Clarksville demolition cases reveal challenges Conservatives face
Last Monday, the Historic Monuments Board faced its own limits as it oversaw the outcome of two demolition cases in Clarksville with palpable disappointment.
Both homes, located at 1805 Waterston Ave. and 1104 Toyath St., are both contributing properties in the Clarksville National Register Historic District whose owners are looking to replace them with completely new structures. Despite the neighborhood’s objections, commissioners have approved the Waterston home’s demolition permit, as it continues to clash with new plans for Toyath Street.
Clarksville, one of Austin’s oldest neighborhoods, has seen an increasing number of its homes destroyed as the city’s real estate market is booming. The district’s central location and its historic charm have attracted an influx of real estate developers, each with varying willingness to work with preservation efforts.
The commissioners found themselves again in a bind with the demand for the demolition of 1805 Waterston Ave. The house was built in 1952 for Huston-Tillotson alumni Kelly and Johnnie Meador, who worked at the Texas State School for the Deaf and ran an electronics repair shop. .
The demolition’s most vocal opponent was the Clarksville Community Development Corporation, which has repeatedly called on the historic commission to delay its decision, citing concerns about the real estate developer’s transparency. CCDC President Mary Reed reported that new owner Nalle Custom Homes has broken promises to meet Clarksville design standards and communicate their plans to the surrounding community.
Unfortunately for those involved, Historic Landmark Commission regulations impose a 180-day limit on the postponement of such cases, forcing the commission to either approve the permit or begin the process of initiating historic zoning. Believing the property did not meet sufficient criteria for designation as a monument, members voted 7-3 to approve the demolition permit, with Commissioners Terri Myers, Blake Tollett and Anissa Castillo in opposition.
“We have limited tools,” Commissioner Ben Heimsath said, before voting to approve the issuance of the permit. âI think we did what we were supposed to do, and we can only hope better voices will prevail. Unfortunately, in this case, they did not.
1104 Toyath St., a property more advanced in the process, has escalated tensions between developers and conservation advocates. After obtaining council approval for the demolition, the project has now entered its consultative phase, in which the commission reviews the construction plan and makes recommendations based on its compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood.
Given Clarksville’s designation as a National Register District, which offers less protections than a local historic district, these recommendations cannot be explicitly applied. Instead, it’s up to real estate developers to heed the board’s advice and make the final decision.
In the case of 1104 Toyath, real estate developer Paradisa Homes has deviated considerably from the advice of the historic commission. The proposed construction requires an elegant three-story structure fitted with a swimming pool and a wraparound rooftop terrace which Heimsath says “will not sit comfortably” in the neighborhood. Neighboring Clarksville resident Olivia Ruiz spoke about the conflict, citing concerns that the new home would weigh on surrounding properties and disrupt the integrity of The area.
Urging Paradisa Homes to return to the architectural committee to reconsider its design, the committee unanimously voted to postpone approval of the plans.
âWe have limited tools at our disposal, so we can’t stop designs like this from coming up (in Clarksville),â Commissioner Kelly Little said. âIf the developers at least met the neighborhood and tried to work with the communities they are building in, that would go a long way. “
Referring to candidates’ indifference to participating in such conversations, President Myers expressed her frustration: âIt goes against this historic African American community that was established just after emancipation. “
“This is something we may want to discuss in the future whether or not the city has the will to protect and preserve Clarksville,” she said. âThere is a provision for city council to designate local historic neighborhoods that we may wish to take over, especially as we are considering a new equity-based preservation plan. “
Currently, only seven neighborhoods have been granted Local Historic District status, which offers the strongest protections against incoming real estate development. Tough ambitions to add Clarksville to this list are new laws passed by the Texas legislature earlier this month, which require a 75 percent qualified majority vote of the Historic Monuments Commission, Planning Commission and City Council to approve zoning of the local historic district without unanimous landowner approval (a virtual impossibility) .
In the meantime, the historical commission expects to see more Clarksville homes on its demolition record. For more information on the history of Clarksville and its preservation efforts, visit CCDC website.
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