2014, December 29 | Monday 2:59 pm

by Peter Samuel

HPC13-229 102W3rd St – Letter in support of plans submitted in replacement of deficient wall and roof

THE BUILDING: 3 apartments on three levels on corner N Court & W3rdStFrontage2122 Third, 4,000sf

HISTORY: 1875 main building was 2 1/2 stories Georgian style gable, ridge running east-west, 2 story gabled ‘ell’ at rear

1920s major changes – original gable roof of the front removed, 3rd floor ‘granny flat’ or servants quarters added under a low slope/shed style roof giving it a Federal or Victorian Italianate character.

Big bay windows were added on the south face of the main rooms on the first and second levels. Around the same time 100W3rd, an older attached building at that time on the corner of a then-alley was demolished for the westward widening of that alley into an extension of North Court Street making 102 the new corner house. The east wall of the main wing of 102 has a 2 foot thick rubble stone wall 12ft high by 28ft long, the sole surviving relic from 100W3rd.

1980s: conversion of single family house at 102 to three apartments; common lobby, stairs and elevator added; south end of building received 2 story parged insulation foam-clad ‘dryvit’ sunrooms extension, and the ell got a large roof access box to allow AC installation and service

2000s (my ownership) : addition of grey garage/loft-over building at southern rear of lot, large window made in the original stone party wall on N Court Street, 1000sf sunken garden of natural stone boulders and paving slabs replacing lawn, tubular steel pergola built in attempt to control a wisteria, fence rebuilds

ExistingFromEast1RESULT: a house that’s a mix of 1870s Georgian, 1920s Victorian Italianate makeover, and 1980s and 2000s additions. The 3rd Street frontage has historic integrity (1920s style). It is character defining and a contributing resource and needs preservation. I wouldn’t propose any changes to that. By contrast the east side and back of the building on North Court Street where the addition is proposed are an architectural melange and a historic mess – completely lacking “historic integrity” and plainly not “contributing.”

ALLEY SETTING: The work proposed is on an alley-like block of North Court St that has no building frontages at all, and is an untidy collection of garages, parking lots, driveways, side fences, and sides of buildings. City codes have blocked several efforts by property owners to improve this block with carriage-house type buildings fronting North Court Street by invoking non-historic suburban style building setbacks. Any suggestion by a City official that HPC Guidelines place historic value on the North Court Street facades of buildings is an absurdity. City regulation via arbitrary, overlapping and often conflicting zoning rules ensure that this block remains a mess.

HISTORY Case HPC13-229: This case goes back two and a half years SectionsTried3cand has been through six workshops, seven staff reports, three architects, three structural engineer reports, a lawyer, and many different designs, a couple of different City staff, some changes in the Commission. There is a huge log of plans, drawings and emails…and close to $20,000 now spent in professional fees.

AIMS: The impetus for the project was (1) 12 years of dealing with recurrent roof water leaks in the midsection of the house at the transition between the front 3-story square plan and the two-story Ell at the rear (2) occasional roof leaks in the main block’s low slope roof (3) desire to improve the third level apartment adding rentable value and to help fund the project – proposed extension over the ell.

The roof leaks are attributed to undersized and overloaded wooden beams and rafters from the 1920s producing a roof deck that moves under snow and strong wind loads, breaking mortar and flashings and stretching metal seams. The brick wall alongside the kitchen of Apt 3 heavily overstresses the wood beam it sits on according to the structural engineer and if water leakage continues it could eventually collapse. There are bedrooms below it.

FullEllBuild201303-3cThis application got off to a bad start with a disgraceful misrepresentation of the structural engineer’s report by a City historic preservation staffer (Lisa Murphy) and an attempt to minimize the building’s problems. After a second engineer’s report complaining of the misrepresentation, the Commission accepted that the brickwork must be demolished. But of course it is a condition of demolition that the HPC approve a replacement plan.

Further time has been taken in discussions of what improvements I am allowed to make, and repeated redesigns in response to workshop comment.

SUMMARY OF DESIGN ARGUMENT: Wanting to enlarge the kitchen and build another bed-sitter room over the ell the first design submitted, and still I think the best, was simply to continue the front’s low slope roof all 32 feet south over the 14ft wide portion of the ell roof located over load bearing walls. That would have given an extra 450 square feet (sf) of living space. 4 feet of the old gable roof over the lower floors’ verandahs would have remained under that plan. (See elevations nearby and perspective below.)compromiseEast4c

Through the workshops and redesigns we arrived at a compromise agreement that a kitchen enlargement across the 14ft width of the loadbearing walls was acceptable to the HPC, and also a bed-sitter beyond but the bed-sitter only on the far or western side of the gable ridge.

We had a design that had clerestory windows along the gable ridge. Staff wanted the gable end left intact and the end of the living space set back several feet from it. All these compromises produced a horribly complicated structure, expensive to frame and roof, and an awful piece of architecture. (see yellow massing on brown below.)

And Instead of 450sf I’d have less than 300sf extra rentable space. The second room would be a narrow 22ft x 9ft (external dimensions,) with no decent outlook… so I abandoned the bed-sitter portion of the project.

eastelevationprpsdMy plans now are for the 8ft extension for the kitchen only, the rest of the ell roof being left as-is. We tidy up the roof line by removing the present tacky little roof access box and doing roof access internally via a trapdoor in the kitchen.

MAIN ROOF PROBLEMS: The same poor 1920s design that placed a shonky brickwall on wooden beams (instead of steel) for a clear span of 14ft produced roof rafters of less than half the loadbearing capacity needed for carrying a heavy snow – see separate structural engineer’s report.

The result is a roof that rises and falls in high winds, sinks down under snow then springs back up, stressing seams, and flashing, and breaking caulk. A major part of the proposed project will be ‘heavying-up’ the main roof.

The standing seam metal will be ripped off along with the old roof deck. We’ll install at least two extra 2x6s for each existing 2×6 rafter and strengthen the main east west beam.

There will be no change in the profile of the roof.

The pitch is about a 1:12 (correction) – too shallow a slope for metal. It will be refinished with more durable EPDM ‘rubber’ membrane. Gutters will be similar to the existing, half-round galvanized.westelevationpropsd

The heavy-up of the roof will provide the loadbearing capacity for a future ‘green roof’.

The extension will be framed with 2x6s (no 2x4s,) sheathed & sub-floored in exterior ply (not OSB,) clad in fiber-cement plank and trim.

Windows fiberglass (NEW)
Windows are specified as Marvin Infinity, a ‘pultruded’ fiberglass, the strongest, longest lived window material available. The HPC Guidelines generally prescribe wood windows but say “on a case by case basis the Commission may approve materials acceptable for new construction” (Ch 9 Additions, p136) and the chapter on new construction (Ch10, p145) states “in some cases non-wood windows…may be approved.”

I submit that given the location of these windows on a third floor, on a subsidiary facade of the building, and especially given the difficulty of doing maintenance to these windows, that fiberglass is the best choice. These windows cannot be gotten directly to on a ladder because of 4 feet of remaining gable on the east side, and the fire escape stairs complicate ladder use on the west side. A lift cannot be deployed from N Court Street because of the many telecom and electric cables strung along the street. Wood windows simply would not get the regular repainting they need.

Separately provided are copies of the plans, the engineer’s report on the main roof, and details of the proposed windows.

P Samuel 2014-12-22

FOLLOWUP: The application was approved by the HPC 7 to 0. What a Marathon!


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