Join Your Friends and Neighbors

We're a nonprofit news organization, and we put our service to you above all else. That will never change. But public-service journalism requires community support from readers like you. Will you join your friends and neighbors to support our work and mission?

Back to Top