Friday, May 8, 2015

The Fate of the Rooms With a View

At 9 o'clock this morning, all but one of the members of the Historic Preservation Commission made a site visit to Rossman Avenue to see firsthand the context of the new house proposed to be built at 11a Rossman Avenue.

When the HPC reconvened at 10 o'clock in City Hall, a certificate of appropriateness for 11a Rossman was one of the first matters to be considered. Because at the last HPC meeting, several members of the commission had expressed concerns about the proposed carport, saying that it "deadened the urban flow," detracted from the streetscape, and was not typical of the Northeast, the applicant had, in the intervening time, amended the proposal to eliminate the carport and submitted a revised rendering.

In their discussion, the HPC once again struggled with the issues of compatibility. Making reference to case studies in Sense of Place: Design Guidelines for New Construction in Historic Districts, a publication of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, HPC member Phil Forman asked the applicant and his architect if they had considered any other changes, besides eliminating the carport, "in acknowledgment of other buildings on Rossman." The answer was no. 

HPC member Miranda Barry, considering setback, opined, "It's not that the situation of the house couldn't work. It's neither a strikingly original design or one that blends." Architect member Chris Perry spoke at length about setback, enumerating the setbacks of all the houses on both sides of Rossman Avenue, concluding that the setbacks on the street were eclectic. He also noted that, on the issues of scale and setback, the proposed house was "clearly a lot smaller, and the setback is a lot greater." 

HPC chair Rick Rector reminded the commission that scale is the "No. 1 criterion" and observed that, in scale, the proposed building was "dramatically different from the surrounding properties." 

Perry noted that the Arts & Crafts bungalow at 3 Rossman Avenue is an "anomaly in scale, but it holds the street wall." Referring to the standards of compatibility, Perry said of the houses on the street, "Others are compliant in some respects but not others. This one [the proposed house] is compliant in none of them."

Before the vote was taken, Peggy Polenberg interjected, addressing her fellow HPC members, "This is related, even if you don't want to hear it. We didn't have a problem when [former HPC member] Tony Thompson wanted to built his black boxes on Willard Place," adding that she did not have a problem with them.

A motion to grant a certificate of appropriateness was then called for and seconded. Polenberg voted yes, to grant the certificate of appropriateness; the other six members--Gini Casasco, David Voorhees, Rector, Forman, Perry, and Barry--voted no. The certificate of appropriateness was denied.


  1. Thank you HPC! This project belongs out in the country on 5 acres. Definitely NOT on Rossman Avenue.

  2. yes! This house would form a startling break in the architecture on that street. If approved, the house would stand out like a broken tooth in an otherwise perfect smile.

  3. Thank goodness they had the good sense to deny this project. We have enough out of place architecture; we don't need to keep adding to it. Rossman is perfect the way it is.

  4. First, thank goodness the proposed dentist office was shot down - mwahhh! to the HPC.

    Second, I was surprised by the comment about 3 Rossman (full disclosure: that's MY house) being an "anomaly in scale". It sounds vaguely insulting, although I'm not sure what it means. Too big? Too small? Or what? Given that my house is almost identical to the house directly next door to it, as well as two more around the corner, I would argue instead that all of the other houses on my street are anomalies, insofar as each is one-of-a-kind.

    But, hey, all's well that ends.