|Photo: William Hellermann|
|Nantucket style house that once stood on Partition Street near West Court Street|
In the past year, the Historic Preservation Commission has granted certificates of appropriateness to two projects that involved replacing original buildings on Partition Street--buildings that were constructed to serve as garages or carriage houses--with new buildings intended to be residential spaces. Granted Partition Street is a street not an alley, but in many ways it embodies the characteristics of an alley both in the nature of its buildings and in its principal use.
In February 2017, the HPC granted a certificate of appropriateness to replace an existing one-story garage behind 317 Union Street with a two-story residential unit with an attached garage. According to the applicant, the design of the new building was meant to be as much like the building it was replacing as possible. The first picture below is a Google Street View capture of the building that once stood on the site. The second picture shows the building that took its place.
Recently, the HPC was asked to grant a certificate of appropriateness for a project that involved the demolition of an accessory building in 400 block of Partition Street, behind 439 Union Street, and the construction on the site of a new building, which one member of the HPC described as a "generic modern building." The building to be demolished (shown below) was an early 20th-century garage which was perfectly sound for its intended use. The HPC initially denied a certificate of appropriateness.
When the applicant came back with a different design for the new building--one that replicated the existing building--the HPC granted a certificate of appropriateness for the demolition and new construction.
Replication, of course, is meant to preserve the integrity of a streetscape, but at what point does replication result in total loss of authenticity and character?
Last year, farther down Partition Street in the 200 block, folks wanted to build an accessory building behind their house on Allen Street. There had once been a building on the site, a very old and unusual building, but it had been demolished by a previous owner almost twenty years ago, before there were historic preservation laws in Hudson. When their original plan to build a little barn with a gambrel roof was rejected by the HPC, the applicants came back with a new design that imitated an early 20th-century garage two doors up from their property.
The new building provides a starting point for imagining what Partition Street and the alleys would look like if all the original buildings were to be replaced with replicas. But this may be where we are heading.
The need for affordable housing and the desire of property owners to generate income from their property are driving an interest in converting structures in the alleys and along Partition Street into habitable dwellings. There is legislation now before the Common Council that would facilitate converting "rear yard" buildings into dwelling units by waiving the requirement for off-street parking for such units. Alderman Michael O'Hara (First Ward), who chairs the Common Council Legal Committee, talked about this legislation as a means to ease Hudson's housing shortage at the most recent Affordable Housing Hudson forum. You can access the video of that forum here. His comments about this legislation begin at 26:19.
The problem with this initiative was seen with the garage behind 439 Union Street. The buildings along Partition Street and the alleys are accessory buildings; they were not built to be residential dwellings. They typically do not have foundations, and a foundation is a present-day code requirement for buildings used as residences. It was argued that the garage behind 439 Union Street, perfectly sound as a garage, would not survive being lifted for a proper foundation to be constructed beneath it and then lowered onto that foundation. It's unlikely that any other 19th- or early 20th-century carriage or garage on Partition Street or in one of the alleys could survive it either.
So the likely consequence of encouraging people to convert historic accessory buildings along alleys into housing is the loss of these historic buildings, with the best outcome being having them replaced by replicas that would have none of the character and unconventional beauty of the originals.
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