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When BPR and Associates bought a group of homes from a bank in 2016, company officials sought to renovate the properties into habitable homes. Crews at 205 Lee St. NE installed energy-efficient vinyl windows in place of shattered panes and replaced rotted wood siding with vinyl siding.
The work ground to a halt, though, on May 3 when city officials realized the work was inconsistent with historic preservation standards mandated for the historic district. The Wilson Historic Preservation Commission discussed the project at a June 7 meeting, where members made a concession to allow vinyl windows on the side, but required the builders restore the original front windows and replace the vinyl siding with Hardie plank siding.
“If you look at a home built with Hardie plank and compare it to a house with vinyl siding, you can stand on the sidewalk and tell the difference,” Historic Preservation Commission Chairman Chip Futrell said Tuesday during a Board of Adjustment meeting reviewing the commission’s decision. “Vinyl siding looks artificial. It is usually put up where the seams show and it looks like a covering. Hardie plank siding has more of the characteristics of wood and that is why we [the commission] have allowed it.”
BPR and Associates appealed the Historic Preservation Commission’s decision in July and on Tuesday, the Board of Adjustment debated whether the facts of the case supported the commission’s decision. Attorney Will Farris said BPR and Associates purchased the home without realizing it was in a historic district, noting many of the surrounding houses have vinyl siding.
“In this case, you invested in a piece of property and that is what we need in this city. We need people to step up and do that,” said Board of Adjustment Chairman Bill Shreve. “The cost of doing it on a property like this is a lot. It is really expensive, but we just heard from staff that if we allow every property to not follow the standards, we won’t have any historic districts anymore.”
At the heart of the debate are elements of the Unified Development Ordinance stipulating that replacement materials match historic elements in “material, size, shape, thickness, profile and texture.” Futrell said the guidelines are national historic preservation standards with Hardie plank acceptable when wood siding is beyond salvage. According to the minutes from the June commission meeting, Farris understood the surrounding homes are not a reason to approve the appeal, but “we look at the incongruency as the characterization of the neighborhood and this particular area on Lee Street looks like it is inundated with [vinyl siding]. That’s not an excuse to approve [the request] but the applicants are trying to do something to make the home look better.”
Brooks Honeycutt with BPR and Associates said the wood siding was rotted to the point where it was not salvageable and the original windows were broken beyond repair.
“We were just trying to get the house livable and trying to upgrade the neighborhood,” he said. “We got into the renovation before we realized the historic standards were so rigorous. When we got into it, we realized it was cost-prohibitive to do what they wanted us to do.”
Shreve noted cost and return on investment could not be factored into the board’s decision even if it was the driving factor for the property owner. Farris said with the board upholding the commission’s requirements, demolition of the house is a definite possibility.
“The common sentiment is that it is easier to knock everything down or let it sit vacant,” Farris said after the meeting. “It does come down to the return on investment. And I understand what the Historic Preservation Commission is trying to accomplish, but sometimes it may be ineffective in those neighborhoods because the investment is not there.”
David Rief, an attorney for the city, noted a decision to bend the rules does not fall on volunteers serving on Wilson’s boards and commissions.
“You heard Farris say if the city doesn’t do something in this particular situation, the house would be demolished. Well, that isn’t a Historic Preservation Commission decision,” Rief said. “That is a policy decision to be made by the city council, not by the Historic Preservation Commission. That decision is not within their hands. They are bound by these standards and those are the guidelines they followed.”
The Fretz-Barnes House
The frame bungalow at 205 Lee St. NE was built in 1922 for Phillip and Hannah Fretz, the former who was an employee at Hackney Wagon Co. In the 1940s, Albert Barnes purchased the home and his family lived in the home until the late 1980s.