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Residents of Travis Heights fought to preserve the century-old four-plex

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Austin City Photo

Wednesday, January 18, 2023 by Kali Bramble

The Historic Landmarks Commission kicked off 2023 with a bang last Wednesday, with nearly a dozen Travis Heights residents taking a stand to oppose the demolition of a century-old home on the corner of East Monroe Street and Newning Avenue .

The house at 409 E. Monroe St., which has been a rental fourplex since the 1930s, was purchased last spring by developer Oam Parkash, who intends to replace it with a new single family home. For now, those plans remain in question, after an hour of public testimony and debate concluded with the postponement of the case.

The turmoil began when confusion arose between plans for the site and the adjacent 407 E. Monroe St., a newer home also purchased by Parkash and approved for demolition late last year. When a demolition notice for the old house next door appeared without warning, panicked calls to city hall revealed that a second permit to demolish 409 E. Monroe had been issued in error.

Shaken by the call of proximity, the neighbors allied to the South River City Citizens Neighborhood Association to make the case for preservation, arguing that the house helps define a busy intersection in the center of the Travis Heights-Fairview Park National Register District.

“Tearing down this house would destroy one of Austin’s last century-old corners, if not the only one, where all four houses at an intersection are over 100 years old,” neighbor Joel Rasmussen said. “It’s anchored by four iconic properties that have housed carpenters, writers, chefs and teachers, as well as some of Austin’s great musicians.”

The new owners of the lot see things differently. Parkash’s attorney, Terry Irion, pointed to structural issues with the home and improper encroachment on neighboring land as major impediments to redevelopment, adding that the stalled demolition permit had also put the neighboring building project on hold.

“The city can’t have the butter and the butter money, they can’t put it through the huge expense of trying to rebuild the inside of this house that’s been torn up into a bunch of tacky little apartments and then go through also the loss of the right to develop at 407,” Irion said. “He purchased two legally plated lots, allowing him to develop two SF-3 single-family or duplex homes on each lot.”

After the heated exchange, the commissioners opted to postpone action on historic zoning until their February meeting, giving neighbors and their understaffed office more time to make their case. In the meantime, the commissioners hope the developer will consider alternatives in good faith, adding that the non-compliance issues could be resolved with the help of the Planning and Zoning Department.

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“I would ask this developer to take a step back and look creatively at what they bought,” commissioner Ben Heimsath offered. “There are many opportunities to work constructively with the commission that could produce a great value restored home as well as a wonderful market rate structure that could both fit this property successfully.”

Those curious about the volunteer-led effort to preserve the historic Travis Heights-Fairview Park neighborhood can learn more here.

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