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Preservation of East Austin Folk Victorian home advances to City Council

Thursday, December 7, 2023 by Elizabeth Pagano

A Historic Landmark Commission-led bid for historic zoning in East Austin won the endorsement of the Planning Commission at its most recent meeting, despite opposition by the owner.

Commissioners voted 10-1 in favor of preserving the original footprint of the home, with Commissioner Jennifer Mushtaler voting in opposition. Vice Chair Claire Hempel and Commissioner Alice Woods were absent.

The motion was made by Commissioner Awais Azhar.

“On this commission, we often talk a lot about how we preserve our historic heritage in East Austin. … I know that isn’t completely aligned with what the owner would wish, but it still allows us to preserve a critical part of our historic infrastructure while also allowing some flexibility for folks,” he explained.

Historic landmark commissioners had previously voted to preserve the original 1888 structure at 1100 E. Second St. Their recommendation was based on its architecture and the historical associations of the home. In the East Austin Historic Resource Survey, the primary building was identified as a good example of Folk Victorian architecture. It was also singled out for its association with Charles S. Sinnigson, who was a carpenter and builder.

Joshua Brunsman spoke on behalf of the owner at the meeting. He said they would like a permit that would allow the home to be demolished, but would encourage future developers of the property to preserve the front facade of the building or relocate the home. Brunsman said that he appreciated the dive into history but that the home was past the point of preservation and the owner wanted to sell the property without restrictions on its future development.

“It’s a charming little home, and unfortunately, we feel it’s a little past its time,” said Brunsman, who explained the home had been “scabbed on” and chopped into a duplex over the years.

“We truly do wish the home was in better shape,” he said, and explained his original intent was to restore the home himself until he saw its condition.

A site visit to the home confirmed that later additions “weren’t long for this world,” but that the original structure remained in remarkably good shape, according to Kalan Contreras, who is a senior planner with the city’s Historic Preservation Office. The recommendation crafted by the Planning Commission acknowledges this fact and does not seek to preserve the later additions to the home.

“I just have to point out that there’s also this kind of lingering legacy of the trauma that has been done to the history of East Austin,” said Commissioner Alberta Phillips.

“There is a huge inequity between properties that are preserved on the west side and properties that are preserved on the east side. … So many things were lost,” said Phillips, who noted her previous reporting on the rapid, unresearched release of demolition permits on the east side in the past. “To the extent that we can preserve some of what’s left and contribute to the quality of life and the history of East Austin … that’s extremely important.”

Commissioner Adam Haynes made a countermotion to “grant the owner’s wishes” and release a demolition permit. 

“It’s their property,” he said. 

That motion failed. 

City Council will need to approve the zoning change with a supermajority, or nine votes, in order for it to take effect.

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