New nonprofit formed in Oakwood to fight modernist ‘threats’

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMay 13, 2014 

OAKWOOD09-NE-032714-RTW

ROBERT WILLETT — rwillett@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

  • Two nominated for commission

    With the modernist Oakwood house controversy generating national headlines, two openings on the Raleigh Historic Development Commission have drawn plenty of interest.

    Opponents of the house have lobbied the Raleigh City Council to appoint two Oakwood residents, Will Hillebrenner and Paula Huot. They have also opposed the candidacy of Curtis Kasefang, who was recommended by the commission’s chairman. He has spoken out in favor of the house.

    Last week, two city council members decided to look outside Oakwood. Thomas Crowder and Russ Stephenson nominated Jenny Harper, a historic preservation consultant who lives in the Prince Hall Historic District, and Don Davis of Boylan Heights.

    Davis was recommended by the Boylan Heights Association. “We are extremely interested in getting more participation in the commission that dictates and applies the rules to which we follow,” association president Steve Bryan told the council.

— A new nonprofit has formed in the Oakwood neighborhood to fight what it calls “threats” to historic properties, pointing to the controversial modernist house on Euclid Street.

The Oak City Preservation Alliance was established in April and is soliciting donations on its website, oakcitypa.org.

“We formed to make a joint effort to discuss what styles we thought are appropriate within the historic districts and begin to educate the community as to why historic districts are formed,” said Heather Scott, an Oakwood resident who serves as vice president of the alliance.

While supporters of Louis Cherry and Marcia Gordon’s modernist house are raising money to cover their legal fees through the group N.C. Modernist Houses, Scott said her group is not involved with the legal battle. She says they’ll leave the resolution to the court system.

“We are not an anti-Euclid group,” she said. “We are not an anti-Cherry group.”

The alliance will provide a voice for one side of a debate raging in historic districts nationwide: whether new construction should stand out or blend in with the historic. In Raleigh, Preservation North Carolina has made the case for introducing new styles on vacant lots. The group’s president, Myrick Howard, argues that the neighborhoods like Oakwood already have a “mosaic” of differing architectural styles, meaning that it “it makes no sense whatsoever to prescribe stylistic limitations.”

The Oak City Preservation Alliance, however, sees things differently.

“The neighbors felt that allowing totally foreign styles was one extreme,” Scott said. “The other extreme was requiring new construction to replicate houses in the period of significance. Most of the community within these historic districts would like to stay somewhere in the middle.”

The alliance’s website calls the Raleigh Historic Development Commission’s approval of the Cherry-Gordon house “a dangerous precedent of very loose enforcement of the design guidelines. ... As seen in other historic districts across the nation, once land values exceed structure values, every historic structure is under threat when they can be easily replaced with new construction.”

Cherry is building his home on a vacant lot carved out of a backyard; the project involves no demolition. Asked whether the modernist precedent could lead to razed historic homes in Oakwood, Scott pointed to several historic homes recently torn down in Raleigh’s Cameron Park neighborhood. “All you have to do is wait 365 days and you can bulldoze the house,” she said.

Cameron Park is not a registered historic district and lacks the protections that the designation provides.

The alliance was criticized on social media because its website lists no names, with only a post office box as an address. Oakwood resident Paula Huot, who’s seeking appointment to the historic commission, denied involvement when a post identified her as one of the organizers.

Incorporation filings with the N.C. Secretary of State list three organizers for the alliance: Huot, Scott and Mary Iverson. Scott says Iverson serves as the group’s president. “We’re still in the process of deciding our roles,” Scott said, adding that the alliance has about 40 members.

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

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