|Former Austin Historic Landmark Commission member Arif Panj testifies|
"Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?"
[Note: HB 3418 is the final bill under consideration here; our testimony can be found at the 2:44:20 mark.]
[Note II: Learn more about the history of this issue in Austin here and here and here.]
This afternoon, the Texas House committee on Urban Affairs heard HB 3418 (Elkins). Elkins' bill would create objective criteria for "historic" designations and require a 75% super-majority requirement for a city council to zone something historic against the property owners will. Abuses of historic designations to inhibit housing construction is a problem that has been growing in recent years in Austin that can spread statewide if the legislature doesn't nip it in the bud.
An important note: Rep. Elkins' bill only pertains to historical designations that are done against the property owners will. This bill has no impact on historic zoning when the property owner is in agreement. This bill only becomes relevant when a city (usually at the behest of a politically powerful neighborhood association)
One central Austin home-builder testified that the historic designation process delayed a project upon which he was working for nine months and added an additional $300k to the cost. That translated to an additional $10,000 per house for the final buyer. How many people will no longer be able to afford the house with the additional $10,000?!?
Former state rep Burt Solomons testified that neighborhood associations try to exhaust property owners by dragging out the time and expense involved in these processes. Another Austin resident testified that the City refused to allow tearing down a house that had been condemned as uninhabitable because it was zoned historic. We testified that the abuses are well documented and that the bill eliminates uncertainty (our one regret is that we neglected to mention the threat this poses to other cities if Austin is allowed to get away with it).
The highlight of the afternoon was the testimony of former Austin historic landmark commission member Arif Panju. Arif testified that in his two years on the historic landmark commission, he only saw "7 or 8" cases come before the commission where the property owner was in agreement with the designation. Likewise, Arif stated that historical zoning is being used to "keep people out" of neighborhood rather than any legitimate purpose.
As to the opponents: They were primarily bureaucrats from various urban "preservation" offices around the state. They said about what you would expect them to say about how there's no problem with anything they're doing and that we just don't understand the issue. Still, a couple remarks do stand out. One gentleman who used to work with the state preservation board opposed the bill and called for more funding for "training." Another opponent claimed there are 'trade-offs" involving private property rights when you move into an urban area.
Bottom Line: The bill was left pending, and a substitute is working its way through lege council, but it's a pleasant surprise to see the legislature take up this issue.