Capitol View Corridors
Preservationists Respond to Threatened Capitol View Corridors
A number of issues have commanded the attention of preservationists recently, but none has been as consuming as the current threats to the Capitol view corridors (CVCs), the 30 protected views of the historic Texas State Capitol in Austin that have existed in law for the past 25 years.
The Capitol building is a tremendous asset to the City of Austin. With the privilege that Austin enjoys of being the seat of our state government and hosting the historic Capitol structure, comes the responsibility of preserving the views of the structure for all Texans. It is for this reason that Preservation Texas listed the view corridors as one of Texas’ Most Endangered Historic Places of 2007.
Preservation Austin’s (PA) sister preservation organizations in cities and counties across the state have voiced their opposition to wholesale revisions such as those being proposed on various fronts. These include the San Antonio Conservation Society, Preservation Dallas, Victoria Preservation, Inc., Greater Houston Preservation Alliance, Williamson County Historical Commission, Historic Waco, Historic Tyler, Galveston Historical Foundation, Historic Fort Worth, El Paso Historical Commission, Abilene Preservation Alliance, Historic Amarillo, Historic Mesquite, Historic Houston, and others.
The efforts underway that threaten the existing CVCs are unprecedented in scope and come on a number of fronts – all driven by local development desires. For a full quarter century, responsible developers have respected the view corridors when pursuing their development projects in the Capitol city. Unfortunately, the CVCs are being targeted in various venues, from local to state:
City of Austin: The Downtown Commission of the City of Austin has engaged in a review of the CVCs. As has been reported in various media outlets, local development interests dominate the Commission conducting the review. PA and others have argued that the Commission has too limited of a scope to provide a comprehensive review of the CVCs. The Commission has pursued its review on this important issue with no involvement from the substantial preservation community able to testify to the inherent economic and cultural value of preserving Capitol views. The Commission released a draft report recently – PA and others will submit a detailed response to the report shortly.
Travis County: The Travis County Commissioners Court announced its intention in February to consider requesting an exception from the Texas Legislature of a specific view corridor for the construction of a new civil courthouse directly adjacent to the Texas Governor’s Mansion. PA opposed the request as a matter of process, and pointed out that the County had not performed their basic due diligence relating to the site. The Texas Historical Commission and others opposed the exception outright. After significant discussion, the County declined to request an exception during this legislative session. A number of PA members will be serving on a committee established by Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt to consider the appropriate use of these blocks, including as a site for a new civil courthouse. We are looking forward to participating in this process.
Texas Legislature: Rep. Mike Krusee of Taylor filed legislation (House Bill 3716) to establish a “variance process” to exempt development projects from a CVC. Currently, a CVC can only be altered by the legislature. The legislation gave administrative agencies the ability to grant a variance – without notice or public hearing. PA, Preservation Texas, and others expressed significant concern with circumventing the protective authority the Legislature has vigilantly administered for the past quarter century. After listening to these concerns, Rep. Krusee agreed not to pursue his original “variance” bill, and has now worked with interested parties to craft a study of the CVCs to be conducted, culminating with recommendations for action in the 2009 legislative session. This revised legislation is currently being considered by the Texas House of Representatives.