Sunday, May 11, 2014

If at First You Don't Succeed, Try, Try Again

That's clearly the philosophy of the Galvan Initiatives Foundation when it comes to projects before the Historic Preservation Commission, notwithstanding what Einstein had to say about doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. In April 2013, Galvan, then represented by Ward Hamilton, presented to the HPC a proposal for 113 Union Street. At that time, it was determined that the application was incomplete because the plans did not indicate how far the proposed portico would project onto the sidewalk.

Although the setback was the reason the application was incomplete, the HPC had other issues with what was proposed. The four over four windows were considered inappropriate for a house of this period, as were the ornate cast iron railings on the portico. In 2013, Hamilton argued unsuccessfully that the railings were compatible with the neighborhood because they were found on houses across the street. Of course, those houses were built by Galvan, and the ornate railings on the porticoes were not what had been given a certificate of appropriateness. Cheryl Roberts, then HPC counsel, made it clear that anything that was a departure from the design that had been granted a certificate of appropriateness could not be used to establish precedent and support the compatibility of any future proposal.

The porticoes that received a certificate of appropriateness

The porticoes as they actually exist
On Friday, 113 Union Street was back before the Historic Preservation Commission. The proposal for the building was exactly the same as it had been in 2013 except for two things: the depth of the portico--its projection onto the sidewalk--had been reduced from 5 feet 9 inches to just 5 feet to meet code requirements, and Charles Vieni, highway engineer turned Galvan architectural consultant, was presenting the project. 

HPC architect member Jack Alvarez expressed the opinion, as he had more than a year ago, that because of the house's date of construction and Italianate cornice, four over four windows were inappropriate. What would be appropriate for a house of that style and period would be two over two or one over one windows. Vieni said he would "check with the owner," adding that the owner "prefers" four over four. When it was pointed out that the ornate iron railings were inappropriate, Vieni claimed there was precedent for such railings in Hudson, although he could not be specific about the buildings on which they were found. 

HPC member Phil Forman, who often takes it upon himself to explicate the salient issues when he thinks the discussion has gotten into the weeds, delivered a discourse on period of significance, talking of when it "makes perfect sense" to consider it and when "the logic is not that strong" to do so, ultimately concluding that "anything is better than what's there now." Alvarez countered, "That is not a license to do whatever you want."

In the end, it was decided, in the vote of four to two (the four being Alvarez, Rick Rector, David Voorhees, and Tony Thompson; the two Forman and Peggy Polenberg), that the application was incomplete. The applicant was asked to supply a historic picture of the house and photos of similar metal railings in Hudson and to consider two over two windows instead of four over four. HPC chair Rick Rector indicated that a decision would be made about the railings based on the photographic evidence.

On the issue of railings, it seemed to this observer, that the basic concern was whether or not metal railings were appropriate for a wood house, but it would seem that design as well as material should be considered. Although cast iron and wrought iron elements are part of the historic fabric of several houses in Hudson, there are no examples, save on 102 and 104 Union Street, of railings of such ornate design, which David Voorhees described, back in April 2013, as "New Orleans style."

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