Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Legacy of a Bad Decision

Among the projects that came before the Historic Preservation Commission on Friday morning was a proposal to replace the windows in the "curate's apartment" at Christ Church Episcopal. Presenting the proposal on behalf of the church was Jamison Teale, who was once the chair of the Historic Preservation Commission. Teale's presence wasn't the only throwback to an earlier time in the HPC's history. In this instance, the HPC felt bound by a bad call made in the past by former code enforcement officer Peter Wurster.

The windows being proposed were vinyl clad windows, which the HPC is typically loath to approve, especially when they are replacing a building's original wood windows. In this case, however, there already are vinyl clad windows in the building, in the part of the building that is the rector's residence, which were installed, according to Teale, "four or five years ago." The redeeming fact about the proposed vinyl clad windows, and the ones already there, is that the vinyl cladding is "bronze" instead of white, which is typical for vinyl windows.

Teale explained that when the installation of the first group of vinyl clad windows was proposed, Wurster made the determination that replacing the windows did not require a certificate of appropriateness from the HPC. Teale spoke of "like for like," so it may have been that the vinyl clad windows installed in 2009 or 2010 were replacing vinyl clad windows that had been installed earlier, before the Union-Allen-South Front Street Historic District, of which the church is a part, was created in 2006 and before the entire church complex was, at the church's request, individually designated as a local landmark in 2005. (An interesting footnote: This part of the church complex is identified as "Non-contributing" in the designation document because, built from 1966 to 1967, it was not yet fifty years old in 2005 and is still a few years shy of that historic preservation threshold.)   

During the discussion, Alvarez pointed out that the rectory at Christ Church is architecturally an important building. It was designed by Edgar Tafel, a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright. He noted that the plan to replace casement windows with "sliders" would alter the contours of those windows. He was also concerned that, in approving these windows, the HPC would be "setting a precedent for approving anything vinyl." 

HPC member Tony Thompson shared Alvarez's concern about precedent, wanting the language of the certificate of appropriateness to explain the special circumstances under which the HPC was approving the installation of vinyl windows in this instance so that no one would have the expectation that if the HPC approved them in this situation they would always be approved. HPC chair Rick Rector insisted that there is no precedent with the HPC. Each application that comes before them is judged on its own merits.

In the end, the HPC voted to direct its legal counsel to prepare a certificate of appropriateness for the vinyl clad replacement windows. Of the six members of the HPC, only Alvarez voted nay.

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