Lawsuit targets historic preservation program
Central Texas lawsuit argues historic preservation program too easily grants tax breaks
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Central Texas historic preservation program is being challenged because critics say it offers generous tax breaks to owners who don't adequately show whether they need the tax relief.
Arguments were heard Tuesday in district court in a dispute over whether landmark owners are proving they need an exemption for costly preservation efforts.
This year about 450 owners of historic homes in Austin have applied for the tax break. The city denied less than a dozen of the requests. Owners often submit exemption requests with brief descriptions of costs incurred to preserve buildings.
One applicant, for instance, wrote, "I give up development rights, denying me the ability to tear it down and build a skyscraper like my neighbors do."
But other cities including Dallas and Fort Worth require owners to do significant repairs or renovations before they can be eligible for a break. They also must provide receipts and checks showing work was done. Then they pay taxes only on the pre-renovation value of their homes for 10 years.
"We use (tax relief) as a tool to encourage restoration of these historic resources so that we don't lose them," Liz Casso, Fort Worth's historic preservation officer, told the Austin American-Statesman (http://bit.ly/12xG2MB ).
Austin officials say the city requires owners to maintain their historic properties and pass an annual inspection. A city spokesman said in a written statement that the city "has a robust process in place" to determine if historic buildings deserve tax breaks.
Austin over the past four decades has designated about 575 homes and commercial buildings as historic landmarks, making them eligible for annual tax breaks from the city and other entities such as the Austin school district.
Owners request the designation and agree to give up the right to tear down or dramatically redevelop their building.
The tax breaks are intended to help owners keep up historic buildings. But critics such as former Texas Monthly publisher Mike Levy say the exemptions go to too many wealthy residents who don't need them, and to homes of dubious historic merit. Levy is among the plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit in Austin.
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