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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Modern Oakwood house sees its day in court

Posted by on Tue, Aug 26, 2014 at 4:57 PM

Those on both sides of the fight over a contemporary-style home under construction in the historic Oakwood district made their cases in Wake County Superior Court this week.  

Superior Court Judge Elaine Bushfan’s ruling—to come after a review of the evidence from both sides—will determine whether property owners Louis Cherry and Marsha Gordon will be allowed to continue building their house, which is currently around 80 percent done on the outside. 

Cherry's lawyer argued that a Board of Adjustment ruling reversing Cherry's Certificate of Appropriateness to build his “dream home” on a vacant lot should not be allowed to stand. Attorney Nick Fountain said the Board of Adjustment made an inappropriate ruling last winter on whether the design of the house was compatible with the characteristics of the historic Oakwood district.

The design had already been ruled "not incongruous" with the character of the neighborhood by the Raleigh Historic Development Commission in the fall of last year. Cherry and Gordon obtained a building permit soon after, and started work on their house.

The Board of Adjustment got involved when neighbor Gail Wiesner, whose house is across the street from the property at 516 Euclid Street, appealed the Raleigh Historic Development Commission’s decision.

Fountain says the role of the BOA was to determine whether the process the RHDC used to certify appropriateness of the design was correct. The RHDC is composed of mostly architects appointed by the City Council. Fountain—a former chair of the RHDC— called the RHDC a group of experts.

“(The BOA) were way out of their depth trying to throw architectural terms around and decide what styles are like and see if there is evidence (to support the design) or not,” Fountain told the court. “It is not up to the Board of Adjustment to prescribe style. It is up to the property owner to decide what style they want.”

Fountain and City attorney Dorothy Leapley spent a considerable amount of time justifying the design and its compatibility in Oakwood to the court. They say Oakwood is not frozen in time, but diverse and continually evolving.

“The Euclid area is different from other parts of Oakwood,” Leapley, who was put on the case by the City Council, told the judge. “The special character of Oakwood focuses on diversity of architecture. Each house in Oakwood was built as of its time.”

Wiesner’s attorney Andy Petesch argued that Wiesner had standing to bring the appeal and that the BOA decision should be allowed to stand.

He asked the court to allow consideration of two affidavits drawn up recently by Wiesner, outlining damages.

“In addition to Ms. Wiesner’s allegation that there would be financial impact, she also has alleged that there would be impact with respect to her enjoyment of her property, of her viewing vista and traffic,” Petesch told the judge. “Euclid Street is narrow and people coming to look at this oddball structure have added to issues with their privacy.”

Petesch said he does not agree that it is not the BOA’s place to intervene in what the RHDC has decided if the RHDC did not follow its own guidelines correctly.

John Silverstein, an attorney for the Board of Adjustments, echoed this argument.

Silverstein said the RHDC’s Certificate of Appropriateness committee cherry-picked elements from individual properties in Oakwood to find similarities with Cherry’s design, and approved the design on that basis.

“You have to look at contextual properties of the district,” Silverstein said. “Oakwood is a Victorian district. Unfortunately, the COA committee got caught up in identifying each of the elements (that make Cherry’s design compatible), not the combination of elements that would create the kind of architectural style that is the hallmark of Oakwood historic district.”

Check back with the INDY news blog for the judge’s ruling. 
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