The proposal to create a Local Historic District (LHD) for the Blue Bonnet Hills neighborhood has been an ongoing subject of discussion in our community and a regular agenda topic at SRCC general meetings. To facilitate knowledge sharing and discussion in an open structured forum, representatives on both sides of the issue, Angela Reed and Arif Panju, have been asked to contribute position pieces for the community.
Please note that the opinions expressed here are solely those of individual residents, and do not represent any official SRCC position.
Individual opinions below:
Blue Bonnet Hills: The Benefits of a Local Historic District
Presented by: Angela Reed
The Greater SRCC recommends Local Historic Districts (LHD) as part of its 2005 Neighborhood Plan. Since its adoption, incompatible development in the neighborhood has occurred that violates the plan provisions. LHDs are called for in the Imagine Austin plan and is the most effective tool the City of Austin offers neighborhoods to protect historic architectural character. The goals of Blue Bonnet Hills’ LHD is to preserve the historic streetscape while still allowing property owners to add onto their houses, add secondary garage apartments, and remodel interiors.
Blue Bonnet Hills (BBH) follows the 1928 plat lines of the original neighborhood, with E. Annie Street to the north, East Side Drive to the east, Leland Street to the south, and Newning Avenue and Brackenridge Street to the west. If passed, Blue Bonnet Hills would be the first LHD south of the river. Although LHDs are common in most major cities across the country and in Texas (Dallas has 21, Houston 19, and San Antonio 27), Austin is far behind with only 3. Neighbors have been working toward a LHD for Travis Heights-Fairview Park since 2005. However, managing the effort with 1,200 homes proved difficult with frequent tear-downs in a large area. Blue Bonnet Hills, with still more than 75% of its historic architectural integrity intact within historically defined boundaries, was chosen to be the first LHD in Travis Heights. The original 1928 plat map can be seen here on page 18: www.austintexas.gov/edims/document.cfm?id=224770
BBH drafted its Design Standards (DS) similarly to Hyde Park LHD, which has been a District since 2010. During the efforts to create the Hyde Park LHD, some property owners expressed concern the DS might be too restrictive. Those fears were not realized, and many successful rehabilitations, additions, and new construction have taken place. The BBH Standards were drafted with input from the neighborhood and are only 17 pages long (pp. 23-39): www.austintexas.gov/edims/document.cfm?id=224769
What a LHD does:
- Preserves the historic character of the neighborhood from the street-view.
- Provides design standards for substantial projects so that neighborhood expectations are transparent, and individual neighbor or neighborhood association approval is rarely needed.
- Codifies the existing Neighborhood Plan.
- Provides a City property tax abatement for substantial remodel projects of contributing homes that freezes property taxes to pre-remodel value for 7 years.
- Stabilizes property values because LHDs tend to experience smaller spikes and dips in land values over time.
- Makes communities stronger when residents have connections to their neighborhood’s past.
What a LHD does NOT do:
- Does not impose penalties on property owners, especially a so-called “HOA” fee through the City of Austin’s “Duty to Preserve and Repair”.
- Does not prohibit compatible additions or new construction.
- Does not restrict interior renovations.
- Does not prohibit energy efficient features such as rain collection systems and solar panels.
- Does not dictate paint colors or prohibit changing doors or windows.
- Does not restrict landscaping, gardens or features such as yard art.
- Does not force homeowners to renovate their property.
- Does not dictate style of new construction.
- Does not increase property taxes. Travis CAD has stated that they do not increase property values based on any historic status.
Blue Bonnet Hills LHD will provide protection for our neighborhood character while Austin continues to grow. Homeowners will still have the freedom to add onto their houses, upgrade, and modernize while helping our neighborhood remain the funky, fun, family-friendly area it has been for many years.
For more information, please visit: www.HistoricTravisHeights.org
Why We Oppose Forced Historic Rezoning
Presented by: Arif Panju
Travis Heights is a charming collection of many different styles of homes that share one important thing: each home reflects the individual personal choices of the homeowners who live in them.
Several generations of homeowners, including those living here now, have created the fabric of Travis Heights, a combination of old homes, new homes, and often both old-and-new together. The result is the eclectic neighborhood we call home, one that reflects Austin’s unique creativity over time.
The attempt to force historic rezoning onto the Blue Bonnet Hills neighborhood—and ultimately to all 1200 homes in Travis Heights—unravels that very fabric and replaces it with 73 pages of design “standards” that seek to control virtually every aspect of the appearance of our homes.
From windows to doors, porches and siding, renovations and style choices, the rules cover virtually everything and would be mandatory, not voluntary.
We should reject this attempt to take away our neighborhood’s creative freedom.
Below, we briefly address the many reasons nearly 60% of affected homeowners oppose this effort.
73-Pages of “Design Standards” Wrap Our Homes With Red Tape
All projects affecting the appearance of our homes, big or small, would require approval by the city’s Preservation Office and/or Historic Landmark Commission. Their approval is solely on their subjective interpretation of whether your project “looks” the right way.
First, we would need to apply for (and pay for) a permission slip called a “Certificate of Appropriateness” anytime we “restore” or “replace” anything on our homes that is visible from the street. Second, you need to navigate all the restrictions. Here are just a few examples from the design “standards”:
- Must “retain and restore original windows” unless “deteriorated beyond repair”; (page 29)
- Must retain original doors “unless deteriorated beyond repair”; (page 30)
- No front porches if you did not have one “historically”; (page 33)
- No back porches if they will be “visible from the street”; (page 33)
- No “change” to the “character, appearance, configuration, or materials” of the façade; (page 27)
- Violating design standards result in criminal and civil penalties (page 24)
They even seek to control the “sequence” of what we can do to our homes in the following order: (1) preservation, (2) rehabilitation, (3) restoration, and (4) new construction. (page 26)
The Duty to Preserve and Repair
The “Duty to Preserve and Repair” under Austin City Code § 25-11-216 applies to historic landmarks, and it would now apply to us if we become a historic “district.” No one pushing the historic rezoning effort ever shared this fact with affected homeowners. Unlike normal code enforcement for homes that are in disrepair, this provision is in addition, and allows similar enforcement based on historic grounds.
Higher Costs and Less Affordability
Historic rezoning will directly disadvantage lower and fixed income property owners who have lived here longer than many of the proponents and who will never have the disposable income to meet the new requirements. For example, a resident will not be able to use lower cost vinyl window frames to replace old glass windows that are not energy efficient. They will have to use more expensive replicas. As noted above, there are many rules and those mean higher costs. Many studies also show that property taxes rise at a faster rate in historic districts.
Preventing Tear Downs Shouldn’t Mean Controlling Existing Homeowners
Preventing a tear down does not require letting someone else control how our homes look, all the way down to what our front doors, windows, porches, and siding can look like. Doing so has nothing to do with preventing tear downs, and everything to do with control of existing homes. Instead, here are some existing protections that are already in place: (1) McMansion; (2) Setbacks; (3) Critical Root Zones; and (4) Impervious Cover.
This historic rezoning proposal will erode the diversity of taste and style we Travis Heights homeowners value so dearly. As the above makes clear, it will also wipe away the vision so many of us had for our homes when we moved into this wonderful neighborhood, and replace it with someone else’s.
We ask for your support in opposing this effort.