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Permit to relocate home prevails over proposal to renovate

Wednesday, January 25, 2023 by Ava Garderet

The Historic Landmark Commission voted unanimously at its regular meeting Jan. 11 to permit the relocation of a house at 2203 E. Cesar Chavez St., which was initially proposed for reuse and rehabilitation.

The owner of the property, Myung Lemond, was a major contributor to this decision. Her request to relocate the house rather than attempt to preserve it in its original location is based on several reasons, one of which is personal experience with restoration of the house next door.

“You’re talking about doing significant reengineering of this home so that it is structurally safe to occupy,” Lemond said. “It does not even have a foundation; it is merely a house sitting on top of cinder blocks and 100-year-old cedar piers.”

Even if it were to be restored to safe living conditions, Lemond doesn’t foresee being able to rent out the tiny one-bedroom, one-bathroom home for enough revenue even to cover the property taxes at its location, let alone the insurance. 

“It is just absolutely not financially feasible,” she said.

The 1912 home was recommended as eligible for local landmark designation in the 2016 East Austin Survey because it was deemed a contributing structure and a good example of a vernacular building with national folk style and Craftsman influences.  

Commission Chair Terri Myers said that, while she understood Lemond’s position, she worried that these types of original houses are fast disappearing from the urban landscape.

“I am a strong believer that houses need to stay in their historic context,” Myers said, “so I’m not really thrilled about moving it.”

Myers recommended that Lemond consider the tax abatement provided for historic landmarks. Lemond replied that she had experience with the policy, but that the tax savings were so minimal they made very little impact on the owner’s financial situation.

Lemond sees only two options for the house: let it sit in its current uninhabited state, or move it. “I just feel that the happy compromise would be to move the home to a location where it can be used as a residence and be properly restored to its original condition,” she said. 

She emphasized that relocation will benefit all parties involved, particularly because Cesar Chavez is in a commercial district, and “the neighboring communities would be better served by having this redeveloped for a commercial purpose.”

Commissioner Ben Heimsath pointed out that if they plan to relocate the house somewhere within the city of Austin, they will need a location and a permit. However, Kevin Woodworth, the mover Lemond chose for the project, said he would probably have to relocate it outside of the city. “It’s just economically not possible in the city anymore, the lots have gotten so expensive,” Woodworth said. 

The commissioners agreed that Lemond and Woodworth’s presentations made compelling arguments that relocation was a better alternative to preservation. 

Heimsath pointed out that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to preserve the oldest homes in this city. “The applicant has made it abundantly clear that the economics of Central Austin, but increasingly all of Austin development, is jeopardizing our historic preservation.”.

Myers said while she hates to see the house move from its historic site, she understands the economic situation and will support its relocation. 

The resolution to move the house passed with a vote of 8-0, with commissioners Anissa Castillo, Carl Larosche and Harmony Grogan absent. 

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