Approval for modernist Oakwood house in limbo

ccampbell@newsobserver.comFebruary 17, 2014 

Board of Adjustment overturned an approval for this modernist house on Euclid Street in the historic Oakwood neighborhood. Board members say the Raleigh Historic Commission’s guidelines were not properly considered when the plans were approved.

COLIN CAMPBELL - CCAMPBELL@NEWSOBSERVER.COM

— In a rare move Monday, the city’s Board of Adjustment overturned an approval for a controversial modernist house in the historic Oakwood neighborhood.

Architect Louis Cherry is building a new home on a vacant Euclid Street lot, which was approved by the Raleigh Historic Development Commission despite opposition from some neighbors. But in a 3-2 vote, some Board of Adjustment members said the commission didn’t apply its guidelines for what’s appropriate in a historic district.

“I find it very difficult to find that the guidelines were the driving consideration here,” said board member Ted Shear, adding that the historic commission’s approach would seem to allow any design in Oakwood. “I can’t find any house design I couldn’t take, run through that process, and then find it compatible by that standard.”

Shear’s critique echoes the concerns of Gail Wiesner, a Euclid Street resident who’s pushed city leaders to consider a major overhaul of the commission’s process. She says the current commission is full of architects who “are strongly biased toward modernist” designs, and she’d like to see more neighborhood appointees and clearer guidelines.

For his part, Cherry says his design fits the scale of the neighborhood without copying the century-old architecture of Oakwood’s older homes. He’s uncertain what the Board of Adjustment vote will mean because much of the house is already built.

“It was a surprise to me that they took the action they did,” Cherry said Thursday. “It could be that we have to reapply – there are a number of different possible paths we could take.”

Appeal may be next

The case will likely wind up before a Wake County Superior Court judge. City attorney Tom McCormick said he’ll seek the city council’s approval Tuesday to appeal the Board of Adjustment’s decision.

The appeal is one that city attorneys “very seldom” have to make: fighting the decision of one city-appointed board on behalf of another.

And not everyone on the Board of Adjustment took issue with the historic commission’s interpretation. Board of Adjustment chairman Charles Coble stressed that his board shouldn’t be voting on whether they agree with the commission’s ruling – just whether it had a “rational basis” for it.

“I was impressed with the depth of the evidence that was there that supported the place the (commission) ultimately got to,” Coble said.

Regardless of what happens with the Euclid Street appeal, city planners will soon begin a “community conversation” process to solicit feedback about potential changes to the historic guidelines and commission.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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