Some South Austin residents are seeking to make Bluebonnet Hills neighborhood a historic district. Some South Austin residents are seeking to make Bluebonnet Hills neighborhood a historic district.[/caption]

An effort by one South Austin neighborhood to gain historic preservation status received initial support June 11 from City Council.

Bluebonnet Hills neighborhood, which is part of the Travis Heights area south of Lady Bird Lake, applied last year to become a local historic district, which protects a defined area from development changes that are not compatible with the existing neighborhood's historic character.

South Austin residents argued for more than three hours on both sides of the debate during the June 11 City Council meeting. Slightly more than half of neighborhood residents—the threshold needed to gain city support—favor the historic designation, although some opponents argued the merit of the petition based on some submissions being incorrectly reported.

Historic districts generally set higher standards before a historic structure can be demolished, set design standards that seek to ensure compatible new construction and offer city-issued property tax incentives for the rehabilitation of certain structures.

However, because more than 20 percent of residents currently side against the historic district, city code requires support from a super-majority of City Council, or nine of 11 members, when the zoning case returns for a final vote Aug. 13. Only seven council members supported the historic district during the June 11 first reading, meaning there may need to be more neighborhood consensus for the historic district to gain final support, Mayor Steve Adler said.

"So I would hope that between now and when this comes back for second and third readings ... [neighborhood residents] see if there is a way for the neighborhood to be able to pick up support," Adler said.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo motioned in support of the historic district, arguing that too many historic South Austin homes are being demolished.

"As austin grows and changes, we need to preserve the historic character of our neighborhoods—the historic fabric of our neighborhoods—and this is one tool I believe can be very effective," Tovo said.

Council Members Pio Renteria, Ellen Troxclair and Don Zimmerman voted against the historic district on first reading. Zimmerman called the proposal onerous when property owners already have to deal with Austin's convoluted permit approval process.

"So have another layer of bureaucracy on top of the terrible bureaucracy we already have," he said.

Other council members expressed initial support for the historic district but said they intend to review design standards, which are custom to each historic neighborhood, before granting final approval Aug. 13.

Editor's Note: Read Community Impact Newspaper's June 25 print edition for more information about local historic districts and Bluebonnet Hill's effort to gain preservation status.