Embattled civic board has vacancies

ccampbell@newsobserver.comApril 29, 2014 

— The commission that reviews new construction in Raleigh historic districts has two vacancies, and opponents of a modernist house in the Oakwood neighborhood want historic property owners to fill the seats.

The openings on the Raleigh Historic Development Commission could force city council members to decide between outspoken supporters and opponents of Louis Cherry’s controversial home on Euclid Street. Opponents of the house say the commission has become dominated by architects who favor modern styles; the commission’s approval for the Cherry home was overturned by the city Board of Adjustment.

With the future of the house in a judge’s hands, tensions have been running high between those who support new styles of architecture amid historic homes and those who want new construction to “blend in” with the old.

The historic commission’s chairman, architect Fred Belledin, is urging council members to appoint former commission member Curtis Kasefang, who’s voiced support for the Cherry house.

“Curtis Kasefang is a former commission chair and the finest Certificate of Appropriateness reviewer that I have ever come across in any commission in the state,” Belledin wrote to the council. “Given the recent events in Oakwood, we are very appreciative of his offer to serve again in this capacity.”

Gail Wiesner, who filed the appeal against Cherry’s home, said Kasefang is the wrong man for the job. He’s said he opposes some of Wiesner’s proposed changes to the historic guidelines.

“Of late he has been attending public and private meetings stating that he is an ‘expert,’ although he is no more knowledgeable than our average resident,” Wiesner wrote to the city council. “Curtis states that architectural style cannot be considered when looking at compatibility with the guidelines.”

Wiesner and other opponents of the modernist house are lobbying for two other candidates: Will Hillebrenner, an Oakwood resident who’s become an unofficial spokesman for the opposition, and Paula Huot, who also lives in a century-old Oakwood home.

Oakwood resident Manish Lamba said Kasefang’s appointment would lead to more modernism in historic districts, while Huot and Hillebrenner are “dedicated to preserving our Raleigh historic districts, and have real world experience and expertise in this area.”

Councilman Russ Stephenson said he’s not familiar with all the applicants for the commission but said the appointment process could prove challenging. The city will spend the coming months seeking feedback on possible changes to the historic district rules.

“I think there’s an opportunity to find one or more candidates in the near term that will help get the work done while also allowing everyone to feel like the process of improving the guidelines and processes can go along,” Stephenson said.

To be considered, each candidate must get a nomination from a City Council member, none of whom have made any nominations. The nomination will then be put to a vote from the full council.

In his email, Belledin asked the council to fill out the board soon.

“The time demands on commission staff and commissioners are unusually high right now – balancing our workload is made more challenging by the fact that we are down a couple of commissioners,” he wrote.

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

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