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Castle Hill change finally wins approval

Friday, September 18, 2015 by Jo Clifton

City Council gave unanimous approval to modifying the design standards for the Castle Hill Historic District on Thursday, which will allow James Schoenbaum, the owner of the property at 614 Blanco St., to build a multifamily property with either 11 or 12 units. The decision was easy for Council because there was no opposition to the change in design standards, but it came after many months of struggle and trips to the Historic Landmark Commission, the Board of Adjustment and the Planning Commission. The key to Thursday’s success was an agreement with Schoenbaum’s neighbor concerning setbacks from her property. Attorney Richard Suttle represented Schoenbaum. “We had full OWANA support,” Suttle said, referring to the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association, along with “52 percent of the people in the district’s support and the next door neighbor who was not in support, because we were 5 feet off her setback instead of 25 feet. We agreed to go to 10 feet with some trees. That gave her a little more breathing room, and (Schoenbaum) still gets to build his project.” A previous owner attempted to destroy the house by setting fire to it “not once, but twice,” Suttle said. According to city records, the property “retains its City of Austin Historic Landmark designation, its distinctive stone wall and four of its five wrought iron gates.” Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky reported to the Planning Commission that the Historic Landmark Commission had unanimously supported the project, given that it fits into the neighborhood and meets all the criteria of the local historic district. The Planning Commission lacked a quorum vote, however, and could not vote on the project.

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