2014, August 7 | Thursday 3:30 am

by Peter Samuel

City staff and the Historic Preservation Commission are flouting the Guidelines limiting use of pressure treated wood in fences. The Guidelines are clear that fences facing the street “cannot be built of pressure-treated wood.” (p50)

Under Chapter 4 MATERIALS FOR REHABILITATION AND THEIR TREATMENT section D. WOOD MATERIALS p50 you have first under 1. ChapAlleyB1469Acceptable wood. “Any species of untreated, non-composite wood can be used for wood elements in the Historic District… All visible wood surfaces must be painted or stained with a solid opaque stain that resembles a paint finish.”

Since pressure treated wood is ‘treated’ and wood fences are a ‘wood element’ that says, in effect, that pressure treated wood in the historic district is not allowed. Period.

But the Guidelines back away from that in the next paragraph ‘2. Decay and termite resistant wood’ under A. Use of pressure-treated wood: “In the Historic District visible pressure treated wood can only be used for structural elements that are concealed where wood is in direct contact with the ground, such as posts, lattice, and some structural and trim elements… Fences can be built of pressure-treated lumber, except as noted in 2.B.”

2.B. : “…Street-facing gates and fences cannot be built of pressure-treated wood.” (p50)

We get the same message later.

Chapter 8 GUIDELINES FOR LANDSCAPES AND STREETSCAPES, G. FENCES, GATES AND WALLS 8. Inappropriate fence types and materials, p125 says

“Pressure treated wood is permitted for fences and gates that do not face the street.”

So the Guidelines are pretty clear that pressure treated wood fences are OK so long as they don’t face the street.

Well what’s been going on East 2nd Street just opposite the Catholic Church on the corner of Chapel Alley. There’s a brand new fence, all pressure treated wood, just completed in an L-plan, part facing East 2nd Street and the longer stretch down the sidewalk of Chapel Alley.

ChapAlMarkings1471We were first told by a senior City official this fence was non-compliant when we raised it in a telephone conversation.

But next day he emailed us with a correction: “To clarify from our phone conversation yesterday, pressure treated wood is permitted in the historic district for fences. Garden structures such as pergolas or arbors could also be constructed from pressure treated materials.”

So the Guidelines are not being followed on pressure treated wood for fences.

As in the case of asphalt shingles for new roofing, specifically forbidden in the Guidelines but allowed in practice.

And as in the case of fiber cement composite board for outside wall cladding. Verboten in der Guidelines but permitted in fact.

This despite the statement at the beginning (p8) of the Guidelines: “These guidelines are the basis of the review process and the foundation for decision-making by the (Historic Preservation) Commission.”

We don’t know how this came about.

Did the Commission discuss and formally vote these divergences from the Guidelines at some point? We can’t establish that.

Or did the City staff decide these were politically prudent departures from the clear meaning of the Guidelines, and the Commissioners never caught on?

We suspect the latter because the Commissioners are part-timers and rely heavily on City staff for their interpretation of the Guidelines.

COMMENT: Whatever the explanation this is yet another manifestation of Historic District Guidelines chaos. And it highlights the need for a thorough-going review and rewrite of the Guidelines.ChapelAlleyA1470

On PT pine: Pressure treated wood SHOULD be an option in the historic district. The fungal and insect resistance provided by pressure treatment with copper based preservatives is an important tool for preservation. It is an economical means of extending the life of wood elements. Untreated pine would last maybe 10 years versus 30 to 50 years treated.

The most commonly sold pressure treated wood here is southern yellow pine. Home Deport sells the 5/8 x 5.5 inch x 6 foot fence boards for $1.64 each. The main alternative is western cedar or redwood which goes for $2.37/board, so the 218 boards for 100ft of fence will be $357 for the PT southern pine versus $517 for the western cedar/redwood.

It certainly used to be true that the southern pine has a much greater tendency to shrink, crack and twist and doesn’t take paint or stain as well as the western wood. That may be changing a bit. The southern pine suppliers are improving their product as the treatment is refined. And while the heartwood of western cedar has great natural resistance to rot and insects a proportion of board is often the outside sapwood (lighter in color) and lacks that rot and insect resistance. A western fence with a lot of sapwood will fall apart much quicker than PT pine.

That said the western wood is generally considered more attractive. It has a good grain and smells beautiful. Unpainted it weathers to a nice gray, and generally takes a stain or paint better than PT pine.

- editor 2014-08-06


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