Historic Commission: Renovate, but don't update

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Mark Wineka
The time-worn house at 1428 N. Main St. has seemed like a work in progress for years.
At present, scaffolding rises up along one end. Various window panes are broken and boards are missing.
The brick chimneys and porch pillars have been repaired, but much of the two-story 1900 house has turned gray from neglect.
Douglas Guenthe came to the Salisbury Historic Preservation Commission Thursday with plans for the house’s exterior rehabilitation.
But commission members denied several of the items Guenthe proposed, including fiber cement siding, Fiberglas doors and replacement windows.
The commission’s design guidelines made its decision pretty straightforward, but members expressed hope Guenthe will stay with the project and use materials appropriate for the century-old house and its North Main Street Historic District.
“I don’t know what to say,” Chairperson Anne Lyles told Guenthe. “My heart goes out to you.”
The commission offered to put Guenthe in contact with the Historic Salisbury Foundation and State Historic Preservation Office for more information on tax credits available for the structure.
The biggest sticking point for the commission was Guenthe’s request for a wholesale replacement of the house’s wood siding with a fiber cement siding.
“We do have a request for a major change in material,” commission member Judy Kandl noted.
Guenthe estimated that 99 percent of the wood on the house would have to be replaced, and he said using new wood as the replacement siding scared him, “because it’s a loss leader.”
“I would love to save this property, but I have deep apprehensions about going back to wood,” Guenthe said.
He added that he knew his proposals were not a perfect fit for the commission’s design guidelines but, in the end, he said, they all wanted to save the building “and make it look good.”
Guenthe indicated that he would like to buy the house from owner Allen McCanless of Seagrove, if he could follow through on his renovation plans. According to county records, McCanless bought the property for $18,000 in 2002.
The 2,850-square-foot house sits between Midway and 14th Street.
While Guenthe made a case that fiber cement siding would be a “lifetime product” requiring little maintenance, Kandl said wood actually is a material “of great longevity” when properly maintained.
Lyles said she lives in a 117-year-old house that still has its original wood siding.
Other commission members noted original wood survives on many houses that are 100 and 200 years old.
Commission member Jack Errante said the Hardi-type material Guenthe was requesting had been allowed by the commission over the past three years for small projects.
Senior Planner Janet Gapen said contemporary materials like fiber cement have been approved in new construction and on additions within Salisbury historic districts, but the design guidelines say it should not make up the majority of materials on a finished product.
Jack Thomson, director of Historic Salisbury Foundation, said he was excited to hear about efforts to improve the property at 1428 N. Main St.
“It needs it for certain,” he said.
But Thomson spoke against the request for fiber cement siding. He said it would set a dangerous precedent if allowed on an original structure.
The commission also denied Guenthe’s requests for 32-inch Fiberglas doors in front and back. Guenthe said he preferred the Fiberglas material over wood veneer.
His proposed windows also were denied. The commission said items related to the house’s paint color and a 6-foot-high privacy fence could be approved administratively at a later date.
“It just breaks your heart to see something like this, because it could be wonderful,” Lyles said of the house.