Building of Oakwood house should not be interrupted

March 16, 2014 

The Raleigh City Council needs to appeal a misguided decision by the city’s Board of Adjustment in ruling against architect Louis Cherry and his construction of a modernist house in the historic Oakwood neighborhood.

This seems like a ridiculous necessity. But the city can ask a Wake County Superior Court to overturn the Board of Adjustment ruling, which is going to force Cherry to stop construction on his nearly complete home.

The bottom line is that Cherry, a prominent and respected architect with professional awards on his resume, played by the rules. He and his wife got the necessary permits to build their home on Euclid Street in the heart of the Oakwood neighborhood. The permit came from the Raleigh Historic Development Commission, charged with ensuring that such a project is appropriate for a given neighborhood.

Cherry started building the house, which is a good size but hardly a castle. It seems to fit on the wide and shallow lot. No, it doesn’t follow the construction style of Oakwood’s most historic homes. But the truth is, there is a variety of styles in Oakwood.

Myrick Howard, president of Preservation North Carolina and one of the state’s most authoritative voices on historic neighborhoods, defends Cherry’s house. Howard points out, with common sense on his side, that historic neighborhoods aren’t built in a day but rather develop over decades.

Oakwood today, as a drive through the neighborhood will demonstrate, contains many styles of homes from different periods because they were built over a long time.

That’s true of the one-block street that is the site of Cherry’s house. Not every house looks as if it came out of the Victorian era. Not every house is of a similar size.

Is Cherry’s house a little different? Yes, with its long vertical windows on the street side and it’s modern feel. But it’s not different to the point of looking horribly out of place.

Construction never should have been stopped. That was unfair to Cherry and came about apparently because of vehement objections of neighbors who took their case to the Board of Adjustment. Certainly neighbors have a right to a say if they believe their neighborhood is being harmed, but this ruling came about five months after Cherry began construction.

What kind of message does that send to other people building homes in historic areas? Are they to win approval from the historic development commission only to make a roll of the dice, hoping that the Board of Adjustment doesn’t come along later and second-guess the commission?

The Raleigh City Council has some serious rule-changing to do. Cherry and his wife never should have been put in this position. Should the board’s ruling stand, the couple could lose a fortune in having to tear down a perfectly good (and perfectly appropriate) house.

They should not have to hire a lawyer to fight this. The city has an obligation to see to it that the Board of Adjustment’s ruling is overturned. This was a huge error in judgment. And it must be corrected.

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