- Properties that contribute to the character of the historic district shall be retained, with their historic features altered as little as possible;
- Any alteration of existing properties shall be compatible with their historic character, as well as with the surrounding district; and
- New construction shall be compatible with the district in which it is located.
The preservation law has been interpreted to apply to fences, but on a couple of issues, which are turning out to have significant impact on historic neighborhoods, the law seems to be silent. Those issues are curb cuts and retaining walls.
In a comment on this blog, former First Ward alderman David Marston sharply criticized a neighbor for his "suburban curb-cut driveway on one of Hudson's oldest blocks." On Friday, the Historic Preservation Commission accepted as a communication a complaint from another neighbor about the same curb cut and driveway and its inappropriateness in a historic district.
Although this particular curb cut has raised objections from the neighbors, it's hardly the first curb cut to be introduced into a historic district to provide off-street parking for a resident. According to Chapter A331-1 of the city code, all that is required to create a curb cut for a driveway or parking pad is permission from the Department of Public Works.
Because the assistant city attorney, who is counsel to the HPC, was not present on Friday, discussion of the complaint and how the HPC might respond was postponed until its next meeting, on August 10. If the HPC is going to consider the impact of curb cuts and driveways or parking pads in historic districts, it should also include retaining walls in that consideration.
When work on this retaining wall on Prospect Avenue at the end of Rossman Avenue commenced a month or so ago, I asked code enforcement Craig Haigh why it hadn't come before the Historic Preservation Commission. It was being constructed in a historic district and was affecting the character of the neighborhood. Haigh explained that retaining walls were considered landscaping, and landscaping was not within the purview of the HPC. He advised me that the preservation law would have to be amended if retaining walls were to require a certificate of appropriateness.
Curious, I searched Chapter 169 of the city code and located the words landscaping and wall. Each appears only once, in a seldom referred to section of definitions (Chapter 169-2) which was added in 2005, when the preservation law was "amended in its entirety." The word landscaping appears in the definition of the term exterior. (The underscoring is mine.)
EXTERIOR The architectural style, design, general arrangement and components of the outer surface of an improvement, as distinguished from the interior surfaces enclosed by said outer surfaces, including but not limited to the kind of texture of building materials and the type and style of windows, doors, lights, signs, sidewalks, landscaping and other exterior fixtures.
The word wall appears in the definition of improvement. (Again, the underscoring is mine.)
IMPROVEMENT A building, structure, pavement, parking facility, fence, gate, wall, sign or awning, work of art of other object constructed by humans.The defining statement in the preservation law about certificates of appropriateness begins (again the underscoring is mine): "A certificate of appropriateness is required to carry out any exterior alteration, additions, restoration, reconstruction, demolition, new construction. . . ." Could the two definitions cited, particularly the definition of exterior, be used to argue that retaining walls as well as curb cuts and parking pads should be the purview of the HPC?
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