A historic commission is experimenting with a new reporting tool


City of Austin Photo: 1411 Ethridge Ave.

Tuesday November 30, 2021 by Kali Bramble

The Historic Monuments Commission is taking a new approach to resist demolition, choosing to postpone several cases indefinitely at its November 15 meeting.

After consulting with the city’s legal department, staff members recommended using the new tool in cases where applicants oppose historic zoning but are willing to negotiate alternatives to demolition. The commissioners chose to use this approach for two historic homes, one at 1601 Cedar Ave. and the other at 1411 Ethridge Ave.

“The indefinite postponement is not a tool that we use, but it is a tool that we have learned and will use more in the future,” said Elizabeth Brummett, historic preservation manager.

Plaintiff Garrett Hill, who appeared before the commission last month, encountered significant resistance from the surrounding neighborhood and city staff because of his efforts to demolish his circa 1915 home on Cedar Avenue. Noting its grandiose transitional style and its connection to the working-class Blocker family, who maintained the house for much of the 20th century, the committee voted unanimously to initiate historic zoning.

Seeking to prevent designation as a historic monument, Hill withdrew his demolition request to pursue less controversial renovation options. With no imminent action on the horizon, staff felt that an indefinite postponement was an appropriate response.

“What that will do is just let the clock expire after 180 days,” Brummett explained. “So if another demolition or partial demolition request was made, the staff would see it and report it to the commission to reconsider the initiation of historic zoning. “

The new tool proved once again useful in solving the 1411 Ethridge Ave case. Rebecca Burrisk, one of the owners of the house, appeared before the commission to explain that the contract behind the pending demand for the 1939 house to be demolished had failed.

“The property is in pretty bad shape, and I personally think it is ready for demolition, but I don’t know what the contract we will make on the property will do,” Burrisk said.

While staff members had previously recommended initiating historic zoning, the uncertainty surrounding the demolition made the deal an ideal candidate for an indefinite postponement. If in 180 days the owners do not return to the commission with an updated request, the case will expire and require resubmission for future action.

In the meantime, Commissioner Witt Featherston has suggested that the Historic Preservation Office be wary of the case entering neglect territory.

“Maybe it would be nice to have a staff reminder on the repercussions of negligent demolition,” Featherston said. “As the house is currently in a state of disrepair, we may put ourselves in a future position. “

Despite the longer delay allowed by an indefinite postponement, staff members assured the commission that the matter would be on their radar. “We are actively monitoring several potential landmarks… we can certainly take note of this concern and provide more information at a future meeting,” said Brummett.

The use of indefinite deferral is somewhat promising in providing more flexibility to a commission that has historically felt constrained by a limited set of tools. The Historic Monuments Commission will meet again on December 13.

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