By Chris Caraveo
The future of historical buildings remaining in the Rainey Street subdistrict is uncertain after Austin City Council proposed an amendment that will allow for developers to relocate the buildings in order to construct new ones.
The Rainey Street subdistrict is known as one of the first Mexican-American communities in Austin. Rainey Street is just off of Interstate 35, near Caesar Chavez Street. Austin recognized the subdistrict as one of the first Mexican-American communities in the city during the mid-1930s. The area is home to a series of historic bungalows and since the 1950s, Mexican-Americans mostly inhabited them.
But with the continued development of bars and high-rise buildings in the area, many of the buildings are run down and some residents have moved from the area.
This situation led developers to seek the demolition of the buildings. The developers submitted an application to remove six of the houses on Rainey Street, and bought out the lots where the homes are located. To counter this application, active citizens proposed that the homes be relocated.
The council proposed an amendment to Chapter 25-2 of the City Code which calls for the relocation of the buildings rather than their demolition.
The relocation will allow the buildings to be reused and prevent building materials from being sent to the landfills.
Developers will receive incentives for relocating the buildings outside of the Rainey Street subdistrict, according to the amendment. Developers earn points from the City of Austin if they comply to do certain tasks, such as installing benches, lights and new pavement, as well as if they relocate the historical landmarks. Once they accumulate 65 points, they can construct buildings past the height restrictions as a reward for improving the area.
Some people do not like the plan to just relocate the buildings. Though the proposed amendment calls for proper reuse once developers relocate the buildings, it has not been made clear how.
Paul Saldana, a longtime resident of Austin and president of Brisa Communications, attended the Austin City Council meeting on March 7. He said there have not been any discussions about preservation of the buildings, only about relocation.
Saldana’s work at Brisa Communications includes real estate consulting services for development and construction clients. He said that people in the community want some type of historical preservation plan to recognize the Hispanic influence in the area, which has been unrecognized.
“We all pride ourselves in the amount of diversity of our city, so we need to do something about preserving Mexican culture,” he said.
Juan Oyervides, a chair member on the Mexican American Cultural Center board, said that it is the MACC’s responsibility to help preserve homes in the Rainey Street area.
“This area is significant to the Mexican American community in Austin,” he said. “These homes are worth preserving because they have a lot of history and they represent memories for the Hispanic community.”
At the City Council meeting two people gave their testimony about preserving the landmarks on Rainey Street, even if the homes have to be relocated.
Richard DaFoe, a six-year resident of Austin and University of Texas graduate, voiced his displeasure over City Council’s actions concerning the issue.
“City Council needs to stop cowering and looking down at their notes and raise their eyes up to the citizens that make Austin what it is,” DaFoe said in front of the council.
DaFoe was focused on criticizing the council, and said that the council is not doing enough to protect its citizens.
“City Council cares about rolling out the red carpet for developers than about protecting what makes Austin weird,” he said.
Saldana and Oyervides proposed that something be done with homes in terms of both relocation and preservation. However, City Council does not want the homes to be relocated within the subdistrict, so elsewhere would have to suffice, though where is up for debate.
Oyervides said he wants to see the homes relocated as a group to another location near the area, but said that this option is unlikely to happen. He said he hopes that the homes can at least be relocated and be reused as housing.
Another possibility is for a non-profit organization to handle the preservation efforts of the homes, which could save taxpayers money. Saldana said that relocating the houses can cost $25,000, and to settle them on a new lot costs between $75,000 and $90,000.
Due to the uncertainty over how to resolve the issue about the homes, Saldana and DaFoe shared the same view that City Council should postpone any decision until a clearer and broader vision for Rainey Street is made.
The council voted to postpone the decision over the proposed amendment and will convene on Apr. 11 to further discuss this issue.