Saturday, September 14, 2013

That Pesky Preservation Commission

There have been a few complaints about the Historic Preservation Commission in the rocky decade of its existence, which have, in the recent past, inspired Cappy Pierro and Doc Donahue to rail against the HPC at Common Council meetings and former mayor Rick Scalera to declare, whenever he gets the chance, that allowing the preservation law to be adopted was the worst mistake he ever made. Yesterday, an applicant appeared before the Historic Preservation Commission who is an example of someone who thinks the HPC is a thorn in his side.

Back in 2010, the same applicant came before the HPC, in September, wanting to replace all the windows in the Warren Street building that he and his wife had recently purchased. They had already acquired the windows--even brought one of them to City Hall to show the HPC. They were six-over-six vinyl windows with fake divided lights, and the HPC determined that they were inappropriate substitutes for the two-over-two wood windows being replaced. The HPC denied a certificate of appropriateness. 

The applicants argued they had already purchased the windows. They complained that the application for a certificate of appropriateness nowhere states that if you purchase materials or enter into a contract before you receive a certificate of appropriateness, you do so at your own risk. They tried to persuade the HPC that the new windows would look better than the old ones and seemed to reject the notion that the Historic Preservation Commission would care more about historic accuracy than appearance.

So three years later, the same owner of the same building was back before the HPC, wanting to replace only the three windows on the top floor of the building, and he seemed no less frustrated by his experience. The problem this time was that the application for a certificate of appropriateness clearly states, in boldface and underlined, that photographs must accompany an application:
Photos of the property must accompany the application. You must provide current photos of the property and historic photos if available. Drawings, including elevation drawings must be submitted of the proposed changes to the property. . . . Your application will be deemed incomplete if the requested photos and drawings are not included.
The only photograph that the applicant had was a single copy of this historic photograph, showing the stretch of Warren Street where his building is located in the aftermath of the Blizzard of 1888.

The windows, he said, were going to be handmade to replicate the windows that appear in the historic picture, but although he apparently had an estimate from the person who was going to make the windows, he had neither shop drawings of the proposed windows nor an image of the building with the new windows Photoshopped into place. As a consequence, as the application guidelines clearly warned would happen, the application was deemed incomplete, and the applicant was asked to return in October.

The applicant, who accused HPC architect member Jack Alvarez of yelling at him when Alvarez tried to explain why drawings of the windows indicating dimensions, configuration, and materials were required, left in a huff. His parting words: "I'll come back maybe. Maybe I'm just going to put the windows in."

Since someone may try to use this incident as evidence that the Historic Preservation Commission impedes home improvement efforts, Gossips decided to get the story out before that happens.


  1. Has the HPC vacancy caused by Scott Baldinger's resignation been filled? Is the mayor under any particular compunction to fill it in a timely way?

  2. Is there any financial assistance(low interest loans, tax break, etc.) from the City/State/Feds for property owners of historical buildings to follow the HPC guidelines/decisions?
    Are there penalties if one does not?
    Or is the HPC a toothless tiger?