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Council, residents divided on historic district for Blue Bonnet Hills

The Austin City Council voted 7-3 Thursday to take the first step toward creating a historic district for Blue Bonnet Hills, a pocket of about 100 Travis Heights homes where residents are locked in battle over whether such a district will protect their neighborhood’s character or saddle homeowners with intrusive rules.

But with the council almost as divided as the neighbors, it’s unclear whether the proposal can secure supermajority support from at least nine council members when it faces a final vote in August. A supermajority is needed when at least 20 percent of the residents have a petition in opposition.

Supporters of the historic designation described a decade-long process that was originally aimed at preserving the larger Travis Heights neighborhood. Blue Bonnet Hills homeowner Angela Reed said developers snapped up bungalows in Travis Heights, only to replace them with larger homes or multi-family properties.

“It fundamentally changed the character of our neighborhood,” Reed said. Because of how quickly Travis Heights homes were being torn down, Reed said the supporters of the historic designation decided to narrow their focus on Blue Bonnet Hills, a group of homes southeast of Fulmore Middle School.

Reed and other supporters argue that granting Blue Bonnet Hills historic status comes with protections that make it more difficult to tear down the older homes. The designation also requires homes to meet certain design standards for exterior changes, and the city provides some tax benefits, but only for homeowners who make improvements.

A sizable group of Blue Bonnet Hills homeowners opposes the historic district, though. Opponents argued the historic designation would actually quash their neighborhood’s “eclectic” style, objecting to the requirement that exterior changes would require an extra layer of city permission.

Some opponents also questioned the vote-taking process and whether a majority of property owners really supported the historic designation.

Michael Francis said he purchased his Blue Bonnet Hills home in August and intends to remodel it. He said his “no” vote for the district had been inaccurately recorded as a “no response” at one point. “It doesn’t give you a lot of confidence in the system,” Francis said.

Council Members Sabino “Pio” Renteria, Ellen Troxclair and Don Zimmerman voted against the historic designation on first reading Thursday, echoing some of the opponents’ concerns about additional restrictions being placed on residents’ homes. (Council Member Sheri Gallo was not present for the vote.)

While voting in favor of the district, Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Ann Kitchen also acknowledged those concerns and encouraged the residents to work together before the final vote to see if they could reach common ground.

Correction: This article has been updated to correct Michael Francis’ remodeling plans and the way in which his vote on the historic district was incorrectly recorded.

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