Homeowner takes historic board to task

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By Jamison Hooks

staff writer

A dispute over a request to replace historic windowsills between a local resident and the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), was brought before the Madison Mayor and City Council last Monday night.

Lydia Norburg of 642 Billups Street appealed the HPC’s decision to deny her application for a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA), admonishing her to refurbish the windowsills on her historic Madison home, rather than replace them, a project that would more than double her costs.

Norburg claimed that her rights of due process were violated and she received unfair treatment during the review process.

“I think HPC does an amazing job, they go above and beyond what they should do and I think they’ve gone beyond what they should do and gotten themselves in a corner,” said Council Member Joe DiLetto.

Norburg recounted that in April she originally proposed sash replacements of the 16 windows in her house. She conveyed that the replacement sashes would be milled to match the existing windows.

With preservation rather than replacement in mind, members of the HPC requested she allow them time to bring in window refurbishing expert Curtis Whitsel.

“The philosophy of the HPC rests on two things: one is the design, and the other is to maintain the historic material. If we replaced all the material in this historic house it would no longer be a historic house,” explained Madison Preservation Planner Ken Kocher while addressing the Council.

Norburg explained that it was her understanding that after Whitsel’s inspection, she would then be provided with an itemized written estimate of the cost for repairs if the sashes could indeed be salvaged.

Norburg was to work with Kocher to set up a time for Mr. Whitsel to inspect her windows.

After over two weeks, Norburg claims she received an e-mail from Kocher to set up an inspection for the week before the scheduled May HPC meeting.

On the day before Norburg’s last availability, Kocher contacted Norburg to advise that Whitsel was ill. Kocher advised he would be bringing HPC member Joseph Smith, who is an architect, as an alternate.

After this inspection, Norburg told the Council that she still wasn’t provided with a cost estimate.

Norburg advised that the day before the HPC meeting, Kocher requested to bring contractor Russ Bennett to inspect the windows on the morning of the meeting.

After his inspection, Norburg reported that Bennett verbally provided an estimate of $1000 per window to repair.

That night at the May HPC meeting, Kocher advised he had failed to obtain a written estimate from Bennett.

Although he did not receive a written estimate, Kocher claimed that Bennett stated the repairs could be done for $450 per window.

At that meeting, Norburg told the HPC that she did her own research by contacting Galt Innovations from Greenville South Carolina and received a quote indicating the refurbishing costs of her 16 windows to range from $16,000 to $32,000.

She also received an estimate from Galt Innovations that custom milling and installing new wood sashes to match the existing windows would only cost $8,000.

“I did my homework and brought something in writing from a company… the HPC did not,” said Norburg.

Norburg noted to the City Council that the difference in cost when replacing compared to refurbishing her windows is an undue hardship in her opinion.

City Council member Bobby Crawford expressed his concern on the cost factor when repairing historic homes.

“We’re going to have other people who really can’t repair their homes. What are you going to do about them? Let the homes rot and fall down?” asked Crawford.

Norburg also complained to the City Council that the HPC did not review or approve the minutes from the April meeting.

Furthermore, Norburg said that an HPC member voted to deny her request even though that member was absent from the April meeting therefore only hearing the second half of discussion regarding her application.

“I think the commission has had an extended period of time to provide concrete black and white numbers and they failed to do that. I just want to be able to enjoy my home and not be another for sale sign,” concluded Norburg.

Council members Chris Hodges and Carrie Peters-Reid expressed their concern on the HPC’s Procedures.

“I think there’s some real procedural issues we can do better on,” said Hodges.

The Mayor and City Council unanimously voted to remand the application back to the HPC for further consideration.

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