Raleigh Report

'Salt into the wounds' as Raleigh council replaces Oakwood house critic with defender

Superior Court Judge Elaine Bushfan says she’ll rule in favor of the modernist house, nearly complete on Oakwood’s Euclid Street.
Superior Court Judge Elaine Bushfan says she’ll rule in favor of the modernist house, nearly complete on Oakwood’s Euclid Street.

Ted Shear figures he lost his seat on a city board because of the spectacular civic controversy over a modernist house in historic Oakwood.

He was OK with that, he claims – but he’s not happy to see Gene Conti, an opponent in the aesthetics debate, appointed in his place.

“Removing me from the Board of Adjustment is everyday politics,” Shear wrote in an email to The News & Observer. “But appointing a spirited advocate of the new Oakwood house, deliberately rubbing salt into the wounds of opposing neighbors, is the politics of pure meanness.”

A very brief primer on the debate, which has spawned an ongoing legal battle: A couple wanted to build a modern-style house in the Oakwood neighborhood, northeast of downtown. They got approval last September from the Raleigh Historic Development Commission, but a neighbor, Gail Wiesner, filed an appeal a week later, saying the house didn’t fit neighborhood standards.

The couple – Louis Cherry and Marsha Gordon – started to build anyway, until Raleigh’s Board of Adjustment overturned the city’s previous approval of the board. Suddenly, the couple could no longer finish their house, and the whole thing ended up in Wake County Superior Court.

Ted Shear, as a member of the Board of Adjustment, had been one of the house’s most vocal critics. And when Judge Elaine Bushfan reversed the whole thing again – once more giving the couple permission to build – Shear was in the spotlight.

Last month, the Raleigh City Council decided not to renew Shear’s term on the board. Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said she had decided not to bring Shear back “in light of” the legal battle, which is continuing through an appeal.

That brings the story to this Wednesday, when the city council chose Shear’s replacement: Gene Conti, a former secretary of the N.C. Department of Transportation, who also is a founder of a legal defense fund that benefited the house, and who was quoted in media coverage as a supporter of the house’s owners.

Conti was appointed with five of the Raleigh City Council’s eight votes. His chief competition was Betsy Kane, a planner for the state who was nominated by Councilman Russ Stephenson on behalf of Councilwoman Kay Crowder.

Conti received votes from Councilman Eugene Weeks, Councilman Bonner Gaylord, Councilman John Odom and Councilman Wayne Maiorano.

Betsy Kane received votes from Mayor Nancy McFarlane, Councilwoman Kay Crowder and Councilman Russ Stephenson.

Ted Shear received only one nominating vote, from Stephenson, who said he wanted to wait for the legal process to conclude before making a decision on the forestry professor.

Baldwin said that Conti was an obvious choice, not a spiteful one.

“As a former secretary of transportation, somebody who's worked in the federal government, the man has impeccable credentials,” she said. “That's why he was appointed. He was known for being fair, intelligent.”

For his part, Shear says that the council should have picked someone who had no part in the controversy.