The plan for repainting 529 Warren Street (pictured below) sparked a discussion at the Historic Preservation Commission meeting on Friday about the appropriate role of the HPC regarding paint on historic buildings.
The HPC currently does not opine on paint color. In 2003, when Hudson's preservation ordinance was originally adopted, jurisdiction over paint color was deliberately omitted because a prime fearmongering claim uttered by opponents of historic preservation, usually in horrified tones, was, "They're going to tell you what color you can paint your house." Because paint is not permanent and does not alter the historic fabric of a building, the HPC only intervenes when paint is being removed from masonry or being applied to masonry that has never before been painted, because both actions can damage historic materials.
Hudson today is quite a different place from what it was in 2003, and the plan for painting 529 Warren Street has raised the issue of paint and its use negatively impacting the historic character of Warren Street.
Craig Haigh, code enforcement officer, said he had known about this plan for painting 529 Warren Street for more than a month before it was brought to the attention of the HPC on Friday. He said he had studied the code and consulted with the city attorney to see if there was any legal basis for him to refer this to the HPC, but the conclusion was there was nothing in the code that addressed this. He also pointed out that a precedent had already been set for buildings whose colors and paint design disrupted the character of the streetscape. Examples cited during the course of the discussion were 249-251 Warren Street, which has been painted orange for more than a decade; 318 Warren Street, the location of Culture Cream; and 612 Warren Street, the art gallery called Shakespeare's Fulcrum.
HPC chair Phil Forman noted that amending the preservation ordinance, Chapter 169 of the city code, required an action of the Common Council and warned, "If we try to change one thing, they could change another." He argued that the HPC "has a very good compliance record" and cautioned against creating "something onerous." Similarly, HPC member Hugh Biber opined that "to add more on to the process" would be problematic "from a PR point of view" and suggested any attempt to regulate paint would be "opening the door to more problems than it's worth."
Architect member Chip Bohl proposed that the HPC create guidelines for paint. "We cannot, as a commission, begin to control color," Bohl told his colleagues. "What we can control is what is painted." Bohl suggested, "A good guideline is you don't paint one wall a bunch of different colors." That prompted HPC member Miranda Barry to ask rhetorically, "Do we really want to outlaw murals?" She later opined, "It is a first amendment issue."
Early on in the discussion, Polidoro recommended that the HPC form a working group to come up with a proposal regarding the use of paint in historic districts. In the end, it was decided they would look into how other communities with historic districts handled the issue of paint--both paint color and paint application patterns. Although the commission generally agreed on this course of action, no members of commission were appointed to the proposed working group.
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