In response to a proposed ordinance change to be considered by the council on Jan. 17, Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson, the former Dallas Cowboy and Texas Lottery tycoon, is circulating an angry petition in Central East Austin to fight the proposal, which on Dec. 11 was recommended 7-0 by the Planning Commission. If adopted by the council, the change would tighten restrictions on new house sizes for any Central East Austin lots smaller than 5,750 square feet. The current ordinance – aka McMansion – restricts new houses to 2,300 square feet or 40% of the overall lot size; the proposed change would allow only the 40% calculation on smaller lots, within a rough boundary of I-35 and Chicon, from MLK to Seventh Street. (That is: On a 5,000-square-foot lot, barring a specific variance, only a 2,000-square-foot home could be built.)
The proposal formally originated with the Organization of Central East Austin Neighborhoods, with the argument that the 2,300-square-foot home size is simply "out of proportion" for the historically smaller neighborhood lots and that the 40% limit is more realistic. But Henderson, who lives in and owns several lots in East Austin, describes the proposal in his letter to residents as an attempt by OCEAN and the city to "take away property rights" and is asking his neighbors to join him "in the fight for our current property rights."
Henderson's typo-spattered letter denounces "gentrification" and concedes the usefulness of the existing McMansion ordinance in limiting oversized houses and simultaneously advocates "more density" while describing historical East Austin as "a community of small lots and modest homes." Presumably, the proposed limitations would reinforce the latter characteristic – but Henderson reiterates at length that the proposal is nothing more than an unnecessary attack on property rights, "Big government trying to control our Historically Black Community," an attempt to "run us all off." He closes by asking residents to join him at City Hall on Jan. 17. (See Henderson's letter.)
Asked via e-mail for his response to Henderson's letter, OCEAN President Rudy Williams noted a related letter Henderson wrote to Mayor Will Wynn, adding curtly, "Please note there are more than 20 'I's and 'me's' in his email. I believe this indicates his real concern about the neighborhood." In a subsequent e-mail to Williams, Henderson says he is considering a class-action lawsuit against the neighborhood group.
In an e-mail thread involving other residents, several acknowledged Henderson's history of philanthropic projects in East Austin. But Harold McMillan noted, "I think the issues at hand have little to do with Mr. Henderson's good deeds of the past. The issues he raises are about his want to engage in commercial real estate development in the neighborhood. It seems to me, his issues are the same ones that would be raised by a developer (of any stripe) whose intent was to maximize personal profit for their development activities, regardless of and perhaps to the detriment of broader neighborhood preservation concerns.
"The real issue is not about profit, but about the level of profit."
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