Old North Preservation Board

Preservation Board Meeting in Review

by Michael R. Allen

The Preservation Board meeting yesterday was short and pretty sweet. Credit is due to the current board members, who are a very thoughtful group on the whole who take their decisions seriously. The new members — David Richardson and Mike Killeen — are good fits for the board, and frequently make excellent points. Chairman Richard Callow continues to enrage haters by running the meetings effectively and efficiently while respecting the input of community members and applicants who testify. This is a good mix and creates the city’s only regular forum for the public discussion of urban design policy. Attendance from bloggers, architects and activists is steady. Now, if only the board could increase the scope of its powers and solidify its decisions against the trump card of aldermanic blighting ordinances!

Here are some of the highlights of yesterday’s meeting:

#5 Washington Terrace: Preliminary review of a plan to build a new house on one of the city’s finest private streets. The discussion on design was interesting, although it fell along predictable lines. Many residents turned out to testify because the local district ordinance stipulates that the trustees of Washington Terrace must approve plans before construction. That’s well and good, but not an appropriate covenant for the Preservation Board to uphold. There are courts of law for those fortunate enough to live on streets with restrictive covenants; the Preservation Board’s enabling ordinance does not allow it mediation powers in such instances, as Commissioner John Burse pointed out during the discussion. Deferring decision in this instance would set a bad precedent for future ambiguity. Fortunately, the Board voted 5-1 (with Anthony Robinson abstaining) to approve preliminary review so that the builder can begin to work with staff at the Cultural Resources Office on design details. While more difficult, the trustees will have to enforce their own restrictive covenants without using a design review board to do so. If the approval covenant is important to most residents, they will enforce it. Perhaps the local district ordinance for Washington Terrace should be amended to remove the separately-enforceable covenant clause, since there is no way the Preservation Board should be in the business of upholding anything other than municipal design ordinances.

2352 S. 11th: Your typical already-installed glass block basement window case. However, the appellant got in a good line when told that historically his basement windows would have had bars. “Historically, my house was boarded up,” he said. The Board voted 5-1 to uphold staff denial of his permit for glass block.

6811 and 6815 Magnolia: The owner of these two small frame cottages, contractor Joe Pauk, supposedly purchased them for rehab in December 2006 but quickly decided they were too far deteriorated for repairs. The houses are condemned by the city’s Building Division, but Pauk has not had a structural assessment save his own. The appeal was denied by a unanimous vote.

2605 and 2619-21 Hadley: Haven of Grace took a big step by agreeing to retain 2619-21 Hadley and motball it for future use. Executive Director Diane Berry announced this during her presentation; chairman Callow wisely asked her to state on the record her intention to also rehab the building. Citizen testimony from myself and Claire Nowak-Boyd followed, although the news of the compromise changed the direction. However, along with other residents we are still concerned about the long-term integrity of the Murphy-Blair National Historic District into which much of Old North falls. That district has lost around 60% of contributing resources since listed in January 1984, which comes down to roughly 370 historic buildings lost in less than 25 years. I still think that 2605 Hadley is savable, but I think that the good new design and density that Haven on Grace brings is important for the neighborhood. Under these circumstances, the compromise is fair.

Petition to designate the McKinley Heights neighborhood as a local historic district: Approved unanimously. The “opposition” that turned a previous public meeting on the matter into a circus did not show.