Construction to be stopped on controversial Oakwood house

ccampbell@newsobserver.comMarch 10, 2014 

Architect Louis Cherry will be forced to stop construction on his controversial modernist home in the Oakwood neighborhood – five months after the city issued his building permit.

JULI LEONARD — jleonard@newsobserver.com

— Architect Louis Cherry will be forced to stop construction on his controversial modernist home in the Oakwood neighborhood – five months after the city issued his building permit.

The “stop work” order likely will come in the next few days. The city Board of Adjustment finalized its ruling against the house Monday. The board had voted 3-2 last month to overturn the Raleigh Historic Development Commission’s approval for the house on Euclid Street.

Oakwood residents are bitterly divided over whether Cherry’s home is appropriate for the historic district. Cherry’s across-the-street neighbor, Gail Wiesner, has led the opposition, calling the design “garishly inappropriate” and saying it towers over its neighbors.

But other neighbors, as well as some historic preservationists, say the city’s guidelines aren’t intended to keep out new architecture. They’re asking city leaders to appeal the Board of Adjustment ruling to Wake County Superior Court.

If the ruling stands, Cherry would have to tear down the nearly complete house, which preservationists say would gut the power of historic guidelines and the commissions that enforce them throughout North Carolina.

The Raleigh City Council will decide later this month whether to appeal or leave the next move to Cherry. But on Monday, city attorney Dorothy Leapley voiced legal qualms with the Board of Adjustment’s action.

Leapley said the board failed to establish whether Wiesner has the right to challenge Cherry’s permits. She said Wiesner would need to offer proof that her property value will be affected – something that didn’t happen during Board of Adjustment hearings.

“The courts said simply living across the street wasn’t good enough in itself,” Leapley said.

Leapley said Wiesner’s role is among several issues the board failed to resolve. The attorney also said the ruling needs to be based on the “physical environment” of the entire Oakwood neighborhood, not individual streets or homes.

“The city’s concerns at this point are whether there are procedural problems in what happened before the board previously,” Leapley said. “What the city is suggesting is that (Cherry and Wiesner) need clear guidance.”

But the Board of Adjustment declined to make any major changes to its formal ruling. “If people think we committed errors of law,” Chairman Charles Coble said, “that’s for the superior court to hear.”

The board also rejected claims from Cherry’s attorney that the city code requires a supermajority – four votes – to overturn a historic commission ruling.

“I think it gives us a way out of this morass,” said Cherry’s attorney, Nick Fountain.

But the board’s attorney, John Silverstein, said a state law passed last year requires only a simple majority, and it takes precedence over any city rules.

After Monday’s action, Fountain said he expects city officials will revoke Cherry’s building permits within days. Crews will then secure the site and protect the building materials from the elements, because a court appeal could take months. Fountain said his client hasn’t decided whether to take the matter to court or return to the historic commission with a revised design.

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

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