We've Moved

Ecology of Absence now resides at www.preservationresearch.com. Please change your links and feeds.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Preservation Board Meeting in Review

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 saveable, 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.


Unknown said...

I was unable to attend so thanks for the review. I'm afraid McKinnley Heights is going to end up using the very dated standards that most of local districts use. It would be so nice to have a modern standard that didn't rely so heavily on a "model example" because most likely the good models have already been razed.

Michael R. Allen said...

Excellent point, Steve. Reliance on a "model example" assumes that things don't change over time. A better ordinance would set standards of materials, form, proportion and setback that could be enforced clearly without a "model example."

Anonymous said...

Great, another neighborhood I won't be able to afford. I will be a second-time homebuyer later this year, and McKinley Heights appealed to me. It's close to Lafayette Square and Soulard but much more affordable. All I can say now is I'm glad I didn't get stuck with the added costs this ordinance will cause. The case of the glass blocks on the basement window in Soulard is case in point. The windows were previously BOARDED and they're BASEMENT windows. When this City can't even require a sidewalk to a new grocery store, but will require a rehabber to spend more on BASEMENT windows for a previously BOARDED house, there is less hope for our revival.

Anonymous said...

Okay, but about 5 Washington Terrace - the ordinance actually states that any design needs to be approved by the trustees before permits are issued. I don't see why upholding this ordinance is any different from upholding an ordinance stating that there shouldn't be glass blocks in the basement windows. If there are glass blocks, it doesn't get approved. Why should a design that hasn't even been shown to the trustees get the green light?

Michael R. Allen said...

Under section B, paragraph 5 of the Kingsbury-Washington Terrace Historic District Rehabilitation and New Construction Standards we find:

"Approval for construction and construction materials must, as hereinbefore mentioned, be obtained from the Trustees in writing before erection of or change in any structure."

In section forty of the preservation ordinance, we find this language:

"The Preservation Board may establish procedures for preliminary design review by the Cultural Resources Director and the staff of the Cultural Resources Office of proposed construction or Exterior Alterations where Landmark or Historic District standards may be expected to apply."

And then in section forty-one:

"No permit for any such construction, alteration or demolition shall be issued by the building commissioner unless the Cultural Resources Director shall have determined that the proposed work complies with the applicable Historic District or Landmark or Landmark site standards, or the Preservation Board or Cultural Resources Director has recommended that the application for permit be approved."

The ordinance seems to grant the Preservation Board authority to establish conduct for preliminary review of new construction in local districts that is *interpretive* in nature.

The Preservation Board seems to have the right to determine that a Deed of Indenture shall be enforced separately from the CRO review process. The local district ordinance in no way restricts enforcement to CRO and the Preservation Board; in fact, it's ultimate target is the Building Commissioner who must uphold its standards with final approval.

In this case, the Preservation Board majority thought that the start of preliminary review did not preclude the indenture from being enforced at another phase of the process. Board members listened to the concerns of trustees, considered them -- there was a lot of deliberation -- but ultimately made a different interpretation. Given that no permit was granted by the act, the majority thought that the indenture was not being violated. I agree.

There are still other phases to this review -- the CRO staff and the Building Division. The local district ordinance provisions still apply to their actions, and the way I read things CRO and the Building Commissioner should not approve the plans until the trustees have provided written approval of the plans.

Such ambiguities are why I favor revising all of the local district ordinances and a new, clearer preservation ordinance.

Michael R. Allen said...

It just occurred to me that the Preservation Board could also have approved preliminary review while stipulating that the trustees approve the design before CRO staff could sign off on the plans.

I still find deeds of indenture inappropriate for inclusion in *design* ordinances. Deed enforcement is for the courts to mediate, not a design review board.