Photo by city of Austin
Unpermitted demolition stokes existential crisis at Historic Landmark Commission
Thursday, October 13, 2022 by Kali Bramble
Frustration was palpable at last week’s meeting of the Historic Landmark Commission, with yet another unpermitted demolition garnering little fanfare outside the Historic Preservation Office.
The vacant lot at 4008 N. Lamar, once home to a 1926 residence converted for commercial use, was reportedly demolished this spring. According to property representative Todd Cruz, the demolition contractor moved forward without confirmation of the permit’s release, which requires the approval of the Historic Landmark Commission.
While Cruz was apologetic at an initial hearing in August, neither owner nor contractor returned for a follow-up. Since then, the Development Services Department has reportedly sought recourse via a code enforcement order, stipulating only that the owner retroactively follow protocol to seek the unissued permit. Staff’s recommendation was to take no action, allowing the application to time out and move forward at the end of the month.
“It’s a farce for us to sit up here and make the requirements of other applicants and let something like this go,” Commission Chair Terri Myers said. “If there are no consequences, why have the program? Why are we sitting up here?”
Blatant violations of the city’s preservation policies have been a sore spot for the landmark commission, which has repeatedly seen demolition and neglect cases mishandled without repercussions. Unequipped to enforce their own pledged duties, Myers says the issue has mounted into an “existential” dilemma.
“If we’re not taken seriously, I suggest a walkout or a strike at the next long agenda,” Myers said.
While there was no official action, commissioners directed staff to confer with the city’s Legal Department to explore consequences, suggesting the case might warrant a suspension of the contractor’s license.
“Just delaying this permit going forward is hardly a slap on the wrist. If we’re going to have our requirements met we need to make sure that when someone violates them, there are consequences,” Commissioner Ben Heimsath said. “If I were trying to put a property together and said, ‘Screw it, I don’t want to build a detention pond,’ the city has ways to make sure I don’t get the chance to build. This is something just as significant, or else we start eroding the whole program.”
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