Draft of a "Local Historic District" Resolution

#1

Friends of Austin Neighborhoods respectfully asks the City Council to vote against the Blue Bonnet Hills Local Historic District.

Please also consider directing the City Manager to put a moratorium on Local Historic District applications until the Local Historic District ordinance can be re-written through a collaborative effort between City Staff and an inclusive Citizen Advisory Group.

The creation of Local Historic Districts should be transparent, should involve all stakeholders, and there should be a higher level of neighborhood support for policies that restrict property rights in an area and could harm affordability for both homeowner and renters.

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#2

What is the reason some voices in the community are proposing this LHD? How do those reasons, and the actual merits and demerits of this proposed LHD, fit with the FAN vision: themes of inclusiveness, housing abundance, diversity, complete communities, and benefiting the citywide community?

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#3

I think it would serve you well to put a time limit on the moratorium so that it doesn’t seem as if you’re against historic districts in totality. A 180 day time limit is short enough that it doesn’t seem as if you’re holding up any other LHDs and long enough to draft a revised ordinance.

I’m also going to share the video that Rana Pierucci shared with us–I found it incredibly straightforward and explains the concerns that the neighbors have, which are 100% in line with FAN’s visions of inclusiveness and diversity.

Video link: http://friendsofbluebonnethills.com/lhd/

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#4

The video is great! But how can we make the language of the resolution itself more closely and explicitly reflect the themes of the FAN vision?

Also, how would we recognize a good LHD proposal if we saw one? I.e., what are the criteria by which we distinguish a good LHD proposal from a bad one?

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#5

These are great questions and I think part of what makes them so is their difficulty in answering.

I do think one thing that an LHD should unequivocally do is protect the character of historic districts, especially when that character is unique to its specific location and time, and only when that character is in danger.

Blue Bonnet Hills’ character is mostly defined by its eclecticism and scale, not by any particular architectural style or defining historical feature. I think it would do a disservice to the place to restrict individuals’ rights to continue the natural diversity that has developed and been so prized by the residents there.

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#6

First thank you to Philip and FAN for including this in your forum and for considering writing a resolution to Council.

To answer Roger’s questions the reasoning for the LHD in BBH is really to keep developers and development out. The proponents admit that is their goal. That it is the only way they know of to rezone the community and prevent development.

The neighborhood has one historic landmark, which looks nothing like the rest of the neighborhood. The rest of the neighborhood are tract homes from the 20’s - 40’s that are not significant in any way.

My problem with the LHD is not so much the concept of historic districts, which I think are valid in some cases, but with the actual LHD process. Basically 4 or 5 people can come together and decide they want to keep the neighborhood the same then circulate what you think is a petition and ends up being your only vote on the matter. You later learn what the historic district’s design standards and restrictions are after you have already voted, and public hearings are then held. The process is seriously flawed. Even though this has been going on for more than a year there are still homeowners who have no idea this is happening or didn’t until recently, and a large majority don’t fully understand what it entails.

I am not sure BBH needs a moratorium on our LHD, as I would like to see it defeated at this point. With our valid petition, that defeat is likely due to the super-majority vote needed at council in September. But FoBBH would like the support of FAN in opposition to the LHD, and in encouraging the City to change it’s policy on how LHD’s are created. There should be a committee to write new guidelines for creating historic districts IMO.

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#7

Hi Phillip and FAN, I wanted to let you know how much those of us in opposition to LHD zoning of Blue Bonnet Hills appreciate your support and correspondence with City Council on our behalf!! We are very grateful for whatever support you are willing to offer going forward.

Parroting Rana’s comments, at this point we are focusing on an outright defeat of LHD zoning of BBH. At that juncture we’ll see what direction the neighborhood wants to go in terms of preservation options (or not) via consensus. We do continue to maintain (and grow) a petitionable opposition to LHD zoning of BBH (Rana would have the precise numbers, but I’m confident it is > 30%), and we have what I believe is enough City Council support to vote down LHD zoning of BBH.

Again parroting Rana’s comments, we think the entire process is broken, specifically:

  1. LHD advocates can submit an application without a clear majority consensus (51%) at the time of application submission.
  2. The end-to-end process is broken in so many places I couldn’t list them here. Suffice it to say, we believe the Preservation office is in dire need of (NEUTRAL) oversight. The language gymnastics LHD advocates and the Preservation office have been playing in terms of vote counts, permit handling, and preservation guidelines/standards have been tiresome.
  3. We believe that LHD zoning isn’t the only tool in the toolbox (NCCD, existing ordinances, etc.).

Anyway, just dropping in to THANK YOU for your support!

Jim Martin

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#8

I am a resident and property owner in the Blue Bonnet Hills neighborhood. I agree with Rana’s comments. I too would like to see the petition regarding the HNA overlay for our neighborhood defeated on its merits, but I support a moratorium on all petitions until the process can be fixed to make it more transparent and fair.

My experience with the current process leads me to believe there is a total lack of transparency. . Many of the residence in our neighborhood who signed the original petition for a historic neighborhood overlay were not fully informed about the potential impact on home owners and signed on.

By the time the petition reached the Planning Commission, many of the original signers of the petition had changed their position and there was no longer any clear majority in support of the plan. However, the position of the Historic Commission and many of the Planning Commission members seemed to be that once the petition was launched, their job was to grant it. Objections were received with an air of irritation, rather than concern. If this is the reality, there must be a better way to ensure that petitions are in fact supported by more than a 51% majority if the affected residents before they can move forward for a hearing and there must be room in the process for both sides to be heard before a decision is made.

To me, the most repugnant part of the process in the initial attempt to get the petition passed was hearing “experts” brought in by proponents of the overlay to testify before the Planning Commission that in their experience, even if the majority of the residents were initially opposed to being in an historic district, once it became a reality, most residents came to like it eventually.

The idea that less than a clear majority of a neighborhood can make decisions for residents who have live in the neighborhood for years and/or that the proponents are somehow in a position to make decisions for these property owners “for their own good” is to me, totally inconsistent with responsible governance.

Thanks

Barbara Holthaus
Blue Bonnet Hills Neighborhood Resident
South Austin

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#9

Thanks for posting all of this information! I think these things are really important for everyone to hear about the process.

With all of this information is there anything that should be added to a FAN resolution? What about the wording below? Is anything important being left out that should be included?


Friends of Austin Neighborhoods respectfully asks the City Council to vote against the Blue Bonnet Hills Local Historic District.

Please also encourage the City Manager to sponsor an update to the Local Historic District ordinance through an effort led by City Staff which includes an inclusive Citizen Advisory Group.

The creation of Local Historic Districts should be transparent, should involve all stakeholders, and there should be a higher level of neighborhood support for policies that restrict property rights in an area and could harm affordability for both homeowners and renters.

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#10

That sounds good to me Pete. I will also ask our executive committee if they want anything changed in the wording or that might have been left out. When do you need to know?

thanks, Rana

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#11

If possible by Wednesday? That would allow us to get the resolutions to council before their Aug 13th meeting after having a vote open for a few days. The most important thing is to have the right wording in the resolution though.

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#12

Actually, we will not go to Council until September. They had to have another vote at the Historic Landmark Commission. The one in June and July have been postponed because a quorum was not met per our valid petition. So our next big date is August 24th at the HLC.

That buys us a little time. We are hoping it will not make it out of the HLC this time. Fingers crossed.

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#13

I’m not sure when the small lot amnesty issue comes up. Does anyone know? I was thinking that issue was going to be coming up soon and maybe by Aug 13th. The STR/ADU issue comes up on Aug 17th in the committee meeting. It’d be great to have all of the resolutions in one vote, but we definitely don’t have to.

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#14

There is a draft agenda up on Council’s website - I checked to make sure BBH was not on it. Not sure what that issue would be listed under.

http://austin.siretechnologies.com/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=845&doctype=agenda

They hold their planning meeting on Wednesday I believe. We will try and have something back to you tomorrow. But might ask that you hold on sending it until the week before it actually comes up on Council, if that is okay. Timing is everything on these things.

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#15

Thanks! That sounds great.

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#16

So there are two resolutions being circulated. A short one and a long one. I am going to repost them here and also ask our FoBBH’s group which they prefer. Ultimately this is FAN’s choice which one they want to present. Please edit away.

Short Version:
“Friends of Austin Neighborhoods respectfully asks the City Council to vote against the Blue Bonnet Hills Local Historic District.

Please also encourage the City Manager to sponsor an update to the Local Historic District ordinance and it’s processes through an effort led by City Staff which includes an inclusive Citizen Advisory Group.

The creation of Local Historic Districts should be transparent, involve all stakeholders, and require a two-thirds majority (65%) of neighborhood support, since the policies enforced through an LHD will restrict property rights in an area, and could harm the affordability and sale-ability for both homeowners and renters. Property right restrictions themselves (i.e. “the design standards”), including their administration and enforcement, MUST BE CLEAR to everyone involved PRIOR to voting.”

Long Version:
Friends of Austin Neighborhoods respectfully asks the City Council to vote against the Blue Bonnet Hills Local Historic District.

Blue Bonnet Hills’ character is mostly defined by its eclecticism and scale, not by any particular architectural style or defining historical feature. It would do a disservice to the place to restrict individuals’ rights to continue the natural diversity that has developed and been so prized by the residents there.

Please also encourage the City Manager to sponsor an update to the Local Historic District ordinance and its processes through an effort led by City Staff which includes an inclusive Citizen Advisory Group, and consider putting a hold on all future LHD cases until a new policy is created.

The creation of Local Historic Districts should be transparent, involve all stakeholders, and require a two-thirds majority (65%) of neighborhood support, since the policies enforced through an LHD will restrict property rights in an area, and could harm the affordability and sale-ability for both homeowners and renters. Property right restrictions themselves (i.e. “the design standards”), including their administration and enforcement, must be clear to everyone involved prior to voting.

Our hope is the Citizen’s Advisory Group would consider the following recommendations and suggestions:

  • Raising the application fee to cover costs.
  • Creating a pre-application process where all residents are notified in a
    verifiable manner, and holding meetings held by the city to establish
    the design standards and which homes are contributing and
    non-contributing. An online poll may then be taken after the
    meetings to see if an application may be submitted, but should not be
    considered a final vote.
  • Limiting the Historic Preservation officer’s role, and assigning an independent city office to calculate the poll and all vote(s) and be in charge of communication with
    voters.
  • Using electronic voting, or a manner of voting that is some sort of certifiable special ballot. Not the standard meeting notices that go out to the public.
  • Locking proposed boundaries once the application is on file - so later gerrymandering does not occur to achieve the appropriate percentage.
  • Locking contributing and non-contributing properties after the pre-application time, so they may not be traded for favorable votes.
  • Changing the voting requirement from 51% to a two-thirds majority or at a minimum 60%.
  • Once the application is filed each resident should be presented with a written copy of the proposed LHD application to review - after a reasonable amount of time a vote should be held and published. Another vote should be taken after a 60 day period, which should be considered the final vote.
  • Then the approval process should begin with the City - meetings at the various agencies and finally Council. Meetings should be held in a specific order for the application to proceed. and failure to do so should nullify the application.
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#17

Rana, thank you and all involved for the thought and work that went into this! As I hope to be off the grid for a few day, I’ll cast my vote now in line with whichever one the FoBBH group prefers.

Inclusiveness, transparency, affordability, diversity of housing - all part of the fan vision - all part of what your group is fighting for - thank you for carrying the torch!

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#18

After talking future with the FoBBH group, we are voting for the shorter version.

Thank you!

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#19

The only change that I would suggest to the shorter version would be to change “MUST BE CLEAR” and “PRIOR” to lowercase, if that would be ok with you. Whenever some people see all uppercase words they think of it as yelling (at least I do anyways) and I just wouldn’t want the emphasis to be mistaken for that instead.

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#20

I agree, and think that is fine maybe italics or underlining? Or nothing is fine too. I know we wanted to emphasize that in some way, but agree that is internet speak for yelling.

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