Is There A Homeowners Association in Hyde Park’s Future?

After its founding in 1890, Hyde Park went for more than eight decades without a neighborhood association.  HPNA was formed in 1974 in the face of an existential threat from developers who wanted to tear down existing homes and put student apartments in their place.

Now that the neighborhood is secure, some say a new threat has arisen: unkempt property and problematic neighbors.  An ad hoc committee has been formed at HPNA called Keep It Spiffy (KIS), whose goal would be to bring up the standards of Hyde Park properties, and deal decisively with such problems as incessantly barking dogs or garish house paint.

George Mareski, organizer of KIS, explained his thinking at the February meeting of the HPNA Long-Range Planning Committee.  “I spent big bucks buying and remodeling and landscaping my house.  Most of my neighbors have done the same.  It just takes one person who lets his yard or his house go to pot to bring down the whole block.  That’s not fair.”

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What Mareski and his members seek is the transformation of the neighborhood association into a homeowners association (HOA).  He said that such an association is governed by a neighborhood council.  The group writes its own bylaws, determines fees and writes policies.  “It’s totally democratic,” he said.

Some 80 HOAs already exist in Austin, including one at the new Mueller neighborhood.  “An HOA might be a little scary to some; but once in, residents are so grateful to have that protection,” Mareski said.

In the case of an offending property whose owner refuses to correct the situation, an HOA might get bids on cleaning it up, have the work done, and send the bill to the owner.  If the owner does not pay, the HOA can impose a mechanic’s lien on the property.  In extreme cases, foreclosure is a possibility.  “That’s the impressive thing about HOAs,” Mareski said.  “They have the power to get things done.”

Committee member Katherine Goolsby said it was this very power that is terrifying.  ”I’ve lived in an HOA, and they can be tyrannical.  They were coming around measuring the height of the grass.  We lived in fear.  It was North Korea without the starvation.”

She recalled the story from the fall of 2012 of the single mother whose son made a small crawl space in the boxwood hedge separating the driveways of the townhouses in Summerwod, a development off Steck.  “He lined it with sticks and pieces of firewood and called it his ‘fort.’  You could scarcely see it from the street, even if you were looking for it,” recalled Goolsby.

But the HOA came down hard, demanding the sticks and firewood be removed or the mother would be charged to have it done.  The mother decided to stick by her son.  The case became a cause célèbre, picked up by UPI as well as the Austin American-Statesman.  Goolsby said she visited the mother, who showed her a pack of mean-spirited letters left on her door step.  “She was being bullied, plain and simple,” Goolsby said, noting the mother moved away as soon as she could.

This story touched off the most vitriolic exchange in the memory of most committee members.  Epithets such as “snob,” “loser,” “fascist,” and “riff-raff” were exchanged freely until a halt in the discussion was called by committee chairman Forrest Gruben.

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In the weeks since, a number of HOA supporters and an equal number of HOA opponents were interviewed.  The idea was to discover the roots of this divisive issue.  Although there are many exceptions, there did seem to be a difference in the two groups.

Most HOA opponents have lived in Hyde Park for more than 10 years.  In general, they paid less for their houses than HOA supporters.  They grew up in easygoing families with little or no corporal punishment.  As adolescents, they said they generally kept sloppy rooms; in college they pursued degrees in the liberal arts or social sciences.  Their motto for the neighborhood seems to be, “Live and let live.”

Most HOA supporters, on the other hand, have lived in the neighborhood a much shorter time, many less than five years.  They grew up in relatively strict families.  They reported that their rooms as adolescents were tidy; according to several, the tidiness alienated some of their peers.  In college, a majority majored in business, especially accounting, finance and management.  Their motto for Hyde Park seems to be, “The way of the transgressor is hard.”

Both groups seemed to have a goodly number of team players, which perhaps explains why Hyde Park functions as well as it does.  HOA opponents tended to like dogs; supporters favored cats, although there were plenty of exceptions.

Kevin Duderstadt, a KIS supporter, said his group will make a presentation at the May meeting of HPNA.  Several members of Austin HOAs will be available for questions.  In the meantime, he and his group are canvassing residents.  If there is interest, a KIS member makes a home visit.  “The momentum is growing, it’s really there,” he said.  “Once neighbors learn the details, they want in.  I think we will have a majority of neighbors on board within 5-7 months.”

–Rollo Treadway

Julio’s – A Hyde Park Establishment Celebrates an Anniversary

Since April 1983, the Lucero family has owned and operated what has become Hyde Park’s iconic restaurant, Julio’s.  Starting in a small space on West Lynn in Clarksville, where Stella Salinas Lucero grew up, they moved the restaurant, shortly thereafter in 1985, to its current location at the corner of 43rd and Duval.  Since then, they have been operating it as a family business, with Stella and her children Marisa and Julio working there almost every day.  Some days, one or more of Stella’s sisters stops in for dinner, often stepping behind the cash register to help when it gets busy.

Julio's

To celebrate their thirty-one years in business, Stella and her kids have decided to make April their “Julio’s 31st Anniversary Celebration” month.  As longtime contributors to the Hyde Park community, they are going to donate a portion of the receipts of one night each week in April to the Lee Elementary School PTA to support the Spanish program that the PTA created.

Anyone who has ever been to Julio’s is struck by how many of the customers seem to know not only each other, but Stella, Marisa, and Julio personally.  Customers come from all over town, many of them with their dogs.  They often remark that almost the only time they get to see each other is at the restaurant.  Many of those customers come from West Austin and have been loyal Julio’s patrons since the early 1980s.

Congratulations to Stella, Marisa, and Julio on the 31st anniversary of Julio’s.  And, thanks for being a part of the fabric of Hyde Park for so long.

 

–Stephen Saunders

Affordability, Aging in Place and Community

KUT in Austin recently reported that Councilmember Bill Spelman floated a trial balloon regarding affordable housing in Austin, “Tiny Apartments Could Be Big Answer to Austin’s Housing Crunch”.  The Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan Contact Team has invited him to its meeting on April 28, to discuss the City of Austin’s infill tool, Secondary Apartment, as it pertains to affordable housing in Hyde Park.

Also invited to participate in this discussion is architect Michael Gatto, the executive director of the Austin Community Design and Development Center.  He will share information about Austin’s Alley Flat Initiative.  “Alley Flats” are small, detached residential units that may be accessed from Austin’s extensive network of underutilized alleyways.  The long term objective of the initiative is to create an adaptive and self-perpetuating delivery system for sustainable and affordable housing.

The Contact Team is planning to explore the ramifications of applying these ideas throughout Hyde Park.  It is no secret that Austin has the highest housing prices for an urban area in Texas (according to the Coldwell Banker Home Listing Report for 2013) and that Travis County has the highest rental rates in the state.  As one of the most desirable addresses in Austin and Travis County, it’s easy to see why the goal of affordable housing in Hyde Park is almost impossible to attain.

However, housing affordability can dramatically affect people’s lives, especially those of us who already live here and are (or soon will be) retired.  While the demographics of Hyde Park show that a majority of residents are now under the age of 35, a Brookings Institution analysis of 2010 census data showed that between 2000 and 2010 the Austin-Round Rock metro area had the fastest growing ‘pre-senior’ population (ages 55-64) in the nation and ranked second in senior (ages 65 and above) population growth over the same time period.  This statistic led Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell to create a task force to address the ways Austin can respond to the growing and changing needs of seniors.  In his 2012 State of the City address, Mayor Leffingwell said “The rapid growth of our older population demonstrates that Austin is a very desirable place to age, and this population has quickly become one of our community’s most important issues.”

The mayor’s statement is especially apt for neighborhoods like Hyde Park. According to the AARP document, Beyond 50.05: A Report to the Nation on Livable Communities Creating Environments for Successful Aging, “A livable community is one that has affordable and appropriate housing, supportive community features and services, and adequate mobility options, which together facilitate personal independence and the engagement of residents in civic and social life.”  That sounds like Hyde Park, except for the affordable part.

The majority of us want to continue to live in our own homes for as long as possible.  However, rising property taxes and utility costs make this difficult on a fixed income.  As pointed out in my article in the January 2014 issue of the Pecan Press, “Infill and Super Duplexes: A New Proposal”, adding a small rental unit to a residential lot can make that residence affordable for the owner, while also providing an affordable place to live for a new resident.  A one-bedroom apartment that brings in the average rental income in Austin is equivalent to having over $400,000 in the bond market at current rates.  Moreover, apartment income will likely keep pace with inflation.

Unfortunately, many lots in Hyde Park are prohibited from adding a garage apartment, secondary apartment or alley flat due to the minimum size restrictions (7000 sq. ft. for most building lots) in the zoning code.  Again, as discussed in my Pecan Press article, the City of Austin now has a portfolio of infill tools that encourages neighborhoods like Hyde Park to adopt more liberal zoning regulations.  The infill tool, Secondary Apartment, in the City’s Infill Tools and Design Booklet specifically permits secondary apartments on small lots (5750 sq. ft.).

The upcoming Contact Team meeting on April 28 to discuss this topic should prove to be informative and thought-provoking.  As usual, it will take place at Trinity United Methodist Church at 7:00 p.m.  All who are interested in this and other Contact Team issues are encouraged to attend.  In accord with the new bylaws, attendance at a meeting ensures voting privileges for the next nine months.

Around and About the Avenues – April 2014

Fun with Eggs and an Easter Bunny: The Second Annual Hyde Park Egg Scramble at Shipe Park is Saturday April 19, 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.  This HPNA event, sponsored by Grande Communications, is open and free to everyone in the neighborhood.  There will be popcorn, snow cones, and cotton candy along with fun activities including egg hunts, a balloon twister, a bounce house and obstacle course.  A photo booth, provided by Carolyn Grimes of Coldwell Banker United, Realtors, will also be there for pictures with the Easter Bunny!

If you plan to participate, remember to drop off one dozen plastic eggs filled with age-appropriate treats between April 12 and April 18 in bins marked by age group on the front porch of  the following houses: 4307 Avenue F or 4809 Eilers Avenue.  The egg hunt will be divided into the following three age groups: under 3 years old, 3 and 4 year olds, and 5 years old and up.  See you there!–Michelle Rossomando and Tim Luyet, event co-chairs.

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Hyde Park Contact Team:  Its quarterly meeting will be held on Monday April 28 at Trinity United Methodist Church, 7:00 – 8:30 p.m. Residents, tenants, property owners, and business owners in Hyde Park are encouraged to attend.  The HPCT is charged with the implementation of and any change to the city-adopted Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan.

The agenda includes

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New at the Ney:  On Sunday April 13 at 2:00 p.m., Austin author Carolyn Osborn will read from her latest novel Contrary People.  With the Elisabet Ney Museum prominently featured as both location and metaphor, the story unfolds in the late 1960s in Austin and features twin themes of re-emergence and transformation.  Books will be available for signing by the author.

Also, Ney Day will be on Saturday May 3.  Like last year, it will feature live music, activities, food trucks, crafts, animals and more!  For information, visit The Elisabet Ney Museum or call 512-458-2255.

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CodeNEXT: The City of Austin continues to engage in a process to rewrite the City’s Land Development Code (LDC), which determines how land can be used throughout the city—including what can be built, where it can be built, and how much can (and cannot) be built.  Meanwhile, the Executive Committee of Austin Neighborhoods Council (ANC) has adopted a resolution calling for changes to the LDC revision process and its timeline.  This LDC resolution may be viewed on the Resolutions page of the ANC website .

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A Big Thank You:  The Pecan Press relies on a network of volunteers to deliver it to homes in Hyde Park, month after month.  This network starts with overall coordinator Rimas Remeza and ends with those who distribute on individual blocks.  With this issue, we welcome two new area coordinators:  Heidi Bojes and Kevin Heyburn.  We think it a good thing to take time every so often to acknowledge the vital service this network of distributors provides.

Because of weather and other factors, residents on certain blocks received their March issue late.  Unfortunately we won’t always reach distribution goals, but typically residents will receive their copy on the weekend preceding each monthly HPNA meeting.  And thanks to Michael Crider, the new issue will  be posted online at the HPNA website on the Thursday immediately preceding the meeting.

Tax Abatements for Restorations

When Jeff and Katie Bullard bought their Hyde Park house at 4210 Avenue G, they already knew all the positive and negative aspects of owning an old house.  They were veterans of two historic landmarks, the most recent in Judge’s Hill.  But this old house on Avenue G had an advantage that didn’t exist for the previous two: a city ordinance that offered tax abatements for the restoration of contributing and potentially contributing properties in local historic districts.

Adopted by the City of Austin in 2012, this program helps owners restore contributing structures or bring potentially contributing structures back to contributing status by providing a property tax abatement to owners whose restoration costs are at least 25% of the pre-restoration value of the property.  Its purpose, according to the City of Austin, is “to encourage preservation and maintenance of the architectural character of local historic districts.”  The program abates 100% of the city property taxes assessed on the value added to a property as a result of the restoration project.  The abatement lasts for seven years.  Commercial properties are also eligible for the program, but their restoration requires an expenditure of 40% of pre-restoration value and their tax abatement lasts for 10 years.

Before picture

Jeff and Katie’s house on Avenue G, while in good condition, had not been touched since the 1970s.  The tax abatement program enabled them to add a second floor while retaining three-fourths of the original structure.  As the owner of Avenue B Development, Jeff was accomplished at historic restorations.  When he learned about the tax abatement program through a Preservation Austin seminar, the stage was set for his Hyde Park venture.

To participate in the program, an owner must apply to the Historic Landmark Commission before beginning the restoration.  All work must comply with the Local Historic District Preservation Plan and Design Standards.  After the Historic Landmark Commission approves the application, the owner has two years to complete the project.  The City of Austin Historic Preservation Officer performs a final inspection to approve the work before initiating the tax abatement.

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Eligible expenses include the demolition of non-historic exterior additions and the repair, restoration, or replacement of the historic façade and landscape features, including the reconstruction of missing features.  In keeping with modern environmental concerns, it also includes sustainability features such as solar panels.

The Bullards were the first owners to take advantage of the tax abatement program in the Hyde Park Local Historic District.  While they celebrate their “new” home, Hyde Park can appreciate another tool that favors restored single family homes over demolitions and new construction.

2nd Annual Hyde Park Egg Scramble

Please mark your calendar for the Second Annual Hyde Park Egg Scramble at Shipe Park on Saturday April 19th, 2014 10:30am-12:30pm, sponsored by Grande Communications. This HPNA event is open to everyone in the neighborhood! There will be popcorn, snow cones, and cotton candy as well as many fun activities including egg hunts, a bounce house, and obstacle course! All activities and refreshments are free to all Hyde Parkers who attend the event! Last year’s egg scramble was a lot of fun and we hope to make this year’s event even more festive!

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You may be asking yourself, “What exactly is an ‘egg scramble’ anyway?” It’s basically a traditional Easter egg hunt; the only difference is that you provide the eggs yourself for your child’s age group. Here’s how it will work. The egg hunt will be divided into the following three age groups: under 3 years old, 3 & 4 year olds, and 5 years old & up. If your child is going to participate in the egg hunt festivities, please drop off 1 dozen plastic eggs filled with age appropriate treats any time between Saturday, April 12th and Friday, April 18th in the bins marked by age group on the front porch at the following houses:

Rossomando/Williams House at 4307 Avenue F

– OR -

Luyet/Cabada House at 4809 Eilers

Each age group will have its own area marked in the park with colored flagging tape. The younger age groups will be “hunting” in the flat sports field area of the park. The oldest age group will be “hunting” in the area outside the log cabin and pool area. The playground, swings, and basketball court will still be open to everyone not attending the Egg Scramble event.

 

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We still need assistance from volunteers for set up and during the event. Questions, comments, or interest in volunteering, please  Michelle, whose number can be found in The Pecan Press. Mark your calendars now for the second installment of this new tradition for our neighborhood!

Window On Hyde Park – March 2014

John Kerr was one of the earliest editors of this publication in the 1970′s, using the nom de plume Squirrel Nutkin.  While editor, he changed the name of the publication from HPNA Newsletter to the Pecan Press.  Susan Kerr, his wife of beloved memory, drew this illustration of the editor hard at work at his typewriter.

Squirrel Nutkin at work

Historic Preservation: A Tool For Making People Matter

In his article in the February issue of the Pecan Press, Larry Gilg presents conservation as an alternative to preservation.  I would like to challenge some of his claims.

We should not preserve, we should conserve.

Hyde Park conserves by carefully managing its resources—old houses and neighborhood character.  To conserve, Hyde Park has two Neighborhood Conservation Combining Districts (NCCDs) for the areas north and south of 45th Street.  Their purpose, according to the Austin Land Development Code, includes preservation: “To preserve neighborhoods with distinctive architectural styles that were substantially built out at least 30 years ago.  An NCCD is a zoning overlay that can modify the base zoning district and create new site development standards and prescribe the allowable and conditional uses in an area in order to promote new development, redevelopment, or significant remodeling that is in character with the existing neighborhood.”

The NCCD and LHD have a pro-infrastructure bias because they include few instances of such words as person or people.

These are legal documents; their vocabulary is determined by their function.  The neighborhood plan describes a desired outcome by discussing human issues; the NCCD and LHD are tools that help Hyde Park achieve that outcome.

 The LHD requires extraordinary effort to obtain a building permit.

David Conner, chair of the Development Review Committee (DRC) for the past 8 years, can provide numerous cases to the contrary.  He states, “I wish Larry would have given specific examples of where the LHD design standards stopped someone from doing something to their properties.  As far as I know there has not been one case.…In fact, there are more projects underway now in the LHD than before.  Good compatible projects, and both homeowners and their neighbors like them.  Drive down Avenue C, Avenue D, Avenue F.  Nothing in the LHD ordinance stopped anything.”

John Williams, former HPNA president, adds, “Development and remodels within the LHD are not nearly as restrictive as some neighbors believe.  I say this from first-hand experience by having just gone through a remodel process at my own house, which is a contributing structure within the LHD.  The extra step of presenting plans to the Historic Landmark Commission, getting on its agenda, and having it issue a Certificate of Appropriateness was done at the same time the city’s residential building permit office conducted its reviews of our plans.  It was not a big deal to go through this process with the Historic Landmark Commission.”

 The LHD is “counterproductive, weak and fraudulent.”

If so, why have only two demolitions occurred since it went into effect?  There is no way to prevent a demolition except to specify within LHD standards that certain structures cannot be demolished.  The Hyde Park LHD prevents the demolition of contributing structures except in extreme circumstances.  One of the demolitions provided extreme circumstances: structural engineers confirmed it was beyond rehabilitation, and it was in the flood plain.  A structure that fits the LHD design standards is replacing it.  The other demolition was potentially contributing and was replaced by a superduplex.  Given the issues encountered by the developers, it would probably have been just as cost-effective to return the structure to contributing status and take advantage of the tax benefits available for that purpose.

In comparison, during the past three years, the area of Greater Hyde Park outside the LHD has seen nine demolitions.  A few were or will be replaced by single family homes; the remainder were or will be replaced by duplexes (4602 and 4605 Avenue C, 4527 Speedway, 4904 Duval, 4532 and 5011 Avenue F, 4705 Rowena, 804 45th Street, and 703-705 49th Street, where three superduplexes are being constructed).

There has been much discussion about superduplexes on the Hyde Park listserv recently, but I have yet to see someone say that he or she would be happy to live next door to one.  In the words of Adrian Skinner, HPNA co-secretary and Greater Hyde Park dweller, “I would ask you to consider taking a tour of Hyde Park north of 45th Street to see the stark difference in our development concerns.  Where putting people before property is a concern, I would direct you to the developer “people” who scrap an old home and build a 3400 square foot duplex (read “stealth dorm”) in its place.  How would these views on preservation be informed if superduplexes were being built next door to you?”

At issue in the article is the idea that historic preservation cares more about infrastructure than about people.  While there are philosophical, economic, and sustainability reasons to preserve historical structures, there are also quality-of-life issues.

A Preservation Handbook for Historic Residential Properties & Districts in Salt Lake City states, “When groups of older buildings occur as a historic district, they can create a local environmental character which is so much greater than the sum of its parts.  The district is defined on a human scale, which encourages walking and neighborly interaction.…This physical sense of neighborhood cohesion can enhance community stability, reinforce desirable social patterns and networks, and contribute to a sense of reassurance and security.  Many residents of historic districts, for example, note how easily they get to know their neighbors, and enjoy the fact that they are recognized by others who live in the vicinity.”

Community stability, social networks, reassurance, and security are people-centric, not infrastructure-centric, values.  However, the infrastructure helps to create and nurture these people-centric values.  Historic neighborhoods tend to be walkable and human-scaled, which encourages socializing among neighbors.  Many Hyde Parkers cite these features among the reasons they live here.  Contemporary, car-centric neighborhoods lack the amenities that encourage social interaction among neighbors.  “Renewed interest in traditional design techniques stems in part from the failure of modern city planning to reproduce the livability of many older neighborhoods.”  (Bothwell, Stephanie E., Gindroz, Raymond, and Lang, Robert E. (1998), “Restoring Community through Traditional Neighborhood Design: A Case Study of Diggs Town Public Housing,” Housing Policy Debate 9(i):89-114.)

The study cited immediately above describes the improvement in neighborliness among the residents of a public housing development when traditional neighborhood design principles were applied to their development.  “In this study, we find that traditional structure…promotes social interactions that lead to the formation of social capital.”(Bothwell)  “Social capital refers to the norms and networks of civic society that lubricate cooperative action among both citizens and their institutions.”  (Putnam, Robert. (1998), Forward to Housing Policy Debate 9(i): v-viii.)

By way of anecdotal evidence, I look at my own block.  One of my neighbors mows the grass for his older neighbor whenever he mows his own.  Neighbors up the street organized Hyde Park’s first Egg Scramble.  At least three neighbors on my block helped me out with food and animal care when I was recovering from surgery.

Mr. Gilg criticizes the neighborhood association for “suing the city for not prohibiting neighbors from exercising property rights that exist elsewhere in Austin,” referring to the demolition of the Bradford-Nohra house.  But the freedom to demolish at will and to replace without restrictions in present-day Central Austin is not likely to produce houses that promote community.  Every superduplex or McMansion that replaces a traditional house diminishes the livability of a neighborhood.  Neighborhoods consisting of superduplexes and McMansions don’t have Fire Station Festivals, Egg Scrambles, It’s My Park! Days, potlucks, game nights, and ice cream socials.

Put simply, historic preservation “makes people matter.”  By preserving the infrastructure, it provides the tools that increase neighborliness and community.

–Lorre Weidlich, former LHD Chair

With thanks to Adrian Skinner, David Conner, Karen McGraw, Kevin Heyburn, and John Williams for their assistance.  However, the final article is my own and represents my viewpoint only, not any other individual or organization.

Around And About The Avenues – March 2014

Calling All to Their Civic Duty:  If you haven’t done so already, please vote in the upcoming party primaries on Tuesday March 4.   A guide for voters is available online at the League of Women Voters’ website.

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Attention Gardeners:  On April 5, Mayfield Park will host Trowel & Error, an annual spring event that attracts gardeners from all over Central Texas to hear experts give time-tested tips for beautiful gardens.  Sponsored by Friends of the Parks of Austin, it will feature three dynamic and knowledgeable garden experts:  Amanda Moon (Heat and Drought Tolerant Plants You May Not Have Heard Of (Or Thought of Using)), Jay White (Fence Me In—Selecting the Proper Support for Tomatoes), and Patty Leander (Go Vertical in the Garden with Climbing, Vining and Twining Vegetables).  Attendees relax among gregarious peafowl, towering palms, flowering trees and ponds filled with lilies and for only a $5.00 donation!  

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Rainforest Partnership:  This nonprofit, founded and directed by neighbor Niyanta Spelman, will hold its annual Films for the Forest event on March 10 as a part of SXSW Community Film Screenings in the Marchesa Theater.

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Help Keep Austin Beautiful: This year’s Clean Sweep event will be held from 9 – 11:00 a.m. on Saturday April 12, with a volunteer appreciation party afterwards.  At least one Hyde Park-area cleanup has already been registered (Waller Creek between 45th and 51st.).  One can register to participate in or lead a cleanup.  The first 2,000 volunteers to register are eligible to receive free Clean Sweep T-shirts.

—Lisa Harris

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New Summer Camp for the Visual Arts: The Elisabet Ney Museum is introducing a new one-week summer camp designed to teach children ages 11 – 13 innovative approaches to understanding and utilizing visual literacy.  Activities will promote storytelling, conceptual practices and object-centered learning.  Participants will also be able to develop pictorial narratives, build sculptural installations and visit other museums and landmarks.  Session 1 is the week of 7/7; Session 2, the week of 7/21.  Registration is now open; space is limited.

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Lifetime Learning Activities:  The Osher Lifetime Learning Institute (OLLI) at the University of Texas has five programs with three six-week terms of lectures, seminars, tours, and social activities during the academic year.  These five programs (LAMP, Sage, Quest, Nova, and Forum) have reasonable yearly fees of about $200 – $300, and are a good resource for older adults to stay intellectually stimulated and link up with other interesting and talented individuals.  Registration for 2014-5 starts on April 7, when those on prospective member list will be sent an email informing them of how to register.  Be aware that places can fill up very quickly.  To find out more information, compare the five programs, and add your name to prospective member list, visit The Osher Lifetime Learning Institute.  In the interests of full disclosure, the editor of The Pecan Press will be serving as the chair next year of LAMP, which is the oldest and largest (500 members) of the five programs.

It’s My Park Day: Saturday March 1, 2014

Annual Effort to Improve Shipe Park

Saturday, March 1st is “It’s My Park Day” at Shipe Park (and dozens of other parks throughout the City of Austin).  IMPD is the Austin Parks Foundation’s premier annual event which provides the framework and support for a day of community service to improve Austin’s parks and green spaces.

Expecting over 100 neighborhood volunteers and a contingent of workers from the Austin Parks & Recreation Department, participants will spend their time at many of the following activities – spread dillo dirt in the open field area and seed with grass, aerate the trees, spread mulch, remove graffiti, paint benches, trashcans, picnic tables and reflecting poles, remove invasive species from the the creek, receive a free t-shirt, listen to live music, and a whole lot more.

shipe-sign

Once again, our hosts this year, Rhonda & Phillip Baird, would love to hear from you if you are interested in being a team leader. You can email Rhonda at rhonda@stikki.com

Visit the Austin Parks Foundation website to sign up for It’s My Park Day (It’s Shipe Park Day).   Volunteer registration begins on February 10th.

Hope to see y’all there

Interview with Merle Franke

Merle has the distinction of being one of the founders and the first president of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association.  Whether in his devotion to the neighborhood or in his work as an ordained Lutheran minister, he has led an admirable life of service.

Pecan Press: Your ministry brought you to Austin in 1964, but you didn’t move to Hyde Park until 1971.  What led to your move to this neighborhood?

Merle Franke: When Ginna, my wife, and I moved to Austin, we weren’t able to purchase a house large enough for our five school–aged schoolchildren.  We did, however, find a rental on 32nd Street very near to the church I was called to serve as pastor.  Later on, we found a suitable house for sale on Avenue D, which is where we have been living since Labor Day weekend of 1971.

Cropped PSd Merle_003

PP:Many current residents are quite unfamiliar with what Hyde Park was like in the 70’s.  What were your impressions?

MF: I often described Hyde Park as “a small Iowa town dropped down into Central Austin.”  Except that it desperately needed TLC.  Our house was typical in needing major repairs and upgrading.  A major negative impression was created by the destruction of grand old homes and their replacement with ugly square boxes called apartments.  There seemed to be no children or young families here. 

On the positive side, we saw the tremendous potential of the neighborhood once the destruction of past beauty could be stopped.  We felt that there must be other residents who felt the same way.

PP: Along with several others, you became committed to the idea of starting a neighborhood association.  What were the motivating factors, and who were the chief movers?

MF: I received a phone call from Janet Linder, a young woman who lived in Hyde Park and whom I had never met.  Long-time resident Dorothy Richter had suggested to Janet that she get in touch with me, because, she said, “You need someone dignified to get involved.”  Well, I chuckled at that.  I accepted Janet’s invitation to attend a meeting in Shipe Park of people interested in forming an association.  And thus in June of 1974, Ginna and I joined about six other people, and discussed the subject with considerable enthusiasm.

PP: In your discussion, did you know pretty much from the beginning what you wanted?

MF: Yes, our small group knew that we wanted Hyde Park to be a neighborhood, with a heavy emphasis on what “neighbor” means.  We were not in favor of a home-owners association because of some of the rigid rules that seem to apply in such associations. 

There were three factors I felt were important for the association: (1) avoiding being a “crisis” association that’s active only when a serious problem arises, (2) holding regular monthly meetings, and (3) regularly publishing a newsletter to be distributed to all residents in Hyde Park.

PP: How did you get neighbors to join in these efforts?

MF: Quite frankly I don’t recall how the word spread, but it certainly did.  At our next meeting we had about 20 people.  I wound up doing much of the talking, and was one of those who volunteered to draft a constitution and bylaws.  A larger group met a few weeks later.  One could just feel the growing pulse of enthusiasm.  Numerous people volunteered to serve on committees.  Neighbors young and old bonded in the process of working on a common dream.

As our numbers grew, we began meeting at the Church of Christ on Avenue B.  And at the October 1974 meeting, which I was conducting, the 40 or so people in attendance adopted a constitution and bylaws to great applause.  Then the inevitable further question arose:   “What needs to be done next?”  I hesitated to answer because I had a feeling what the result would be.  But I answered, “Elect officers,” which the group promptly accomplished.  And that’s how I became the first HPNA president.

PP: As the association’s first president, that must have been quite an exciting time for you.  What were your biggest challenges and accomplishments?

MF:     There were challenges aplenty.  We had to wake City Council up about what had happened to our grand old neighborhood, so we could get the city’s help in our plans.  There was the problem of seeing old houses—regardless of their condition—crushed by the blade of a bulldozer.  And we wanted to bring renters as well as home owners into the task of improving Hyde Park.  There was even a welcome, pleasant challenge: how to engage all the talented people who volunteered to help! 

As to accomplishments, seemingly all of a sudden Hyde Park drew the interest of home buyers and realtors.  We didn’t see any more bulldozers; we saved numerous houses and other structures from demolition.  The grand old Oliphant house is a good example.  A friend of mine who was one of my parishioners was at the time associated with a high-flying group buying old houses and replacing them with those box-like apartments.  On our way to a lunch meeting, he slowed down the car as we passed the Oliphant house and said, “Our group is going to buy and tear down that old wreck and build some slick apartments on that corner.”  His plan cratered: HPNA intervened and this grand old house is still there.

PP: After your time as president for three years, did you serve the association in other capacities?

MF: For a few years afterwards I edited the newsletter, which John Kerr had named the Pecan Press.  In its early years, it was rather primitive, with copies run off on a mimeograph machine.  In 1979, Grant agreed to take over editing responsibilities; he turned it into a much more impressive publication.  Ginna and I remained active in the monthly meetings and as docents in the annual homes tours.  In the mid-90’s I served as Homes Tour co-chair with Margot Thomas.  In the past several years I haven’t had much involvement in HPNA activities.  No reason for that other than my energies have been used in other directions.

PP:Let’s move on now to your life’s work.  What made you decide to become a minister?  What kind of work did you do for the Lutheran Church before you moved to Austin?

MF: As a teenager in Fargo, ND, I was strongly influenced by my pastor.  He was the main reason I decided to study for the Lutheran ministry.  Ordained in 1948, I served my first six years of ministry in the Virgin Islands.  From there I settled in Minneapolis where I organized two new congregations, serving as pastor of the second one.  From there I was called to serve on the national staff of our church for about 7 years. 

PP:What about your ministry work in Austin?

MF: In 1964 I returned to parish work, as pastor of First English Lutheran Church—not far from Hyde Park—on 30th and Whitis.  At the time there was much dissension in the country, Vietnam War being a big factor in that.  Change was in the air; and our congregation, like most others, had members who resisted it.  But all in all, my 20 years as pastor of the congregation were joyous ones, as members pitched in to bring the congregation into a new age.  I closed out my years in ministry as an assistant pastor in Westlake Hills and then as an interim pastor in 7 other Austin churches.

PP:What was most satisfying aspect of your work for the church?

MF: Simply put, to have the opportunity to help individuals and families experience a better, more meaningful life because of their being part of a community of faith.

PP: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

MF: Well, I should mention two avocations that have been very important to me.  Singing has been a big part of my life since I studied voice in college and graduate school.  I have sung with the Austin Singers and Conspirare Symphonic Chorus for 14 years. 

Then there’s my writing.  In addition to the writing I did in my role as a preacher, I’ve written volumes of free verse poetry and short stories, published 10 books, and have 5 manuscripts still on my shelves.  [For examples of his poems, see page XX.]  I even wrote a weekly column, “A Pastor Speaks Up” for the Austin American Statesman in the mid-60s.  The newspaper was a little more conservative than it is today, and I got a pink slip I think because I was a bit too liberal.

Conservation: Preservation As If People Mattered

The urban pioneers who rescued Hyde Park from inner-city decay in the 1970’s and 80’s realized that the power of a neighborhood lies in its community of neighbors: not ordinances, not legal defense funds, not the denigration of neighbors’ concerns, and not suing the city for not prohibiting neighbors from exercising property rights that exist elsewhere in Austin.  They supported innovation and creativity by their neighbors in their homesteads, took pride in the accomplishments of their neighbors’ efforts at renovation, and celebrated the fact that they were making things better and correcting past mistakes and inefficiencies in the built environment.

After a lively discussion of the 2014 budget at the January general Hyde Park Neighborhood Association (HPNA) meeting, an email appeared on the HPNA Steering Committee listserv proposing that the committee engage in a general discussion about the “non-preservation movement we saw at tonight’s general meeting.”  Without going into detail as to what prompted this suggestion, the phrase “non-preservation movement” is very provocative and deserves further consideration.

The word “preserve” has its roots in the Latin praeservare, to guard beforehand.  A closely related word, “conserve,” also shares Latin roots: conservare, to guard together.  These words have epitomized two diverging views for protecting the country’s natural resources for over 100 years.

conservation

The environmental community was once very particular in its wording.  The task of ensuring the protection of wilderness areas broke into two philosophical approaches which became defined as preservation and conservation.  Simply put, preservation is deemed necessary for an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man as an individual leaves “nothing but footprints”; the nature preserve, for example, is  managed by preservationists for the good of the land itself.  People are seen as intrusive and allowed to exist in the preserve only under special circumstances.  Conservation, on the other hand, is nicely encapsulated in the Forest Service mission statement: “caring for the land and serving people.”  People are not only welcome to visit, but are vital inhabitants and the stewards responsible for the long term health of the habitat.

These two philosophical approaches both seek to attain a long-term, sustainable environment by different means.  The same can be said of the debates over neighborhood protection in Hyde Park today.

Land use regulations (land development code, zoning districts, etc.) are developed by the government of the City of Austin to provide guidance and stability to the development process within the city.  In rewriting the land development code in 1982 (implemented in 1985), city leaders recognized that one size does not fit all when it comes to separate, distinct areas or neighborhoods within the city.  Therefore, the code contains provisions for neighborhood organizations to propose certain specific directives that supersede city regulations.  After proposal, review and debate, these directives may be adopted into ordinance by the City Council and, along with the citywide ordinances, become the official land development regulations for that area.

HPNA has adopted specific directives that are now codified in several ordinances, including a Neighborhood Plan (NP), a Neighborhood Conservation Combining District (NCCD), and a Local Historic District (LHD).  Without going into the details or the pros and cons of each ordinance, the guiding philosophy of these, especially the NCCD and the LHD, is a prevalent preservation mentality, where certain development rights allowed under citywide ordinances are not permitted within Hyde Park; beyond that, extraordinary land use limitations are imposed on homeowners if their property is deemed to be a “contributing structure” within the LHD boundaries.

The succession of documents through time has gotten progressively less and less about people and more and more about restricting people’s rights in support of retaining the existing housing stock.  A word search of our NP (adopted April 2000) turns up 17 instances of the word “people,” 27 occurrences of “neighbors,” and 9 instances of “child” or “children.”  Phrases like “people oriented district is a high priority,” “variety of people with common values,” and “preserve residential character” reinforce the idea that a primary purpose of the built environment of a good settlement is to support the basic human values of people who live there.  Goal Six of the NP is “Foster a genuine community of neighbors of every age and background.”  The only instances of the words “restrict” or “restriction” are in the section on the Hyde Park Baptist Church conceptual plan.  At this point, all seems well with the Hyde Park community.

However, the NCCD (adopted January 2002), which was intended to be the permitting ordinance for the NP, contains only a single instance of the word “person” (“a person may not reduce the parking spaces . . .”); no instances of such words as people, resident, child(ren), play(ground) or neighbor are to be found in this document.

The LHD regulations are embodied in The Hyde Park Preservation Plan and Design Standards document dated December 9, 2010.  There are only two instances of the word “person” (both limiting homeowners’ rights), and no instances of such words as neighbors, people, residents, citizens, man, woman or child.  The omission of any reference to people in these governing ordinances is stark.  The community life of the neighborhood is discounted by an exclusive emphasis on retaining the existing form, historical correctness, and materials of properties in Hyde Park.  This has had a disheartening effect on the neighborhood solidarity that HPNA worked hard to foster in the past.

The LHD finally tipped the balance of neighborhood protection strategies from a people-focus to an infrastructure-focus.  By including the majority of buildings in Hyde Park on the list of contributing structures, the district makes a mockery of historic preservation.  Requiring these contributing structures to meet extraordinary requirements to obtain a building permit implies that any change to the original facade that is different is, by definition, wrong.  And with no attempt to develop a narrative as to how the historic context contributes to neighborliness, the LHD is a counterproductive, weak and fraudulent substitute for an effective historic conservation program.  It exhibits an infuriating lack of trust in neighbors’ intelligence and commitment to community by relying on a city bureaucracy to judge the appropriateness of their renovation efforts.  While most neighbors highly value and support protection of truly historic properties, they scoff at the nondescript, recently remodeled or modernized structures that have been trumpeted as contributing to the historic district in the LHD.  It seems preposterous to imagine that those who deemed these structures to be contributors to the historic district could sit in judgment as to the historic value of a homeowner’s proposal for a renovation to his homestead.  But they do.

Historic and architectural preservation of Hyde Park has become a mantra, an unexamined concept simply accepted as a universal good.  Speaking out against a particular tenet that purports to provide neighborhood protection through preservation can be a lonely stance to take at an HPNA meeting.  When neighbors question the preservation decisions made at these meetings, they are often met with a statement to the effect of “If people aren’t happy with the decisions we make, well, they need to come to the meetings and vote.”  It is daunting for anyone, and especially those who are new to HPNA, to speak up at meetings, let alone vote against prevailing dogma—more so if they feel that they will be deemed heretical for their view.  One such experience can be enough to discourage a person from returning.

It would be a challenge for HPNA to take a conservation approach to neighborhood protection, trusting their neighbors to make wise decisions in maintaining Hyde Park as a good place for people to live, rather than developing ordinances that seek preservation for preservation’s sake.  But a conservation approach to neighborhood protection can bring out the best in a community, providing neighbors the opportunity to be creative stewards of their own environment, rather than embracing a list of “thou shalt nots” from a government bureaucracy.

Historic and architectural preservation threatens to become today’s urban equivalent of the suburban gated community, and the preservationists among us see themselves as keepers of the gate.  I’m not sure whether there is a non-preservation movement in Hyde Park; but if we ever want to return to a conservation approach to neighborhood protection, sign me up to help.

–Larry Gilg

Around and About the Avenues – February 2014

 Voice Your Views

As indicated in this month’s letter from the co-presidents on page 2, the Steering Committee is exploring ways to improve HPNA communications and needs to know how residents do receive and prefer to receive information.  Hyde Parkers are encouraged to help in this process by taking a few minutes to complete the short online survey.

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 Mark Your Calendars

The Second Annual Hyde Park Egg Scramble at Shipe Park will be on Saturday April 19th, 2014, 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.  Open to everyone in the neighborhood, this HPNA-sponsored event features refreshments and fun activities including egg hunts and a bouncy house!  Last year’s event was quite a success, and this year’s goal is to make it even more festive!

The egg hunt will be divided into the following age groups: (1) under 3, (2) 4 and 5, and (3) over 5.  If your child is going to participate, please drop off one dozen plastic eggs filled with age-appropriate treats any time between Saturday, April 12 and Friday, April 18 at the Rossomando/Williams house (4307 Avenue F) or the Luyet/Cabada house (4809 Eilers).  Bins marked by age group will be on the front porches.  Questions, comments, or interest in volunteering, please text Michelle Rossomando at 512-350-1095.  More details to follow closer to the event.

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Mark on Calendars II

This year, It’s My Park Day will be held at Shipe Park on Saturday, March 1, 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

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Big Challenge Ahead

A month or so ago, NPR did a segment on what the future of traffic in Austin will look like.  On the basis of computer modeling from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, the current rush-hour time of 45 minutes required to go the 19 miles from downtown to Round Rock is expected to grow to 2 hours and 30 minutes by 2035.  According to Tim Lomax, the director of the institute, avoiding this nightmare will require a massive shift to having people’s jobs be located within 6 or 7 miles of their homes.  Given what the NPR report perceived as Austin’s history of dealing with roads, density, and public transportation, it was not optimistic about the city’s ability to meet this challenge.

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 Space for Growing

Plots are now available in the Hyde Park Community Garden behind Hyde Park Christian Church at 610 E. 45th Street!  The annual $40 fee includes the garden plot, water, and access to the shared tool shed.  Email the Community Garden for more information or to sign up.  Also, neighbors should consider taking leaves from their yard to the garden’s compost pile, located next to the tool shed.  Leaves can be added to the current pile, or just left in bags next to it.  Those wanting help unloading their leaves should come by any Saturday at 3:00 p.m.

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New Opportunity for Adolescent Boys

Chartered by the Hyde Park Christian Church, a recently formed Boy Scout Troop (#610) currently consists of 10 scouts, supported by a very active adult membership.  If you have boys between the ages of 11 and 17 who are interested in joining, email the scout master, Travis Wheatley, or come by the church’s Fellowship Hall any Monday evening 7:15 – 8:15.  The troop is also undertaking a fundraising effort through sales of mulch and compost.  Email the troop directly to obtain more information or to preorder.

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Free Events at The Elizabet Ney Museum

On Saturday February 22, 1-4 p.m.: Celebrate Urban Birds!—an opportunity to explore avian navigation techniques through a homing pigeon demonstration.  Activities include gardening for birds, creating bird decoys and other bird-friendly topics.

Also, every Saturday in February, 10 a.m. to noon: instructed drawing classes!  Using The Elizabet Ney Museum’s sculptural works as inspiration, attendees will develop observational and conceptual skills through unique drawing exercises.  The museum provides all required materials, with trained staff offering constructive advice and guidance.