Saturday, August 27, 2016

Us and the Secretary of the Interior's Standards

On Friday, after a public hearing during which two members of the public argued against granting a certificate of appropriateness to the alterations proposed for 314 Union Street, one made a comment about making modern architecture "work well within its current surroundings," and another asked questions about the HPC's jurisdiction over alleys and the proposed project's visibility from Union Street, the Historic Preservation Commission unanimously voted to grant a certificate of appropriateness to the alterations proposed for 314 Union Street, with the following concessions on the part of the applicant:
  • Hardiplank siding, installed smooth side out and horizontally, would be used instead of corrugated metal siding installed vertically;
  • Double hung windows instead of single pane windows would be installed in a configuration that was more "traditional";
  • New "novelty siding" would be installed on the garage, and the windows on the garage would be double hung to match those on the addition to the house.
The following renderings show the fenestration for the addition that was originally proposed and the fenestration that was approved by the HPC. (Both renderings show the corrugated metal siding which was not improved by the HPC.)

To  justify their proposed changes, the applicants cited the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation--one of them in particular, which I can only infer was this one, No. 9:
New additions, exterior alteration, or related new construction shall not destroy historic materials that characterize the property. The new work shall be differentiated from the old and shall be compatible with the massing, size, and architectural features to protect the historic integrity of the property and its environment.
At some point in the discussion, HPC member Miranda Barry asked if the Secretary of the Interior's Standards--the national standards for historic preservation--were incorporated into Hudson's preservation law, because "our code does not include the paragraph the applicants are citing to justify what they are doing." HPC member Phil Forman took it upon himself to answer the question, delivering a lengthy response in which he suggested that the "Philadelphia standards," design guidelines published by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, were of equal importance to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards. Barry noted that Forman's response did not answer the question. No one on the HPC could answer the question adequately.

Barry's question is an important one. Back in 2009 or so, a disgruntled applicant for a certificate of appropriateness, who happened also to be a lawyer, maintained that the HPC's reference to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards to justify their decisions could not protect them from being accused of making arbitrary and capricious decisions because the standards where not explicitly referenced in Hudson's preservation law. This incident inspired the First Ward alderman at the time to bring the issue before the Common Council Legal Committee, proposing that Hudson's preservation law be amended to make explicit reference to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards. That initiative--even though it was argued that the City of Hudson could not become a Certified Local Government, a status with the potential to bring benefits to the City, if the HPC was not operating in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior's Standards--got no traction. At some point, the HPC voted to use the Secretary of Interior's Standards as their guide in decision making, but that vote was never memorialized anywhere, and no member of the current HPC has any recollection of it. It is high time this was remedied and the preservation law amended to make reference to the Secretary of the Interior's Standards.

1 comment:

  1. Cynthia Lambert offered this comment, although she accidentally posted it to "Community Then and Now":

    "As a lifelong preservationist, I have NEVER ascribed to the idea of an addition to a historic structure looking appreciably different than the original structure. Any addition should be harmonious and/or identical in style to the original. Most of us feel that way, and I don't know what harebrain originally suggested otherwise."

    I agree with Cynthia to an extent. The principle about differentiation was inspired by building additions that could not be readily distinguished from the original building. We have two notable examples here in Hudson: the extension to the Warren and Wetmore Hudson City Savings Institution building (now the DMV, etc.) where the county clerk's office is located and the west wing of 400 State Street. Both were added several decades after the original buildings were built and were not part of the original design, but that is not immediately clear to someone just looking at the buildings.

    What usually satisfies the differentiation requirement is an architectural hyphen to signal that what follows is later construction. The addition to the Columbia County courthouse is IMO a good example of what is meant by differentiation. Unfortunately, there are people on Hudson's Historic Preservation Commission who think that an addition must rise to the level of I. M. Pei's pyramid at the Louvre in order to meet the criteria of differentiation.