After years of work on the part of advocates and in the face of some moderate opposition, Austin now has a new historic district.
The Austin City Council voted 8-3 last week to approve the creation of Aldridge Place Local Historic District—a fairly tiny patch of land and buildings dating from 1910 in Central Austin, located between Guadalupe Street on the west, Speedway on the east, 30th Street on the south, and 34th Street on the north. The measure was opposed by council members Jimmy Flannigan, Greg Casar, and Ellen Troxclair.
Although 75 percent of the area’s property owners supported creation of the district, and advocates had worked with the neighborhood for years to adjust design standards and other specifics of the proposal, its approval tapped into a larger debate over the historic districts in the city.
Those who opposed the Aldridge district specifically—both the council members and those who spoke during the citizen-communication portion of the meeting—expressed concern about such districts’ effects on Austin’s housing shortage, affordability, and future development, all of which are frequent arguments against historic districts in general. Some also mentioned the role that segregation played in the formation of Austin subdivisions.
In addition, some spoke specifically about the potential negative impact of Aldridge Place’s designation on student housing availability and costs, as the area is located just north of the University of Texas campus.
That proximity is, perhaps ironically, part of why Aldridge Place is considered historic. In addition to the fact that many of its historic homes were designed by prominent local architects in the early part of the 20th century, it has also been home to notable UT professors, administrators, and state officials over the decades.
Neighborhood representatives noted that it had worked to make sure accessory dwelling units and other measures that allow the creation of more density and maintain affordability continue to be allowed. (Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, who voted for the proposal, reminisced briefly about her time as student in an affordable garage apartment in the neighborhood, perhaps as a way of addressing concerns on the part of UT students.)
The district was approved on “all three readings,” which means that it did not need to be presented and voted on at three separate meetings, as is the case with many proposals that go before the council.
Aldridge Place will be Austin’s fourth local historic district, although there are many more neighborhoods that are listed in the National Register of Historic places, as well as a handful of city-designated—and one state-designated—cultural districts. All have a wide range of restrictions and protections, or lack thereof.