I’ve heard or read something about city historic districts for Austin neighborhoods. What’s going on?
In December 2004, the Austin city council passed an ordinance allowing groups of homes to come together to form “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” and the city will grant some tax abatements for preservation efforts.
I thought the Old West Austin Historic District already provided historic district protection.
The Old West Austin Historic District is listed on the federal government’s National Register of Historic Places, but this district does not cover the WANG neighborhoods.
This is confusing. What kinds of historic preservation are there, what does WANG have now, and what do they really mean anyway?
Currently, WANG has no historic preservation protections in place and is not part of the Old West Austin Historic District.
- At the federal level, the Old West Austin Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic places. In addition to being prestigious, federal dollars cannot be used on a project (such as expanding MoPac) that will impact the neighborhood without a lengthy consideration process.
- At the state level, some individual homes in the neighborhood have been designated Recorded Texas Historic Landmarks. Owners of designated homes must consult with the Texas Historical Commission before making exterior architectural changes. Some cities offer tax abatements for Texas historic landmark homes, but Austin does not.
- At the city level, some individual homes in the neighborhood have been designated Austin historic landmarks, also known as “H” zoning. Only individual structures can hold this status, which comes with some city tax abatement. It is more difficult to demolish a structure that is a designated city landmark.
Is the “local historic district” some radical idea dreamed up by City Council?
Actually, Austin is the last major Texas city to adopt such a program. River Oaks in Houston, the King William District in San Antonio, and the Tenth Street District in Dallas, for example, are all city historic districts. Smaller cities such as Wichita Falls, Fredericksburg, and Castroville also have historic district programs.
What is the City’s timeline for starting up local historic districts?
The City hopes to have the application process worked out by the end of the year. The City estimates the first district will take about 18 months to create.
If all or part of WANG became a local historic district, would the neighborhood “freeze”?
Not unless we want it to. One of the interesting things about the historic district ordinance is that the district itself creates a “preservation plan” that is reviewed and approved by the City. The preservation plan provides guidelines for new construction in the neighborhood. These guidelines can be very relaxed to very stringent, depending on what the neighborhood chooses.
I have an old/new home. How would I be affected?
Under the LHD ordinance, each home must be designated as either “contributing” or “non-contributing” to the local historic district. Any house that is at least 50 years old, was built during the period of significance for the district, and essentially looks like it did originally may qualify as a “contributing” home. We are allowed to make the criteria for a contributing home more narrow if we wish in our district. We believe the City intends to encourage preservation of contributing homes with the new LHD ordinance. Right now, it is not clear how much control the LHDs will have over the preservation process.
What is the WANG board doing about the local historic district issue?
The board has formed a committee dedicated to this issue. These board members have been attending meetings of city officials, talking with board members from other, nearby neighborhood associations, reviewing information disseminated by the City, and generally trying to stay abreast of developments. The City is currently refining the application process and discussing questions and concerns arising as groups consider the ordinance. There are still unanswered questions about historic districts and the application process.
I have an opinion/question about local historic districts as applied to West Austin that I would like to share with the board. What are my options?
The board would like to hear from you! One of our primary goals is to help the neighborhood get what it wants. You can email us at wang@DeepEddy.Com or send a letter to WANG, P.O. Box 5722, Austin, TX 78763-5722. Of course, you are also welcome to contact any board member—we are listed in every newsletter.
So, is WANG going to become an Austin historic district?
That depends on what you, our neighbors, decide is best for the neighborhood. We on the board are trying to learn as much as we can about this new option so that we can share the information with you. Then together we can make an informed decision regarding our home!
What would the process be if the neighborhood decides to pursue a LHD designation?
It appears that we would first fill out a detailed application and submit it to the City Historic Preservation Office. An important part of the application is a list of all the property owners who support the application. Sixty percent of the neighborhood must support the application for it to proceed. Once the application is complete the City Historic Preservation Office would send it to the Historic Landmark Commission and then to Zoning & Platting for consideration at a public meeting of each body. Each body would recommend to grant or deny the application. Then, these recommendations would go to City Council for a final public meeting. City Council must vote to grant the LHD designation for it to take effect.