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Among the long list of project owners and designers requesting approval from the Historic and Design Review Commission (HDRC), at least two related to developments in the Dignowity Hill Historic District on the city’s near-Eastside demonstrate the nuanced and complex rulings of the Commission. Members approved one and tabled the other for very different reasons.

HDRC gave final approval for a single-family residence on a conjoined lot at 914 and 916 N. Mesquite St. The property owner, Michael Britt who works for Lake/Flato Architects, initially brought the design before HDRC in early September. At that time Britt was told to re-plat the entire lot to connect a guest house, or “accessory structure,” to the main house, which he had originally planned to build as an attached unit. HDRC requested that Britt connect the guesthouse to the main house for terminology reasons.

An aerial view of 914 and 916 N. Mesquite St. Courtesy image. Courtesy image.
An aerial view of 914 and 916 N. Mesquite St. Courtesy image. Courtesy image.

“(HDRC) asked me to re-plat the whole lot to create one lot with two separate structures because of the terms of saying a ‘primary structure’ versus an ‘accessory structure,’” Britt said. “After meeting with the City and talking about the complications and costs of re-platting, it seemed like we were pushing things a little bit too far just to make the terms match the buildings.”

In his rendering, Britt adjusted the guest house further back on the lot, as to not compete with the main house, and provided examples of other houses on Mesquite Street with guest houses located in similar positions.

The green boxes outline guest house positions in the neighborhood. Courtesy image.
The green boxes outline guest house positions in the neighborhood, set back from the street. Image courtesy of Michael Britt.

During the meeting six weeks ago, HDRC also was concerned about a narrow horizontal window on the façade of the house, stating the design did not match the character of the historic neighborhood. Britt replaced that window with a “picture-box window” to flow more seamlessly into the neighborhood.

The previous design for Michael Britt's single-family residence and guest house on a conjoined lot at 914 and 916 N. Mesquite St. Courtesy image.
The previous design for Michael Britt’s single-family residence and guest house on a conjoined lot at 914 and 916 N. Mesquite St. Courtesy image.

“It took six weeks to get through this and I think it is part of the process of HDRC that you are following the guidelines,” Britt said. “I think they did a good job.”

HDRC did not give conceptual approval for a three-unit, two-story townhouse at 810 N. Olive St. HDRC Chair Michael Guarino said the applicant and owner of the property, Stephen Green, did not send the application in time for proper review by the commission.

The empty lot at 810 N. Olive St. Photo by Scott Ball.
The empty lot at 810 N. Olive St. Photo by Scott Ball.

Green, who plans to live in one of the town homes and sell the remaining two units, was not present for the meeting on Wednesday. Porter Dillard of Dillard Architect Group and the applicant’s mother, Betty Green, stood in his place.

Commission members agreed with staff recommendations to not grant conceptual approval, for reasons including the setback and width of the property in regards to other structures in the neighborhood, the installation of wood windows, and the lack of information regarding garage door materials.

A rendering of the three-unit, two-story townhouse at 810 N. Olive St. Courtesy image.
A rendering of the three-unit, two-story townhouse at 810 N. Olive St. Courtesy image.

Dillard stated examples of houses in the neighborhood with similar widths to the townhouse structure, and added an example of a large, two-story house, on a nearby street that sits next to a smaller, one-story house, reflecting the relationship of the proposed townhouse to nearby homes. Although Dillard provided examples for the commission, Guarino said the application was not sent in time for himself and the other commissioners to review the changes before the meeting.

“It is getting really kind of rough,” Betty Green said. “I do hope that you would accept the conceptual design today.”

Shanon Miller, director of the Office of Historic Preservation, said adequate information regarding the width of the building was not included in the application.

“Based on what I’ve seen, I do not believe that the width being proposed is consistent with the pattern of the street or with the neighborhood as a whole,” Miller said.

Compared to the large size of the lot, Green said the size of the building is proportionate to the lot.

An aerial view of 810 N. Olive St. Courtesy image.
An aerial view of 810 N. Olive St. Courtesy image.

Miller addressed another issue that arises during HDRC meetings: applicants become frustrated when they repeatedly return to meetings for varying stages of approval.

“I think what sometimes happens is that people think that if you come back for conceptual approval enough that eventually you should get it,” Miller said. “But coming back with minor tweaks is not sufficient. That may or may not be the case in this particular instance.”

This is at least the second time the Greens have come before the Commission with adjusted plans, seeking approval to build townhomes on the last vacant lot that overlooks Dignowity and Lockwood parks.

Dillard asked the commission to provide issues and concerns all at one time so that he does not have to repeatedly return to HDRC meetings for conceptual approval.

“It gets a little bit frustrating,” he said.

The Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association supported the project.

“The lot has been vacant for 35 years and this will help put positive elements in that location,” Dillard said.

Liz Franklin of the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association Architectural Review Committee, was concerned with HDRC’s process of reviewing properties. She compared Green’s proposal to a four-unit complex at Dawson and North Mesquite streets that received conceptual approval from HDRC in early September.

“This project’s lot is six times as large as the (four-unit complex) property,” she said in regards to the commission’s concern about the width of the proposed building. “If you give conceptual approval for that project … then you have to give consideration for this one in order to be fair and transparent.”

*Top image: An aerial view of 810 N. Olive St. Courtesy image. 

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Joan Vinson

Former Rivard Report Assistant Editor Joan Vinson is a San Antonio native who graduated from The University of Texas with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She's a yoga fanatic and an adventurer at heart....