The Bluebonnet Hills neighborhood in South Austin gained Planning Commission support May 26 to become a local historic district.
Planning Commission voted 5-1 in favor of the historic zoning designation, which so far applies to only three other Austin neighborhoods—Hyde Park, Castle Hill and the Harthan Street corridor off West Sixth Street. The Bluebonnet Hills neighborhood is roughly bounded by Annie Street to the north, East Side Drive to the east, Leland Street to the south and Brackenridge Street to the west near Travis Heights.
Homes were developed in the neighborhood starting in the 1920s, said Steve Sadowsky, the city's historic preservation officer, and this designation would help the proposed district retain its original character. Sadowsky told commissioners that 53.57 percent of landowners—a number that opponents contest—within the Bluebonnet Hills neighborhood support the historic zoning, more than the majority support needed to gain any city endorsement.
The historic district sets specific design standards that property owners must meet, he said. The city so far has been successful in all three attempts to establish historic districts despite some opposition in each case, Sadowsky said.
"The historic district designation by itself does not require homeowners to make repairs or prohibit any changes," he said. "These just set parameters for additions and new constructions."
Many of the design standards were adopted from the same standards that were provided by professionals to historic advocacy group Preservation Austin, according to Alyson McGee, the group's president-elect. Sadowsky called the standards more specific, professional and thought out than those adopted in the city's other historic districts.
Bob Paterson, a University of Texas architecture professor and Bluebonnet Hills resident, said his neighborhood's historic zoning case could inspire other Austin neighborhoods to seek similar protection—but only if approval is gained.
"This is a really important test case for Austin," Paterson said. "Fifteen years ago we began talking about this, and here we are today."
Seventeen people expressed support for the historic zoning during the May 26 Planning Commission meeting, and seven residents recommended denial. Courtney Sames, who owns connecting properties on Lockhart Street, said she was initially in support of the historic designation but later became concerned about the design standards, she said.
"We will be giving up our freedom of expression and design and be required to only pull from the past," Sames said.
But contemporary designs are allowed on any home additions and do not necessarily need to be compatible with the existing structure's design, Sadowsky said.
Planning Commission members ultimately recommended the City Council approve the historic district rezoning. The item is likely to come to council for a final vote in mid-June.