Hancock Neighborhood Association support of Preservation Austin Resolution Item 64

Dear City Manager Spencer Cronk and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo,

This letter confirms Hancock Neighborhood Association's support of
Preservation Austin Resolution Item 64 to Approve a resolution concerning
improvements to the city's Historic Preservation Program to advance program
mission and performance objectives.

Austin’s rapid growth is resulting in the loss of important and
irreplaceable historic assets across the city. As a tourist town and
growing visitor destination, historic preservation is more than a matter of
casual interest in Austin; it can be a source of economic activity. There
is also growing recognition that Austin needs to acknowledge all of its
history, including the contributions made by communities of people of color
to the city’s vibrant culture, often despite legal, economic and social
barriers historically placed in the path of these communities.

The Austin City Council recently established the Historic Preservation Fund
with revenue from the hotel occupancy tax to provide much-needed investment
in heritage tourism and city-owned and private historic sites. These
opportunities will be fully realized only with adequate staffing.
On February 26, 2018, the Historic Landmark Commission (HLC) passed a
resolution recommending the City Council evaluate the current fee structure
for historic zoning, recommending additional funding and staffing in the
FY2019 budget to enable the Historic Preservation Office (HPO) to identify
historic properties, develop design standards and work with communities to
develop historic districts. Robust integration of Austin’s HPO activities,
duties, and responsibilities as part of Austin’s planning efforts can only
be done with adequate staffing and authority.

The East Austin Historic Resources Survey that the Austin City Council
approved in December 2016 identified a number of potential historic
landmarks and historic districts with significant architectural and
ethnic/cultural heritage. The University of Texas at Austin Gentrification
Study team reported to the City’s Anti-Displacement Task Force on January
5, 2018, that roughly 3,000 historic age buildings have been demolished in
the past five years, many in neighborhoods historically home to persons of
color and in lower-income areas with higher concentrations of rental
properties. Due to a lack of resources within the HPO and in the community,
the City has, to date, received no applications for potential landmark
designations or historic districts in the survey area of East Austin.
Equitable treatment for the city’s historically disadvantaged communities
requires an investment in public outreach, assistance, and historic
preservation expertise.

Adopted city plans such as Imagine Austin, the Downtown Plan and the
Strategic Direction 2023 call for policies and programs that honor and
promote the preservation of Austin’s historic, cultural, and ethnic
heritage. In February 2017, the City Auditor reported several issues
preventing the HPO and Historic Landmark Commission (HLC) from achieving
their mission to support the preservation of buildings, sites and
neighborhoods that reflect elements of Austin’s cultural, social, political
and architectural history. The audit found that, compared with peer cities,
the HLC has the second highest caseload per meeting and the HPO has one of
the lowest full-time employee staffing levels among similar programs.
Historic preservation offices in other cities facilitate effective planning
efforts as well as evaluation and preservation of the city’s historic
assets.

We recommend that the City Council direct the City Manager to consider the
following improvements and return to Council with an analysis on the
benefits, feasibility and annual cost of each by June 28, 2018. These
improvements should include creation of a separate Preservation Planning
Division within the Planning and Zoning Department equal in standing to
divisions such as Urban Design and Long-Range Planning to provide the
preservation program with a stronger voice in carrying out preservation
priorities and efforts to better integrate its activities into the City’s
planning, equity, and economic development efforts. Goals should include:
aligning the HPO staffing levels with peer cities; Revising outdated
sections of the Land Development Code related to historic preservation to
reflect best practices in the field; funding historic resource survey
efforts citywide on an annual basis; posting backup materials for
commission and public review at least three business days before HLC
meetings; streamlining commission meetings through identification of cases
that may be administratively approved; permitting HPO staff to apply for
nd accept grants in any amount to carry out preservation programming;
providing adequate support and training of HPO staff and HLC members by a
city attorney with experience in preservation law, or to provide for
outside counsel on an as-needed basis, and to review the current historic
zoning fee structure to identify opportunities for equity and
affordability.

Thank you for your consideration.

Mark Harkrider
President, Hancock Neighborhood Association
harkrider@westcapitol.com

https://www.hancockna.org/www/content/support-preservation-austin-resolu...