The Daily Hustle: 10/25/10

Hyde Park historic zoning fracas returns

The problematic manse
The problematic manse (Photo by Nohra, er, Nora Ankrum)

On the city calendar: The Historic Landmark Commission meets in City Hall's Council Chambers, 301 W. Second, 7pm.

Normally, the Hustle brings you his board and commission roundup at the end of the entry. But this meeting marks the return of of the Bradford-Nohra House, a historic zoning litmus test pitting property owners against Hyde Park neighbors.

A comedy of errors, the Bradford-Nohra case has slowly wound its way through the B&C system, and more recently, the courts. As the Chronicle wrote in 2009,

Property owner Helen Nohra and her now-grown children have owned the Bradford-Nohra property for more than 60 years. They want to bulldoze the time-worn neoclassical home and build townhomes on the spacious corner lot at 43rd and Avenue G.

The family is pursuing the case on constitutional grounds, arguing it is within its rights to control its own property. The [Hyde Park Neighborhood Association], on the other hand, advocates preserving and restoring the aging structure, in spite of the rambling, generic-looking alterations that have been made to it over the years. At the very least, they argue, the historic front portion of the house – replete with grand, full-length columns – should remain intact because of its contribution to the character of the leafy neighborhood.

The home was on track for historic zoning until city staff reversed course and issued a demolition permit, which lead to an unsuccessful mediation between the two parties, and then, a lawsuit. Catching up with the case this summer, we wrote:
In a recent ruling, District Court Judge Rhonda Hurley gave the neighborhood association the upper hand in the debate, ordering the city of Austin to pay HPNA's legal fees and rejecting the city's issuance of a demolition permit to Sylvia Dudney, whose 97-year-old mother, Helen Nohra, has lived in the home for 67 years.

On the other hand, the court also invalidated the Historic Landmark Commission's initial 3-2 vote favoring the neighborhood association's bid to gain historic-zoning status for the home. The City Council in 2009 appeared poised to follow the HLC's recommendation, but the case abruptly veered off course when city staffers switched gears and issued the demolition permit before the council could officially declare the home historic.

Thickening this already sticky stew was the latter decision, based largely off city staff's own finding that a 2007 revamp of the B&C system, meant to standardize rules, prescribed changes to voting procedures including a requirement that in owner-contested cases like Bradford-Nohra, a supermajority of the board or commission must vote in favor – a requirement that potentially invalidated not only the original HLC vote in favor of preserving the Hyde Park house, but many other cases as well. We suppose that's why Bradford-Nohra's made its way back to the HLC tonight, but in this case, your guess is as good as the Hustle's.

… And how's this for a segue … The National Preservation Conference is kicking off October 27 in Austin:

The National Preservation Conference—the premier gathering of its kind in the country, attracting nearly 2,000 attendees—will feature speeches by former First Lady Laura Bush and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, as well as nearly 100 education and field sessions, many of which are free and open to the public. The conference will be held in Austin, TX, from October 27-30, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation is urging local residents to come out and get involved in the many free conference sessions available to the general public. A complete listing of these sessions and activities is available at

“Austin’s unique heritage, dynamic neighborhoods and vibrant cultural scene make this an ideal setting from which to explore today’s most relevant preservation issues,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Preservationists from across the country will learn from Austin’s numerous preservation success stories, and explore the surrounding Hill Country’s rich landscapes. I want to extend a warm welcome to local residents who may be interested in learning more about historic preservation to take advantage of the many conference sessions that are open to the public.”

Wonder if Helen Nohra's got her ticket yet …
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