Saturday, August 9, 2014

Friday Morning at the HPC

It was a full house for the Historic Preservation Commission's public hearing on 134-136 Warren Street. The HPC was receiving public comment prior to deciding on whether or not to grant a certificate of appropriateness to a proposal that involved creating a second storefront in a building that was originally exclusively residential.

Although the proposal before the HPC included the restoration of the building's exterior--replacing the 1860 windows, repairing or replacing the clapboard, repairing the mansard roof--Ferol Barton Blake, the designer for the project, asked the audience to focus on the proposed storefront. He explained that the design proposed was based on his research into storefronts created from 1820, when the house was built, to 1860, when the mansard roof and the two over two windows were added.

Some members of the audience asked about the scope of the work or questioned design decisions. Two homeowners on the 100 block of Warren Street expressed their concern about preserving the residential character of their block. Aside from comments about the sensitivity of the proposed storefront, the comments in support of the proposal had to do with economic development.

Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) expressed his opinion that converting 134 Warren Street to a storefront was "a wonderful idea that will have a beneficial effect." He went on to say that he wanted the HPC "to find a way to incorporate more retail space," urging that we should "move away from [ground floor] residential uses" on Warren Street.

Matthew Frederick, architect and author of the blog Hudson Urbanism, declared that he supported the project, although he quibbled with some of the details. "Anything you do that makes it more difficult," he told the HPC, "sends people out to Fairview Avenue and encourages sprawl."

Myron Polenberg, whose wife is a member of the HPC, began his comments by asking rhetorically, "When is economics not a consideration?" He then expressed his opinion that "all renovations should be allowed as long as they are aesthetically consistent with our historic look."

When the public hearing was closed, and the HPC began its deliberation, Tony Thompson noted that the 100 block was "the last early predominantly residential block on Warren Street." He then refocused the discussion: "The question is not 'Do we need more retail?' but 'Do we want to lose something that remains unique?'" He observed that the comments during the public hearing in support of the project all had to do with economics and made the point that "historic preservation itself has an economic value." He reminded his colleagues that "individual ideas of economic viability should not be part of the picture."

HPC chair Rick Rector defined the issue before the commission. "This is not about the design and its aesthetics. We are here to protect the historic integrity of a historic district." He argued that there can be a commercial use of the building without altering the building's facade and reminded the HPC that, according to Paul Kisselbrack, the property manager, there has been a commercial tenant in the ground floor of 134 Warren Street since 2002.

Miranda Barry, newly appointed to the HPC, observed that "it is not our place to decide if this block should become all commercial or all residential." Although it had been pointed out in the public hearing that the building was in a local, state, and National Register historic district and was one of the buildings that was part of the federally funded facade easement program in 1972, Barry wanted to know if the building was individually designated. "Do we know anything about the history of this building," she asked, "that makes it particularly historic?" It was confirmed by city attorney Carl Whitbeck, who serves as legal counsel to the HPC, that Hudson's preservation law affords no greater protection for buildings that are individually designated than for buildings that are contributing structures in historic districts.

When the vote was finally taken to grant a certificate of appropriateness, Peggy Polenberg and Phil Forman voted aye; Thompson, David Voorhees, Rector, and Barry voted no.

After the vote, which denied a certificate of appropriateness, Blake questioned if Thompson was still a member of the HPC. Thompson's term expired at the end of July, but although he has asked to be reappointed, Mayor William Hallenbeck has not made a decision about his reappointment. Since the mayor has been slow in making appointments to the HPC, last month, as the end of the terms of three members of the HPC approached, Whitbeck advised the members whose terms were expiring that they could continue serving until the mayor appointed their replacements.

The denial of a certificate of appropriateness raises the question of what will happen to the building. At the public hearing, the point was made repeatedly that anticipated income from the storefront would offset the cost of restoring the building, and it was suggested that the restoration of the building's exterior would not be undertaken if the storefront were not approved.

1 comment:

  1. Bad decision. Storefronts are essential to the commercial health and vitality of the block. Commercial business and storefronts below third street have been increasing for years. This has improved the quality of life and the neighborhood for the residences. Regulating the appearance of an installed storefront to maintain historical appropriateness and design is good. I don't think it should be the job of the commission to socially engineer the block, and decide whether or not additional storefronts should be allowed. This should be up to the individual property owner and the demand for the space.