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Communication between HLC and TCAD comes under fire

Thursday, February 28, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Jim Christianson, a former Historic Landmark Commission member with a 22-year tenure, came to warn the commission that “handing out historic zonings like cupcakes” would devalue the tax abatements those with the designation receive in the eyes of City Council. Christianson was referring to properties where modern additions or improvements had been made, like the old Spaghetti Warehouse, which was converted into a bar and given a third story. He argued that the new level should not be given a tax abatement, but there’s no way for the Travis Central Appraisal District to separate the addition out from the structure for taxing purposes. This shortcoming, he explained, allows properties to unfairly increase their values while still benefiting from historic zoning tax abatement. Commissioner Terri Myers pointed out that a number of Austin landmarks have non-historic additions and the commission tries, when possible, to remove historic zoning from the parcel that has become modernized. Christianson was also concerned about communication between the commission and TCAD, insinuating that it was the commission’s responsibility to alert the offices to historic zoning changes. However, Commissioner Alex Papavasiliou said that “the appraisal district is aware of building permits” where historic zoning is noted because they are public record. Steve Sadowsky, the city’s historic preservation officer, confirmed that city staffers do not communicate any changes in certificates of appropriateness because building permits, not certificates, trigger an appraisal. However, he said he will take Christianson’s suggestions and see what changes can be made in the flow of information “so that they’re more aware.”

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