Saying 1961 home isn't historic, Austin council OKs demolition
Jan 17, 2013 (Austin American-Statesman - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A West Austin homeowner will be allowed to tear down her 1960s-era house, despite attempts by the city of Austin to designate it a historic landmark.
The City Council decided Thursday that Ashley Amini can demolish the $1.1 million home at 2617 Pecos St. and build a new one.
City preservation staffers and the Historic Landmark Commission, an advisory group, had argued that the home should be named a landmark because of its midcentury modern features and its architect, Leonard Lundgren.
The designation would have required Amini to preserve the home but made her eligible for generous tax breaks.
Critics said the case laid bare flaws in Austin's preservation program and was another example of the city trying to save high-dollar homes of dubious historic merit by offering wealthy owners tax breaks they don't need.
But the City Council had the final say. To act against Amini's wishes, at least five of the six council members present at Thursday's council meeting -- Mayor Lee Leffingwell was out of town-- would have had to approve the landmark designation. The vote was 5-0 against landmark status, with Council Member Bill Spelman off the dais.
Just before the vote, Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky asked that the council begin to think proactively about saving Austin's midcentury homes and buildings.
"I harbor no delusions about which way this case is going," Sadowsky said, referring to public criticism of the proposed landmark designation. "But I want to make a plea for continuing our progressive thinking about preservation. ... Preservation is an ongoing tool to save the heritage of our city."
For example, bungalows from the early 20th century weren't seen as historic just a few decades ago, but they're now recognized as an important part of the city's past, Sadowsky said. The same will be true of buildings built in the 1960s as they reach the half-century mark, he said.
Had Amini's home been declared a landmark, she would have been eligible for property tax breaks from the city of Austin, Austin school district, Travis County and Central Health that would have cut her annual bill from $25,000 to an estimated $16,000.
Most council members offered no remarks about their vote, with a few saying they were concerned about the size of the tax breaks and the home's steep driveway.
Amini, a Realtor, has said she bought the 1961 home in June with the intent to tear it down, and that she was never told by the prior owners or the city that it might have historic merit.
The 2,264-square-foot house sits at the top of a steep driveway that is dangerous to back out of, Amini has said. She said she wants to build a slightly larger home that conforms better to the sloped lot.
Amini applied for a demolition permit in August, and the landmark commission flagged it because the home is more than 50 years old, the city's threshold for considering a building's historic value.
Sadowsky did more research and found that the architect was Lundgren, a University of Texas graduate who designed a half-dozen Austin homes and several other buildings, including the Austin Motel on South Congress Avenue, St. George's Episcopal Church in East Austin and the now-demolished Adams Extract Building south of Austin.
Lundgren also designed the distinctive circular style of the Austin Holiday Inn and many other Holiday Inns throughout the world, Sadowsky said.
Though Sadowsky and the landmark commission recommended landmark status for the Pecos Street home, the Planning Commission recommended against it.
The city of Austin has named about 575 homes and buildings landmarks since the 1970s. The four local taxing entities forgo more than $4 million a year in revenue to give the owners of those properties tax breaks.
The City Council revised the preservation program in 2011, including capping the tax breaks for newly designated landmarks. Since those changes, applications for landmark status have slowed to a trickle, Sadowsky has said.
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