On Friday morning, it came time for the Historic Preservation Commission to vote on granting a certificate of appropriateness to a proposal for altering the garage at 829 Warren Street. The project started at the Planning Board in early July, where it was approved on the condition that it was granted a certificate of appropriateness from the HPC. The proposed alteration involved raising the height of the garage next to the house at 829 Warren Street to 19 feet.
The reasons for raising the roof of the garage were to increase the exhibition space (the garage is now the site of a periodically changing art installation) and to provide access through the garage (doors were to be added at the rear) to the backyard to store an RV.
In the discussion of the project, Miranda Barry opined that the decision before the HPC "isn't really a question of historic authenticity." The heightened garage, she said, "is going to stand out as a different type of architecture."
HPC chair Rick Rector reminded the members, "Our biggest criteria is compatibility."
Peggy Polenberg observed that the garage in its current configuration is "a unconforming structure in a historic neighborhood." It actually is not clear from the documents available online if this building is or is not a noncontributing structure in the Warren Street Historic District.
Phil Forman, a regular advocate for modern architecture as opposed to imitative design, discoursed, "My own opinion is that what they've done is pretty consistent with the 'Philadelphia guidelines' [Sense of Place: Design Guidelines for New Construction in Historic Districts published by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia]. It may not be perfectly compatible, but it ain't a bad thing either."
When the vote was taken, three members--Barry, Polenberg, and Forman--were in favor of granting a certificate of appropriateness, two--Rector and David Voorhees--were not. Because four affirmative votes--a majority of the body not a majority of the members present--are required to grant a certificate of appropriateness, approval of the project was denied. Rector explained to the applicants that they had the option of appealing the decision or bringing it back to the commission when all the members were present on the chance that at least one of the absent members would vote to approve.
Polenberg was not happy with the outcome and demanded to know from Voorhees and Rector, "What's your problem with it?" Voorhees justified his vote by saying that the proposed alteration of the garage was "ungainly and incompatible with the neighborhood." Rector characterized it was an architectural folly.
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