City staff pushing an extremist historic preservation agenda suffered a serious rebuff this week when their report proposing to refuse a West 4th Street man a permit to fix his asphalt shingle roof lost 4 to 2 at the Historic Preservation Commission. Christina Martinkosky a preservation extremist on the City payroll had ignored the property owner Alonzo Jones’ plea to allow him to fix his 50 year old asphalt shingle roof with new asphalt shingle which should have been handled with Administrative Consent at the staff level.
Jones told the Commission, as he had told City staff to no avail, that he would love to put a metal roof on his roof at 111W 4th Street but that in his present financial circumstances he can’t afford it. Metal roofs cost about $10/square foot versus $3 for asphalt shingle, so with a 1,000 square foot roof he’s looking at $10,000 for the historic preservationists’ roof versus about $3,000 for asphalt shingle.
Said Jones at the hearing June 26: “…If money was no object I’d love to have a tin roof house. I think they look great. But I’m in a very bad financial situation at the moment and having been cited by (City enforcement officer) Mr Beers for the roof, the combination of the fines and having to put a (tin) roof on the house, it’s beyond my means at this time. The roof looks terrible, I can maybe slide by putting on an asphalt roof if I can get the money together. And if I don’t then my fear is that between the fines and the decision if it is a tin roof decision then I may have to eventually abandon the property and leave because I just don’t see how I am able to sustain the costs…”
Martinkosky’s report ignored the possibility that a ruling in favor of the expensive retrofit of tin could force a man out of his house and bring a blighted building to the neighborhood. She thereby failed to address the primary concern of downtown residents. And despite acknowledging confusion in the Guidelines about asphalt shingles she said Mr Jones must take it back to tin, and should not be allowed a new asphalt shingle roof.
At page 61 of the Guidelines it states flatly: “asphalt shingles can be used to replace existing asphalt or asbestos shingles and on additions but otherwise they are not permitted unless evidence of their use exists under later roofs.”
Trouble is the Guidelines also say on page 87 under Replacement of roof sheathing: “If replacement of the finished roofing becomes necessary, either the existing roofing type (if it is original or appropriate to the building) or a substitute material that reflects an earlier roof must be used….”
Ah the regulator’s favorite catch-all word “appropriate.”
What beautiful elasticity is to be found those smug four syllables!
Drawn to passing judgment on what was ‘appropriate’ like a dog on Market Street drawn to discarded fast food, Martinkosky the compulsive regulator simply chose to ignore the plain vanilla asphalt-OK-for-replacement of p61 and went with p87’s iffy provision, declaring that since asphalt was not the original sheathing and since it was not “appropriate” the Commission should reject asphalt.
Her conclusion read: “Staff does not recommend the use of asphalt shingles… because… asphalt is not original or appropriate, does not provide the best historic appearance, and does not reflect previous historically appropriate roofing materials as required on p87 of the Guidelines.”
Asphalt there about 50 years old
Jones asphalt shingles are documented as going back to at least 38 years (to 1976) and possibly to the 1950s, Jones says. The City staff could only establish there was a tin roof as recently as 1947 which means the asphalt may go back as much as 67 years.
At the hearing two commissioners immediately expressed skepticism about the staff report.
Chase Tydings noted that the asphalt itself could be considered historic and protected since it was quite likely it was 50 years old. Further contrary to the staff report tin did not even seem to have been the original roof. One map showed wood shingle in 1887, he noted.
Chairman Scott Winnette, imagining himself the curator of Historic Williamsburg-on-the-Monocacy with John D Rockefeller millions for period restoration, chimed in to say he’d be happy to see the 111W4th taken back to wood shingles. But mid-sentence reality dawned and he added a qualifier about favoring wood shingles “if they were possible.”
Commissioner Parnes leads opposition to extremist staff
Then Commissioner Stephen Parnes led strong dissent from the staff report saying it failed to make clear it was advocating restoration in which a building is taken back to an earlier era, not preservation: “I have a problem with the idea that we can tell a homeowner… that they have to take (their building) back to an earlier period (even if it) would be more appropriate. I don’t think it is fair for us to mandate (that,) so I have no problem… with an asphalt shingle roof, which is what is there now.”
He moved a motion to approve asphalt replacement. Chase Tydings seconded. They and fellow commissioners Timothy Wesolek and Rebecca Cybularz provided four votes for approval. Chairman Winnette and Commissioner Robert Jones provided two votes for against approval of asphalt. Neither Winette nor (Commissioner) Jones gave any reason for their vote.
In fact no one at all spoke in defense of the battered staff report.
The same Commission is permitting lots of new asphalt roofs
The staff effort to force Alonzo Jones to build his tin roof is especially bizarre given that the Commission is permitting plenty of asphalt shingle roofs in new buildings in the heart of the historic district – in apparent contradiction of the Guidelines that asphalt only be used to replace existing asphalt shingle.
Talk about regulatory chaos!
Under New Construction in Chapter 10, the Guidelines say new buildings must “respect the massing, scale, materials, form, detailing, rhythm and setbacks of nearby historic buildings” (p137) The chapter itself doesn’t directly address roof materials except rather importantly it does say: “The materials outlined in Chapter 4 are suggested for use in new construction and are generally considered to be compatible throughout the historic district.”
Chapter 4 directly addresses Roofing Materials in the already quoted passage on p61: “Asphalt shingles can be used to replace existing asphalt or asbestos shingles, but otherwise they are not permitted…”
So City staff, if they understood and followed the Guidelines, would be supporting Jones in doing asphalt replacement at 111W4th and opposing asphalt shingles elsewhere – the opposite of their actual stance.
Asphalt shingle roofs OK’d for Maxwell Square, 5th Street and North Pointe
The biggest housing development currently under construction in the historic district is the ‘Townes at Maxwell Square’ – 49 four level townhouses in the 100 block of East 5th Street, being offered in the high-$300s. All 49 gained approval from the City’s HPC for asphalt shingle roofs, and asphalt shingling work was recently completed on the second block of six ’townes.’ Asphalt shingle roofs were also approved by the HPC for the Nexus Energy Homes North Pointe development between 5th and 7th streets east of Bentz Street in the northwest corner of the historic district. It will be 68 homes when complete.
Lots of asphalt shingle roofing there too.
And there are smaller developments bringing asphalt shingle roofing to the historic district also – namely three houses approved at the very same June 26 hearing for East 5th St HPC14-440 122E5th, HPC14-401 124E 5th St, HPC14-402 128E5th St. Each of these has asphalt shingle on the main and prominent roof and on the ell and garage roofs, and standing seam metal (tin) on the porch roof only.
All this in spite of the provision page 61 of the Guidelines that asphalt shingle may only be used for replacement in kind.
So what would possess Frederick City staff to try to sool the Preservation Commission onto a hardup guy wanting to fix a code violation on a replacement asphalt roof job on West 4th Street?
The City staff report penned by Martinkosky was signed off by her boss Matthew Davis, the city’s comprehensive planning director. Martinkosky made a quit exit out the back doors after her defeat. We couldn’t ask her.
Her boss stayed around looking glum. When we commented to him at the end of the meeting that he “should never have signed that extremist nonsense,” that the staff report (on HPC14-355 111W4th) was “shameful” in threatening to evict a man from his house and that “they couldn’t keep doing this,” he didn’t seem to disagree. Chagrined would describe his demeanor.
Chairman Scott Winnette was, as always cordial and we congratulated him for the first time allowing costs to a homeowner to be brought into the evening’s discussion, but he wasn’t keen to talk further. Commissioner Robert Jones seemed completely lost for words, unable or unwilling to explain his vote for the crashed staff report.
Donna Kuzemchak the board of alderman’s liaison to the HPC told me she was “disheartened” by my tone when I spoke. I said my mother had told me at about age 16 that I wouldn’t make the diplomatic service, so I became a war correspondent instead. Actually I’m proud of my family upbringing and heritage and a high school and a university that celebrated people who spoke their minds fearlessly and forcefully.
If I don’t respect the so-called “work” of the HPC or the city staff, sorry, no way will I pretend that I do for sake of making nicey-nicey. I might assert my tone was appropriate to the staff report.
Kuzemchak, clearly sides with the preservation extremists. She seems paranoid about property owners and thinks only the historic commission is preventing them calling in the wrecking crews.
Anyway she looked very glum about the result of the night’s drama.
So perhaps some progress is being made – a small step toward sanity? (pics to come)
MY PREPARED REMARKS:
This staff report against Mr Jones’s application is wrong, and you MUST reject it.
The asphalt shingle on Mr Jones roof roof has been around at least since 1976, and possibly since 1947 – according to the staff’s own researches in this case. At least 38 years, possibly 67 years that roof has been asphalt shingle. About 50 years.
Maybe the asphalt shingles should be “protected” as character-defining and a contributing resource that provides a valuable historical narrative about changing roof fabrics in Old Town Frederick? (An attempt at a joke.)
The staff report admits that the Historic Guidelines are a mess – on page 61 these Guidelines allow asphalt shingles to be replaced in kind, while on page 87 they require him to go way back to a tin roof. You can read the Guidelines either way.
This staff report wants you to follow page 87 and order Mr Jones to take his house back to the roof it had perhaps half a century ago – all because the metal roof would provide the best historic appearance and is more “appropriate.”
But tin roofs are $10/square foot, asphalt $3/sf, so with a thousand sf of roof that’s 10 grand versus 3 grand. You’re asking Mr Jones to spend 7 grand to rebuild something you deem more “appropriate” than what he bought, and what he has now, and what has been there on the roof for 50 years or so.
Cost doesn’t matter in matters of historic preservation, City staff say, as if they are guardians of Historic Williamsburg VA with Rockefeller money to spend.
Cost is not the Commission’s concern, the City staff tells you, and you may not take cost into consideration.
That is a lie.
Nothing in the City’s land management code or in the Guidelines prevents you from considering cost or affordability.
Cost does matter. Cost is relevant. Affordability must be addressed, and it is a disgrace that the City staff refuse to address it and try to prevent you from addressing it.
There is no legal or political warrant for this oppressive extremism that City staff seek to promote. I urge you to reject it.
If you go with City staff and bar Mr Jones from redoing the asphalt shingles, which he can afford, then YOU will be responsible for 111W4th decaying. You will bear responsibility if the house is abandoned, and becomes blight.
Please do the right thing, reject the outrageous staff report, and vote to allow Mr Jones to just fix his roof.
My view on asphalt shingles – for what its worth
Personally I don’t like them much, but they do a job. We can live with a diversity of roof materials. Part of the charm of our historic district is that it was not regimented by master-planners, but evolved with many quirky differences deriving from the different personalities and preferences and incomes of those who built and made their lives here.