Austin council delays move of historic home for UT student high-rise

The Austin City Council pumped the brakes Thursday on a plan to move a historic home in the West Campus neighborhood to make way for high-rise student housing.

The Dabney-Horne house, which was zoned historic in 1992, is protected by a restrictive covenant preventing its owner from moving it from its location at 507 W. 23rd St. next to the University Co-op parking garage — something developers have wanted to do for more than 25 years because of its proximity to the University of Texas campus.

Johnson Trube & Associates plans to build a 175-foot tower on an adjacent site with nearly 700 rooms for students to rent. It is working with the owner of the Dabney-Horne site to see if the historic home can be moved to provide more space for the residential tower.

But the council delayed the vote until next week to get clearer answers about its legal options with the restrictive covenant.

Council Member Kathie Tovo was concerned that the Dabney-Horne house would lose its historic status if it was moved, and she wanted to craft a provision that would allow the home to regain that status. She also wanted to discuss possibilities for saving the house at 901 Shoal Cliff Court that would be demolished to make way for the Dabney-Horne house.

Tovo also questioned the developer about the number of affordable units at the planned tower. Edward Johnson, of Johnson Trube & Associates, promised the 10 percent of the units, about 68 rooms, would be affordable under the University Neighborhood Overlay rules that provide greater density in exchange for some affordable units. But he declined to commit to an additional 10 percent of affordable units, instead opting to pay a designated fee into a fund.

However, the creation of more affordable housing was central to the argument for moving the historic building, Tovo said.

David Kanne owns the Dabney-Horne home, which houses his Austin City Realty office. Kanne said he spent $150,000 restoring the 2,969-square-foot wood frame house, which was home to one of UT’s first professors, Robert L. Dabney, who also served in the Confederate Army as a chaplain for Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.

He wants to move it a half-mile to 901 Shoal Cliff Court, next to a 1920s bungalow once owned by longtime UT track coach Clyde Littlefield and his wife, Henrietta. Kanne purchased both properties in November. A separate item before the council seeks historic zoning for Littlefield’s former home.

If the move goes through, the pair of homes would overlook Shoal Creek, in a neighborhood shared by the historic Maverick Miller House. Both would be restored under an agreement worked out among property owners, city staff and the Historic Landmark Commission, which supported the move in September.

After the Dabney-Horne home is moved, Kanne plans to sell the site on 23rd Street to Johnson Trube & Associates.

Opponents of the move said it would disrupt the historical context of the house, which is tied to location. Preservation Austin, an organization devoted to protecting the city’s cultural heritage, didn’t speak at the meeting but previously stated the case set a “bad precedent.”

“Simply because a property owner wants to develop a property in a different way does not seem to be a justifiable reason to wipe out that agreement,” President Alyson McGee said in a phone interview.

But Kanne said, with this deal, they will save two historic homes and increase affordable housing. The Dabney-Horne house would also be in a residential neighborhood, instead of surrounded by parking garages.

The Dabney-Horne house was previously owned by textbook and apparel retailer University Co-op, which used the house as an office.

At one point the Co-op obtained a relocation permit to move the house 12 feet over on the same site, which was granted in default when the Historic Landmark Commission failed to deny the request within a 75-day period. However, the council refused to remove the restrictive covenant blocking the relocation of the house. The Co-op eventually sold it to one developer, who sold it to another, who sold it to Kanne in June 2014.

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