This post has been updated to reflect the court decision announced yesterday.
Superior Court Judge Elaine Bushfan announced yesterday that she will rule in favor of a contemporary home in the Historic Oakwood district—a controversial topic between historical preservationists and modernists in the area for nearly a year now. This could mean that construction of the home will be completed, which has been halted since last November, and allow for local architect Louis Cherry, FAIA, and his wife Marsha Gordon to move in.
Last September, the Raleigh Historic Development Commission (RHDC) granted Cherry the necessary certification to build the house on Euclid Street. The neighborhood, Raleigh’s oldest and largest historical district, attracted the couple with its sense of community. Construction began a month later, but was halted due to an appeal filed by the couple’s neighbor across the street, Gail Wiesner, who objected to their home’s modern aesthetic. The house stood incomplete and faced possible alterations and demolition.
Wiesner, a real estate agent, said the new house did not coincide with the Oakwood district’s historical character and even threatened the value of her own home if she were to resell, according to Allison Arieff’s article. In November, Wiesner and her attorney appealed the ruling granted by the RHDC to the Board of Adjustment (BOA), a committee within the RHDC which reviews other city agencies’ decisions to ensure validity. For the next four months, Wiesner filed more appeals and presented for several hours at the BOA. In February, the BOA reversed the RHDC’s approval, deciding that the historical commission failed to properly apply the appropriate guidelines for the construction of Cherry and Gordon’s house.
Per the RHDC Design Guidelines, Section 4.3 states:
New construction within a historic district can enhance the existing district character if the proposed design and its sitting reflect an understanding of and a compatibility with the distinctive character of the district setting and buildings. In fact, the introduction of a compatible but contemporary new construction project can add depth and contribute interest to the district.
Cherry’s proposal that was first accepted, cites this specific portion of the RHDC Design Guidelines, and even goes on to address how his construction would add to the “architectural philosophy” of the neighborhood and enhance it by integrating diversity.
The reversal by the BOA, official as of March 10, revoked Cherry’s construction permits. Ten days later, city officials announced they would appeal that very reversal by the BOA because their ruling failed to establish if Wiesner has legal standing to challenge Cherry’s permits on the basis of his home affecting her property values. Although construction remains halted, Cherry and Gordon obtained an injunction in April from Superior Court to complete waterproofing for the house to prevent damage, though they expected to move in by May.
Since then, the story has picked up national and international coverage, featured on the The TODAY Show, Huffington Post, and the Daily Mail. Vincent Scully Prize-winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger, Hon. AIA, says Cherry “is sympathetic to the design guidelines” in his Vanity Fair article, calling the house “an example of modern architecture trying hard, very hard, to be on its best manners—in essence, to be a good neighbor.” Allison Arieff, content strategist for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), and editor of its magazine, The Urbanist, calls the house “modern but modestly so.”
On August 25 and 26 the case went to Wake County Super court, to decide if the BOA was evenhanded in overturning the RHDC’s approval. To ensure fairness, Judge Elaine Bushfan was brought in from Durham, a neighboring city of Raleigh.
Concern about a lack of consistency in the neighborhood’s style was sparked last August, when another set of neighbors completed a modern addition to the back of their historic Victorian-style home.
The neighborhood’s houses consist of a variety of styles and eras, ranging from Victorians, Queen Annes and bungalows. Some were built during the times in which those styles were vernacular, while others allude to these eras but were built within the 2000s. However, to ensure that an area does not get stuck in one style, preservationists often encourage contemporary design, as mentioned in a letter to Oakwood residents by Myrick Howard, president of Preservation North Carolina, a nonprofit dedicated to maintaining historical sites and properties.
This post has been updated since its original posting on August 1, 2014.