Austin's historic preservation program cited as ineffective in new audit

The Historic Landmark Commission was cited in the audit as needing enhanced training in historic preservation.

The Historic Landmark Commission was cited in the audit as needing enhanced training in historic preservation.

The administration of Austin’s historic preservation program was cited as ineffective in a city audit released Monday.

The Planning and Zoning Department was called out in the audit for poor administration of the program. Specifically, the audit made claims that fees are not consistently collected or secured by staff; justifications for administrative approvals are not documented; the status of application cases is not consistently tracked and only a subset of properties receive physical inspections, which are not documented.

District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool, one of four council members on the Audit and Finance Committee to which the audit was presented Monday, said the findings were “eye-opening” and confirmed increasing concerns over the efficiency of the city’s effort to preserve historic structures.

Greg Guernsey, director of the Planning and Zoning Department, cited staffing issues and workload as playing roles in the ineffective management of the program.

The audit found that among historic preservation officers there was often confusion over the criteria for establishing a structure as historic. The most vague of those criteria, according to Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky, is “community value,” a term that has been the subject of debate at both the Historic Landmark Commission and Austin City Council levels.

“We’ve had some discussion about changing it and even eliminating it because it’s very vague and confusing,” Sadowsky, a 17-year historic preservation officer, told Community Impact Newspaper on Monday. “It’s very difficult to define. Is it citywide? Is it to the neighborhood? Just one person? What defines the community?”

It also showed that the Historic Landmark Commission consistently has no legal counsel present at its meetings and there was often a lack of communication among staff–an issue that was also cited in the 2010 audit of the program.

The audit’s recommendations included:

  • Improve the process for the collection of fees

  • Develop a process to document the review and justification of administrative approval of relocation, alteration, and demolition.

  • Improve the process for inspecting historic designated properties

  • Work with the Historic Landmark Commission to identify training needs, timeframe for review and needs for legal support.


“I always look at these audits as a positive thing,” Sadowsky said. “It’s very easy, when you’re doing day-to-day work, not to notice that there is room for improvement. It’s positive when an independent agency can look at your process and say you have to think about doing some things differently here.”
SHARE THIS STORY
By Christopher Neely

Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Su


MOST RECENT

Dripping Springs has received two grants from the Texas Department of Transportation to complete sidewalk improvements projects. (Nicholas Cicale/Community Impact Newspaper)
Dripping Springs receives $2.8 million in TxDOT grants for local sidewalk projects

Projects will include work along Rob Shelton Boulevard and that will connect Dripping Springs Middle and High schools.

A photo of the Dripping Springs ISD board of trustees
Dripping Springs ISD presents on growth, debt ahead of regular board meeting

Dripping Springs ISD ranks 14th for debt among comparable districts.

Early voting for the March 3 primary elections began Feb. 18. (Community Impact Newspaper)
Southwest Austin 2020 Primary Election Guide

Find out which candidates will be on Southwest Austin ballots.

State Sen. Kirk Watson announced his resignation from state government Feb. 18. A number of local politicians have expressed interest in the seat.
Who is interested in Kirk Watson’s Senate seat? Here is where local members of the state House stand

State Reps. Gina Hinojosa and Eddie Rodriguez say they are "seriously considering" a run for the District 14 seat.

Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz addresses the media on Feb. 20 after announcing plans to resign.
Outgoing Superintendent Paul Cruz says 'work will continue' in Austin ISD as transition plan is developed

A timeline for Cruz's departure has not yet been established by Austin ISD.

Austin taps downtown homeless shelter operator to expand permanent supportive housing program

Experts hold up permanent supportive housing as crucial to ending chronic homelessness.

Gold's Gym now open on South Congress near Slaughter Lane

Gold's Gym opened its new South Austin location in late January.

Dimassi’s Mediterranean Buffet now open on Stassney Lane

The Texas restaurant chain offers a lunch and dinner buffet.

54th Street Grill is expected to open a South Austin location in 2021. (Courtesy 54th Street Grill)
54th Street Grill planning South Austin location

54th Street Grill will open a South Austin location in 2021.

A photo of young adults creating artwork.
Cordovan Art School & Pottery Parlor to open new location in Southwest Austin

The new art school will open on West Hwy. 290 on March 1.

Velocity Credit Union will break ground on a Dripping Springs location this year

Construction will begin on a new Velocity Credit Union branch this summer.

Back to top