A new historic zoning law?

I just was forwarded an email alert from Preservation Austin about a bill filed in the state legislature targeting historic preservation laws that Austin (and other cities) use to prevent demolitions and modifications of old buildings. I was not surprised to see the two Republicans –– Rep. John Cyrier & Sen. Dawn Buckingham –– listed as sponsors.

However, I was very surprised to see Austin’s own Rep. Celia Israel listed as a co-sponsor. Well, apparently that was a mistake. An aide to Israel called and told me that she was incorrectly listed as a supporter. In fact, he said, she likely will abstain on the matter because the bill somewhat relates to her work doing home rehabs.

Anyway, back to the bill…it would prevent cities from applying historic zoning to a building without the property owner’s consent. Here’s the text:

A municipality that has established a process for designating places or areas of historical, cultural, or architectural importance and significance through the adoption of zoning regulations or zoning district boundaries may not designate a property as a local historic landmark unless the owner of the property consents to the designation. The municipality must allow an owner to withdraw consent at any time during the designation process.

Unlike most other GOP bills seeking to override local regulations, this one will not be meant with universal contempt from Austin progressives. Neighborhood preservationists will be horrified, but plenty of urbanists are delighted. Currently, the city can rezone a home historic over owner objections but the rezoning must earn super-majority support on Council.

It will be interesting to see what position the city takes on the matter. While I expect that the city’s lobbying corps will register in opposition to the bill, whether they make it a priority depends on the direction they’re receiving from City Council.

Currently on Council there are likely only three or four members who feel strongly about historic preservation: Kathie Tovo, Leslie Pool, Alison Alter and perhaps Ann Kitchen, who led an unsuccessful attempt in 2015 to preserve a house on Lightsey Rd (my neighborhood!) against the wishes of the property owner.

Just for kicks, this is what that Lightsey property looked like in 2014:

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And this is what now stands in its place:

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Meanwhile, the pro-density types –– Greg Casar, Pio Renteria, Delia Garza, Jimmy Flannigan, Natasha Harper-Madison –– likely aren’t against historic zoning, per se, but they are much more likely to recognize the negative effects it can have on housing. Not sure about Paige Ellis’ thoughts…

In the past Adler has said that he is not against historic zoning that is opposed by the property owner, but that he believes that Council should at least take into account an owner’s opposition when deciding whether to grant the zoning.

I don’t know what percentage of historic zonings take place over the objections of the property owners; I may try to get figures on that.

Ironically, the only thing that appears more unjust than a property being zoned historic over an owner’s objections is when the process takes place with the owner’s support. In those cases, the homeowner is often petitioning for historic zoning in order to receive a very generous tax abatement from the city, county and school district. In almost every case I’ve seen, the property owners are wealthy people who just moved into an obscenely expensive house in West Austin.

In case you haven’t heard, the city definitely has bigger fish to fry at the Lege. Everybody is worried about the prospect of revenue caps and some progressives, notably Casar, are obviously fighting against the preemption on paid sick leave.

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