Consideration of a Local Historical District for West Austin Neighborhood Group

West Austin is composed of stable, quiet, inner-city neighborhoods which contain traditional residential development and park land shaded by a wealth of beautiful trees. The many qualities of our neighborhood that attracted many of us to move here continue to create demand for this attractive, conveniently-located residential neighborhood. This demand has created pressure to increase the density of inner-city neighborhoods and to replace existing houses with new construction. Too often, the new developments are oversized structures that disrupt the architectural and historic character of the existing neighborhood, diminishing livability and destroying the amenities that originally made the neighborhood an attractive place to live.

At the West Austin Neighborhood Group meetings, residents have expressed a growing concern that teardown trends in the neighborhood are irreparably changing the character of our neighborhood as fine historic homes are demolished to make way for much larger, new houses. In addition, the residents have overwhelmingly expressed a desire to maintain the neighborhood’s current land use pattern. On the other hand, we are homeowners ourselves and we recognize the difficult issues involved in trying to preserve a neighborhood while also respecting the rights of the property owners within it. We value our freedom, and the long-term value of our property is important to us.

In recent years, WANG has been reporting on the progress of the City’s efforts to pass an historic preservation ordinance that would allow for the establishment of local historic districts (“LHDs”). The stated purpose of these LHDs is to preserve the areas. The neighbors in a LHD will devise a “preservation plan” to introduce new guidelines for regulating new development and preserving the older traditional homes in West Austin. However, LHD’s are intended to be flexible and to conform to the desires of the individual neighborhood. As an incentive to promote preservation, the City will grant some tax abatements for preservation efforts.

While the final details are still being worked out, the procedural requirements for obtaining an LHD designation are simple. After a neighborhood develops its own guidelines for historic preservation and new development, the neighborhood requests an LHD designation from the Historic Landmarks Commission and then the City Council. (More on the process here.) Before the final request is made, however, 60% of the property owners in the affected neighborhood (which may be all or part of the WANG area) would have to approve of the final plan.

At this point, we will start a neighborhood dialog on whether and how to proceed. Information will be provided to the neighborhood on the advantages and drawbacks of having an LHD for all or part of our neighborhood. In the dialog, we will also discuss what features are appropriate for our neighborhood and which are not. We have agreed to an important set of guiding principals for what we feel we should have in an LHD. To assist with the dialog, please take the time to review the materials we have for you here, and please make sure you complete our LHD opinion survey on the web site. We won’t know what is important to you unless you tell us.

Erik Cary

2005/2006 President

West Austin Neighborhood Group

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