Anticipating a Monday forum, opponents of Oakwood’s modernist house are lobbying neighbors about what kinds of architecture should be allowed in Raleigh’s historic districts.
The Oak City Preservation Alliance is distributing a pamphlet with photos of newer Oakwood homes it deems appropriate, as well as altered images of modernist houses placed next to historic ones. The lobbying effort comes within days of a Wake Court Superior Court judge’s ruling in favor of the modernist home, which was signed Monday.
The two-page brochure explains that the group doesn’t think new construction should pretend to be historic. Alliance member Don Becom said that until the modernist home on Euclid Street, all new homes have blended well with the old.
“We feel we have a middle-of-the-road position,” Becom said. “We don’t want to replicate the buildings from our period of significance. We want to maintain the character of our neighborhood.”
But not all preservationists share the group’s viewpoint. Preservation North Carolina has spoken out in favor of the modernist house, and president Myrick Howard says the historic district guidelines don’t dictate style. The rules are more about tangible elements like size, colors and materials, he added.
Howard said those rules would prevent the jarring contrasts presented as worst-case scenarios in the Preservation Alliance’s altered images.
“Those structures would not remotely be approved under the guidelines,” he said. “It’s disingenuous to say that the commission would approve those.”
Both sides will make their case Monday night at a forum organized by the Raleigh Historic Development Commission, the city council-appointed board that issued the initial approval for the Oakwood modernist house.
The commission wants to know if its guidelines and procedures for new construction adequately reflect the community’s standards for historic neighborhoods. The city council called for the review in January – just as the modernist house furor was beginning – after hearing concerns from Euclid Street resident Gail Wiesner, who’s since been fighting her across-the-street neighbors in court.
Howard said the process is working well, but added: “It’s always useful to have a review periodically.”
The Oak City Preservation Alliance is pushing for some wording changes, including the addition of architectural style to the criteria. Alliance president Mary Iverson said the focus on “compatibility” is vague.
“It can be interpreted in numerous ways,” she said.
Iverson’s group takes issue with the historic commission’s facilitator for Monday’s forum: Pratt Cassity, who heads the Center for Community Design and Preservation at the University of Georgia.
Iverson is concerned that Cassity favors placing modernist buildings next to historic ones, pointing to photos posted on Cassity’s Pinterest page.
“I’m looking at what he has shown as his preference on his Pinterest site, and I believe he is walking in there with a bias,” Iverson said.
Howard said he knows Cassity personally and thinks he’ll be an effective moderator.
“You couldn’t get a more recognized and appropriate expert for this forum,” Howard said. “He does not promote starkly modern structures.”
Regardless of the moderator, Iverson says she hopes revised historic district guidelines will make the process more predictable and less likely to result in a lengthy legal battle.
“I personally believe that would help prevent a recurrence of the unfortunate disagreement that’s gone through the neighborhood,” she said.