The Montopolis Negro School Revisited
Last week’s meeting of the Austin Historic Landmark Commission was once again a wash. Only seven commissioners showed up, enough for a quorum but not enough for the supermajority required on the 500 Montopolis Drive matter. A supermajority is required because the present property owner opposes the historic landmarking of the school property. The item was postponed to a special called meeting tonight at 7:00 p.m. (19:00 for you world time folks).
Regrettably, city staff have declared public comment concerning this zoning case to be “closed” despite the fact that the item has been postponed multiple times and at least 2-3 commissionders have never heard the item due to their lack of attendance. That number goes up by one commissioner if the empty seat for Councilmember Sabino “Pio” Renteria is included; he has not made an appointment to this commission.
Had I been offered the opportunity to speak at tonight’s meeting, here is some of what I would have presented. There are two main points of emphasis I would have made:
- This property is a cultural landscape. The National Register guidelines, which the city claims to follow, require proper consideration of such landscapes.
- The city and county bear a heavy moral responsibility for their historical mistreatment of St. Edward’s Baptist church and the African-American property owners of 400 and 500 Montopolis Drive. Not only did the school district not return the land that was originally donated by the church in 1935, the city condemned the original location of the church in 1990 and took the property via eminent domain and sold it. In both cases it was David Willhoite who purchased the property.
Gentrification today relies on “the market” to change the race and class composition of neighborhoods. This looks to be more of an example of old fashioned municipal racism at work. You can download a copy of my presentation here:
After tonight this item will go on to the Planning Commission and then to the Austin City Council. I expect to be able to present this important material at those meetings because “public comment” is not as assiduously and self-servingly restricted there because people actually show up for meetings.