Historic preservation excesses in Mount Pleasant

In December, 1986, after contentious debate, Mount Pleasant was designated a "historic district". The purpose was to fend off obnoxious development, the replacement of fine old houses by modern structures. Fair enough, but the implementation of historic preservation regulations has brought about what I think are unduly rigid restrictions on what homeowners can do with their own houses.

Windows are now a very serious problem. I am told that window companies now refuse any business in Mount Pleasant, and presumably in other historic districts, because of the troubles they encounter.

The owners of this home, new to the neighborhood and unfamiliar with the rules of historic preservation, replaced their leaky old windows with new, better-insulated, double-pane windows. Then someone in the neighborhood called in a complaint -- historic preservation seems to turn neighbors into secret police -- and the Historic Preservation Office showed up and hit the homeowners with demands that they remove almost all of their new windows and restore either the originals or replications of the originals, and take out their new door as well, replacing it with a suitable "Tudor Revival" style.

And yet, the majority of neighbors and residents tell me that these replacement windows are just fine. As one neighbor said, unsolicited, "they had matched the style and character pretty well". Another congratulated me for coming to the assistance of her young neighbors. The ANC insisted that the new windows are perfectly fine, as they are. In fact, I had initially suggested that the color of the window frames might be changed to reduce the contrast against the brick background. The other ANC commissioners removed that offer, asserting that the windows were entirely acceptable as they were, unchanged.

The door, as you can see, is virtually invisible from the street. Who knows whether that door is "Tudor Revival" in style or not? And who cares?

This is the fundamental difference between what Mount Pleasant residents want from historic preservation, and what the preservation bureaucracy imposes on us. Residents simply want buildings to look okay, fitting into the style of the neighborhood. The Historic Preservation bureaucrats go beyond that, demanding a much higher standard of historical authenticity, as if our homes are national monuments, to be preserved in detail for study by future generations.

The historic preservation law says simply that alterations are to be "compatible with the character of the historic district". The regulations implementing that law define "compatible" as "Possessing characteristics that allow for a harmonious relationship." Further, "Compatibility does not require matching or copying of attributes".

Clearly, the community judgment is that these new windows, and door, are "harmonious" with the neighborhood. The Historic Preservation Office demands, contrary to the regulation, and contrary to the wishes of the community, "matching or copying of attributes". I think the regulators should back off, respecting the intent of the law, and the wishes of the community.

The dispute above took place in the spring of 2007. In January, 2009, the owners came to an agreement with the Historic Preservation Office, whereby (1) the rear windows and the window beneath the porch roof would remain the present vinyl replacements; (2) the two vinyl casements on the front would be replaced by the original steel casements; and (3) the two second-story vinyl windows in front would be replaced by all-wood, six-over-six, double-hung windows to fit the original masonry openings and with muntins no thicker than 7/8". I believe this is an example of the HPO becoming less rigid in its demands for historic authenticity, and more reasonable in allowing residents flexibility in the upkeep and improvement of their homes.
Rosemount windows and front

This is the house on Rosemount Avenue in question. The new windows are evidently acceptable to the neighborhood, being "harmonious" with the area. The historic preservation bureaucracy rejects these windows, because the frames are vinyl (you have to get up close to discover that they're not wood), and the dividers are inserts between solid glass panes, not real dividers defining sections of glass. The door is said to deviate from the "Tudor Revival" style, but in fact it's very hard to see what the door looks like, until you get up onto the porch.

The residents are facing bills totalling over $20,000 to replace their new door and windows. It seems to me, to the neighbors, and to the ANC, that this is an entirely unnecessary expense being imposed on them.

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This page created July 3, 2007; updated November 12, 2009