When London resident Jess Rimer put all of her off days in one to go on vacation this November, many of her coworkers thought she was taking a much-needed breather to a warmer, more tropical locale. While Austin is certainly warmer, Rimer had a different motive in mind.
Rimer and her husband, Frank, set out on a long-awaited trek across multiple countries to visit family in Toronto and Austin just after the 18-month travel ban was lifted.
"Everyone's like, 'Oh, where are you going, somewhere sunny?' And I'm like, 'Well, yes'... but (it's for) family," Rimer said.
The year-and-a-half pandemic pause on nonessential travel for non-U.S citizens left many families suddenly cut off by borders. But many Zoom holidays later, thousands of long-separated loved ones had tearful reunions at airports across the country this week as the ban was lifted for vaccinated travelers.
Rimer came to Austin to spend a week with her stepdad Michael Langolf after spending years apart. Instead of planning something grand for the reunion, Rimes said the trio is looking to slow down and soak it all in.
Jess Rimes (left) and her husband Frank are visiting her stepdad Michael Langolf (right) after 18 months apart due to the travel ban. (Claire Partain/Austonia)
"In Canada, we were there for a few weeks, and it was literally nonstop to see family and friends," Rimer said. "It's kind of like one big trip now... I don't know when we'll be able to see each other next, (probably) next year when we have more vacation time."
Austin doctor Harry Thomas already has family visiting his Austin home. His parents, who hadn't seen his two young sons in two years, made it into town on Monday, the same day the ban was lifted.
The U.S. is lifting its travel ban on Monday.
Wasting no time, my parents—who haven't seen the grandkids in 2 years—arrive from London on Monday.
— Harry Thomas (@DrHarryThomas) November 7, 2021
Everything fell into place—the ban happened to be lifted on his oldest son's birthday, and his youngest son was finally able to connect with his grandparents after years apart.
Harry Thomas' (left) parents visited his young sons for the first time in years after the travel ban was lifted in November. (Harry Thomas)
"There's nothing to replace that in-person contact," Thomas said. "The last time they saw him, he was like a year old, so we weren't even sure what he'd be like, but somehow he just instantly connected. I think he kind of recognizes them as grandparents in life as opposed to on the screen."
Thomas' parents initially planned to come to the States back in July, when it was rumored that bans would be lifted before the onset of the third COVID surge. As a family of avid Austin FC fans, Thomas wanted to take them to a match, and with safety protocols in place—travelers that are non-U.S. citizens are required to be both vaccinated and receive a negative test before they can make it across—he plans on bringing them over again for a match as soon as possible.
"It was great! I'm happy they were able to come and everything went safely," Thomas said. "Now we're just reconnecting and spending time together."
As the ban was lifted, airports across the country awaited high traffic and long lines from travelers eager to see their loved ones after countless nights of FaceTime. While Austin-Bergstrom International Airport doesn't have specific stats on arrivals, ABIA's Sam Haynes said traffic has mostly leveled off since its record-breaking weekend when Formula 1's U.S. Grand Prix was in town.
The airport has recently made it easier for families to reunite with new international flights. British Airways resumed a nonstop service from Austin to London on Oct. 13, while American Airlines began nonstop service to Cancun, Mexico and San Juan, Puerto Rico on Oct. 7. American also added new nonstop destinations including Liberia, Costa Rica; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic; and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in early November.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.