Historical Commission’s Architectural Committee tackles residential issues

In reviewing a quartet of projects that raised questions about exterior restorations and attendant roof replacements, and in one case, additions, today’s relatively brief Architectural Committee meeting once again showcased how fraught the issue of living in a historically-certified building can be for homeowners.

For no one was that brought to bear more clearly than the first applicant, who sought to re-stucco the exterior and replace a roof on his Girard Estates home. In between railing at the real estate agent whom he claimed had sold him the property without alerting him to his responsibilities, and the Commission for not producing pamphlets that delineate such requirements, he repeatedly stated how he could not afford to make some of the changes preferred by the Committee.

Primarily, the discussion of his case centered on his request to remove the building’s existing stucoo and replace it, and to do the same with the roof. In both issues, the Committee responded that he should replace the materials in kind, “Donald Trump did not buy the building,” he retorted. But he seemed reluctant to take their advice that in that case he simply repair the stucco and roof. The Committee recommended denial of the roof replacement and approval of the proposed stucco work, providing the stucco replacement matched the extant stucco and not the “popcorn” style the owner seemed intent on using.

The second case to come before the Committee concerned the building which houses the Center for Architecture, an individually designated 1902 structure in Chinatown. The condo association was seeking permission to repair the terra cotta cornice, including the go-ahead to remove one crumbling section at either end and replace them with stucco. A much more genteel debate centered on the possibility of erecting various kinds of scaffolding or repairing the cornice in place. Although it okayed repairing the cornice, the Committee recommended against removing the ends, deeming stucco an inadequate choice and suggesting a material such as fiberglass instead.

The most historic house of today’s agenda was an individually designated Queen Village residence dating from 1745. As has happened before in this neighborhood, the applicants were seeking permission to erect a two-story addition, citing their cramped space. And, as has happened before, the Committee recommended denying that request.

Chair Dominique Hawkins noted that home’s dimunitiveness was “part of its importance,” and that the “owners made a choice” when they decided to purchase the building. Committee member Nan Gutterman bemoaned the potential “loss of historic fabric” that would be necessitated during construction, while Committee members John Cluver and Shawn Evans demurred. “These houses have a history of evolving,” Cluver said. “They just have to be done sensitively.” Evans agreed, noting that while he agreed conceptually with the expansion, he hesitated to recommend approval without more information.

The final applicant sought to re-stucco the facade, as well as to add decorate flourishes like balconies, quoins, a trasnom, a planter, and a cornice to 1617 Lombard Street, in the Rit-Fit Historic District. Committee members appeared enthusiastic about the application, which sought to undo exterior changes to the 1840 building made during renovations in the 1960s and 1980s.

Ultimately, however, they recommended denial of the application as submitted, instead encouaged the applicant with suggested tinkerings they might consider before the full Commission meets on Dec. 9. Recommendations ranged from nixing the idea of the quoins to the depth and placement of the scorings to be etched into the stucco in its intent to resemble stone.

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