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Historic Landmark Controversy Over Mid-Century Home In Austin

One of the strategies suggested for preserving the character of Mid-Century and other older neighborhoods is to gain a spot on the historic registry or convince the city to create an overlay zone. Several Eichler communities, namely Green Meadow and Green Gables in Palo Alto, have been successful in gaining historic recognition.  City designated overlay zones or guidelines protect others, including Palo Alto’s Triple El Eichler neighborhood, several Eichler communities in Sunnyvale, and Balboa Highlands in Granada Hills.  While these designations and ordinances are usually welcome by most homeowners, (not only do they help protect the character of the neighborhood, but they also often bring a break in property taxes) not everyone is necessarily on board.  A recent decision to designate historic status to a Mid-Century, International Style Streamline Moderne home in Austin, Texas has raised some controversy – and could end up being a groundbreaking case.

Austin is a city that loves its MCM architecture – and it is well known for Stenger homes, often described as being the “Eichlers” Of Austin.  In this case, however, the city has granted historic standing to a home against the homeowner’s wishes, which is proving to be problematic.  The issue is that the homeowner wants to demolish the home, claiming that rehabilitation of the home would be too costly.  The city of Austin disagrees, stating that the home is in a prominent location and architecturally significant.  Attorneys for the homeowner claim that the city’s decision constitutes “an uncompensated taking” of the property and that the historic designation will impose financial hardship for the homeowner.

Although the decision has been made by the city, the homeowner isn’t taking it lying down.  This promises to be an epic showdown and may well end up being a test case between private property rights and government’s zoning ordinances.  I’m not sure what the answer is.  I do believe that a woman’s home is her castle – but I also believe in maintaining design integrity.  I imagine, as is true in most compromise, that the solution lies somewhere in the middle.

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