Monday, May 13, 2013

Historic Preservation Decisions of Note

The meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission on Friday morning lasted well over two hours and involved some important projects and some notable decisions. Eventually, Gossips will cover all of them, but for now, the focus will be on only three.

Even after all the efforts by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Preservation League of New York State to get people to value pre-World War II wood windows and realize their irreplaceable nature, and in spite of the evidence of the small advantage and short life span of replacement windows, the first thing people still think of when seeking to eliminate drafts and increase energy efficiency is to replace old wood windows.

On Friday, Paul Barrett was at the HPC meeting, seeking a certificate of appropriateness to install replacement windows on the third floor of 251 Allen Street, now the Country Squire Bed & Breakfast. In the discussion of the project with members of the HPC, it was revealed that the house still had all of its original windows. Architect member Jack Alvarez commented, "Every window in this house is authentic, and it pains me to introduce replacement windows." He made the point that "75 to 80 percent of efficiency is airtightness" and asked Barrett about caulking and weather stripping. Barrett explained that he had implemented some repairs and improvements himself and concluded, "They are as good as they are going to get, and they're still not good enough."

When it came time for the HPC to vote on granting a certificate of appropriateness, three members (Rick Rector, Phil Forman, and Peggy Polenberg) voted to approve the request, and four members (Alvarez, Tony Thompson, David Voorhees, and Scott Baldinger) voted to deny it. Barrett was urged to seek professional help in restoring the original windows and, if that failed, to propose authentically made wood windows that accurately reproduced the originals.

On the topic of original wood windows, Jack Alvarez will soon be conducting a workshop in Hudson, sponsored by Historic Hudson, on repairing and restoring old wood windows to preserve them and to improve energy efficiency.

Two other decisions made by the HPC on Friday will have a significant impact the 100 block of Union Street. The projects, although closely related and indeed interdependent, were considered by the HPC separately. Cheryl Roberts, legal counsel to the HPC, recused herself during the consideration because of some unspecified connection with one or both of the applicants. 

The first certificate of appropriateness sought was for the demolition of the surviving 18th-century brick wall at 126 Union Street. After reviewing the circumstances leading to the demolition of the rest of the house with Bill Ebel, who represented the Historic Restoration Foundation, the not-for-profit formed twenty years ago to take ownership of the building and undertake its restoration, the HPC briefly considered alternatives to demolishing the wall. Tony Thompson suggested that "with modern materials, the wall could be stabilized and incorporated into whatever comes next." Alvarez, however, pointed out that water has gotten into the wall for twenty years. "Had there been stabilization," said Alvarez, "we could have had a more meaningful discussion [about incorporating the wall into new construction]."

When it came time to vote on granting a certificate of appropriateness for the demolition, three members of the HPC (Rector, Forman, and Polenberg) voted aye, three members (Alvarez, Baldinger, and Voorhees) voted nay, and one member (Thompson) abstained. A certificate of appropriateness requires a majority, and the tie, with one abstention, was sufficient to prevent the demolition. Thompson then changed his vote from an abstention to aye, explaining later that he didn't want to "impede progress."

A certificate of appropriateness was also sought for a related project: to demolish 124 Union Street, the house for which the brick wall is one of the side walls, and build an addition to 122 Union Street on its site. A structural engineer speaking on behalf of the applicant, Elsa Leviseur, recited a litany of abuses the house had suffered to prove that there was "nothing historical" about it and to justify demolishing it. At that point, however, it all seemed moot, since the HPC had already voted to permit the demolition of the building's east wall. The proposed design for the addition to 122 Union Street, however, did generate some discussion.

HPC member Scott Baldinger objected to the setback, saying that it broke the streetscape. In this situation, however, there are two principles to be considered: the one, which Baldinger was evoking, calls for new construction to conform with the existing setbacks; another prescribes that additions to existing houses be clearly subordinate to the original structure. The design for the proposed addition meets the second criterion, and there are four historic precedents within a block of its location.

30 South Second Street
34 South Second Street
25 Union Street
17 Union Street
Declaring that he thought that the design "was appropriate to the neighborhood and appropriate to Hudson," Forman made a motion to accept the application as complete and to direct HPC counsel to prepare a certificate of appropriateness for the project. Although, in the voice vote that followed, it was not clear to this observer who voted for it or who voted against it, the motion carried and a certificate of appropriateness will be granted.

1 comment:

  1. Wood Framed windows are meant to have storm windows too.

    Interior storms - simple and light to handle - are available for those who want to retain wood framed windows.