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Historic Landmark Commission under 10-1 Redistricting


The City of Austin has formed a Boards & Commissions Transition Task Force to address the  effects the new 10-1 Council Restricting will have on existing boards and commissions.  As part of its charge, the Task Force will be making a recommendation on the potential for redistributing board responsibilities among a smaller number of boards.   Preservation Austin appreciates this effort, but sent the following letter on April 7, 2014 to urge maintaining the Historic Landmark Commission as a separate body. 

Dear Chair Martinez and Task Force Members:

Preservation Austin (PA), formerly the Heritage Society of Austin, has a vested interest in the 10-1 redistricting process that currently is underway because of its potential impact to the membership and operations of the Historic Landmarks Commission (HLC).  

PA strongly maintains that the HLC must continue to exist as a separate commission comprised of members with specialized expertise to knowledgably implement our Historic Preservation Ordinance.  We applaud the Task Force’s efforts to increase communication and coordination between commissions, and towards that goal we ask that an HLC representative be appointed to any joint subcommittees established to include members of the Planning Commission and Zoning and Platting Commission. Building new internal interdisciplinary links will help ensure that Austin’s core value of preserving its heritage is represented in future planning and development.

Austin must have a qualified review commission to retain its status as a Certified Local Government (CLG).   The CLG program, administered jointly by the National Park Service and the Texas Historical Commission, provides federal grants for preservation, among other benefits. Austin has received several CLG grants in recent years, two examples being a Cultural Landscape Inventory of Mount Bonnell grant for $25,000 and the Austin Historical Survey Wiki grant for $30,000. Ensuring that this valuable source of funding remains intact is a key priority for PA.

Maintaining a review body with specialized expertise is also essential for the specific assignments and work load of the HLC, which includes among other responsibilities making recommendations on the eligibility for historic zoning and the review of Certificates of Appropriateness and requests for certain changes to contributing structures in 24 National Register Historic Districts and 3 Local Historic Districts, plus approximately 570 City of Austin Historic Landmark properties.  Members must have experience with the Secretary of Interior Standards and District Design Standards, which City Code demands must be applied when considering requested alterations.

Currently, ordinance 2-1-147 states that Council may consider appointing as HLC members the following: a) a Heritage Society of Austin [now Preservation Austin] board member; (b) an architect registered in the State of Texas; (c) a person who meets the Secretary of the Interior's professional standards for expertise in "history" or "architectural history;' (d) an attorney licensed by the State of Texas;  (e) a real estate professional; (f) a structural engineer; (g) the owner of a residential historic landmark; and (h) the owner of a commercial historic landmark.

Thank you for considering our request.   As you continue to revise our city’s commission structure, we are happy to act as a resource on transitional issues including how qualified HLC members will be appointed.

Sincerely,

Tom Stacy
President

cc:  Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Mayor Pro Tem Cole and Council Members Morrison, Riley, Spelman, Tovo and Martinez