Landmark Commission changes course and grants demolition of Scenic Drive house

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Last month, an application for a demolition permit for the 2708 Scenic Drive property was submitted to the Historic Landmark Commission. The house, which was built in 1952, fell into disrepair, but instead of granting the permit, city employees and the commission initiated the historic zoning process – a process that came to a halt on Monday.

At this week’s meeting, the commission changed its mind and granted the demolition permit, siding with applicants saying the property was too dilapidated.

According to May city documents, the push for historical status came from the building’s age and structure, as well as its historical association. Originally built for lawyer Robert McGinnis and philanthropist Ethel Clift McGinnis, the house was designed by Roland Gommel Roessner, a professor at the University of Texas and influential 20th century architect.

Speaking in May, Applicant Linda Sullivan argued for the demolition, noting that the house had not been well maintained for the past 30 years. She pointed to the proliferation of trees on the property, lack of gutter maintenance, water damage, rodent and insect damage, and a rancid odor throughout the property.

Sullivan told the commission that during an inspection she “walked through the house with a mask on and still had a fairly severe headache” when she left. Still, the commission followed the recommendation of city employees, voting unanimously to initiate the historic zoning process instead of granting the owner’s request for a demolition permit.

Commissioner Carl Larosche, who offered to initiate the process, said the house represented “very unique architecture for its time. Looking at the property, I am encouraged by the potential for rehabilitation and adaptive reuse.

This month, however, city workers and the commission reversed course and ended up granting the demolition permit.

Speaking to commissioners on Monday, historic preservation officer Kalan Contreras said that, “despite our initial optimism, further research has shown enough staff inconsistencies in the integrity of the construction that we unfortunately cannot recommend. new measures for historic zoning at the moment “.

Another development that has taken place since May is the increased community support for the demolition. Last month, a citizen comment was submitted in support of the demolition. For Monday’s meeting, there were petitions, letters from community groups and submissions from individual citizens in support of the license release.

Peter Pfeiffer of Barley Pfeiffer Architecture sent a letter to the commission advising as a Chartered Architect. He noted that although he is familiar with the work of Roland Gommel Roessner, the Scenic Drive House is not a good representation of his work due to its deterioration and low construction standards.

Pfeiffer’s letter goes on to say that the house “has been an eyesore” to the community and assures the commission that “the neighbors would have no concerns if this house was replaced”.

Before officially issuing the demolition permit, the commissioners explained why they started the historic zoning process in the first place, saying it was more of a precautionary measure as part of the larger preservation mission. historical.

President Terri Myers told the panel: “We didn’t just want to throw out a Roessner design without consideration. “

Commissioner Ben Heimsath said he felt the commission had a “thoughtful discussion of the condition of the house and its merits”, but it was not worth pursuing the historic status, especially if the owners preferred to demolish the property.

With a little more discussion, the committee voted unanimously to release the demolition permit with the completion of the documentation package.

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