Two projects of interest came before the Historic Preservation Commission on Friday morning: Promenade Hill and 241 Columbia Street.
The plans for Promenade Hill appear not to have changed significantly from what was presented to the Common Council in October. The only change seems to be the addition of picnic tables in the play area and on the historic upper Promenade.
Gail Wittwer-Laird from Starr Whitehouse, who was presenting the project to the HPC, noted that the budget was inadequate to address the whole site, so Phase I will focus on improvements to the lower plaza, primarily to provide universal access to the promenade, a significant feat in itself, since the grade change from the street to Promenade Hill is 14.5 feet. Wittwer-Laird also noted that the current plaza, with its badly patched paving and maze of meaningless retaining walls, was "not a suitable front door to the historic promenade."
Because the materials have not been determined, the HPC could not grant a certificate of appropriateness to the plans for Promenade Hill, but they did give approval to the concept. A public hearing was tentatively scheduled for Friday, January 8, at which time it is expected that the issues of budget and materials will have been resolved, and the HPC will have the specific information needed to grant a certificate of appropriateness.
The proposed restoration of 241 Columbia Street was also before the HPC in Friday. It will be remembered that the owner of the building, Victoria Milne, said she would sell it if it was designated a local landmark, but it would seem she has had a change of heart. Interestingly, although the building was granted historic designation because it was the original house of worship for Shiloh Baptist Church, Milne has chosen to call the project "Columbia Lodge," acknowledging its use as the headquarters of Mount Carmel Lodge after Shiloh Baptist Church moved to the former synagogue on Warren Street in 1967.
As part of a weatherization project approved by the HPC in September, the vestibule, which was rotting and not original to the building, was removed. Now a certificate of appropriateness is being sought to do five things to the building:
- Lower the front entry door.
- Move the basement door to the left.
- Install windows in the cupola in the openings where there are now louvres.
- Add a greenhouse at the rear, which will provide ADA access to the building.
- Cover the stucco base of the building with wood siding.
Regarding covering the stucco with wood siding, HPC member Miranda Barry commented, "Part of the history of this building is that it is a simple aspirational building build in a kind of impossible spot." The high exposed foundation is testament to that.
Milne admitted that she was "on the fence" about the wood siding over the stucco, noting that "cladding the masonry humanizes the basement and makes it feel less like a clammy basement." She told the HPC that she felt strongly about the glass in the cupola and spoke of "celebrating one big gesture in this humble building." She also noted that louvres were used for temperature control and the windows proposed, which could be opened and closed remotely, would similarly be passive temperature management.
HPC member Hugh Biber spoke in support of the windows in the cupola, saying they would not only bring light into the interior but also emit light at night.
After the presentation, HPC chair Phil Forman allowed comments from three members of the public--Ronald Kopnicki, Matt McGhee, and Christabel Gough, the three people who have been the most outspoken and eloquent advocates for the historic significance of this building. Kopnicki requested that there be a public hearing before the HPC granted a certificate of appropriateness. McGhee protested that moving the basement door violates the original design of the building and suggested there was a window on the side of the building that could be converted into a door to the basement. He called lowering the entry door "an unfortunate move" and argued there was no code requirement that made it necessary to move the door. He suggested the stucco on the foundation be removed to reveal the local stone beneath. He too called for a public hearing. Gough wanted more detailed drawings of the front of the building as proposed.
Bohl raised the question of whether the applicant wanted concept approval or construction approval for the greenhouse. Forman noted that a "higher level of specs" would be needed before the HPC could consider granting a certificate of appropriateness. "We'll figure out the public hearing when they get more specificity." Milne argued that the meeting was a public hearing because members of the public had been permitted to speak. There was some talk of scheduling a public hearing on January 8, but code enforcement officer Craig Haigh said, "I don't know why a public hearing is even being discussed; it is an incomplete application." In the end, it was decided that the project would come back to the HPC at its next meeting on December 18.
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