Just off South Court Street at the Carroll Creek Linear Park a prominent brick building is getting a two-level steel balcony addition with spiral stairs. The Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) approved the project unanimously July 23 in case HPC15-294. The front is 111-115W All Saints. The long brick, two story, flat roofed century-old industrial building is the home of Kevin and Margaret Hluch along with his sculpture studio. Hluch (pron ‘Hell-luke’) has a number of his metal sculptures on public display of the northern edge of the park – where the City has just completed a wider walk and other landscape improvements.
The balconies are being added to a 1920s solid brick flat-roofed industrial building, that has been dubbed a ‘contributing (historic) resource.’ The balconies and spiral stair are being added to the northern face of the building which is a prominent part of the South Court streetscape and forms the backdrop to the Carroll Creek Linear Park as you walk west from S Market Street to S Court on the south side of the canal. The present end of the building is rather dull and featureless. An interesting detail is a door opening against a rail, suggesting that there was once a stairway down – long since rotted away one guesses.
The City staff report by Lisa Murphy notes that the Historic District Guidelines provide that porches and stairs cannot be added to character defining facades unless it can be shown these existed historically (p82). Then she wrote: “Under this proposal the balcony or deck will be added to a secondary elevation and is generally permitted by the guidelines.”
She also cites the Guidelines on Additions including the provision (p135) that they “Must be constructed on the rear or on an inconspicuous side of a building.”
Staff comment was first that: “The location of the proposed addition is consistent with the Guidelines.”
But the Guidelines have a lot more to say on this kind of project.
In the Introductory chapter under ‘K. General Parameters for Reviewing Changes in the Frederick Town Historic District’ (p12) they introduce the notion of a ‘Hierarchy of facades’ suggesting different preservation treatment for different facades.
Here we’re told that the hierarchy of treatments is “based on visibility from the street.” The idea is that the more visible is the proposed addition or change the more restrictive the historic preservation regulators should be. The Guidelines continue (p12): “The Commission may exercise a certain degree of leniency when considering appropriate treatments for less prominent facades.”
Under ’N. Review of all facades’ on page 14 they return to the subject, amplifying the theme a bit. There is to be greater “leniency” in the treatment of offending citizens if they do their thing privately, out of sight. We’re getting sarcastic.
Quoting their words: “Depending on the nature of the project, the significance of the property, and the impact of the work on the historic resource, the Commission may be more lenient when reviewing proposals that affect portions of buildings not visible from a public way.”
What are we to make of the handling of the Hluch building, and the proposed new balconies and spiral stair.
Contrary to the staff report they are highly visible and conspicuous. You will see them from major streets like South Market at the canal, South Court walking south from the parking garage or the courthouse, and they will be visible walking both directions along Carroll Creek Linear Park. The pictures nearby indicate this.
OUR COMMENT: we like the balconies and stair design. It will add livability to the house, being able to walk directly out to the open air and views of the City and the park.
Frederick’s evening and mornings outside are often delightful even in mid-summer. The balconies will be a great hangout for the building occupants to enjoy the park and the passing City scene. The stairs will provide a neat way down into the park.
From the public viewpoint improvements like this support property values and help the City financially. The more livable the house the more owners will be inclined to invest in its preservation, and the more it will be worth. Plus it will add interest to the streetscape of South Court Street and be an attractive industrial style addition to the look of the park.
I spoke briefly at the hearing in favor of the project and urged HPC approval. The die was cast anyway. No one objected to the Hluch balconies and no HPC commissioner had any problem with it, except for a minor detail. Commissioner Dan Lawton wanted the ends of the balconies set in from the main north-south running side walls of the building by 4 to 6 inches, leaving the original lines of the building unencumbered.
Ms Hluch as co-owner readily agreed to this tweak, and with it written into the decision the project was approved unanimously by the HPC.
Completely at odds with the Guidelines
Everyone likes – well ‘everyone’ interested enough to be at the hearing, plus City staff and commissioners – this project. But the truth is it is completely incompatible with the Guidelines. The Guidelines strongly resist, if not prohibit any significant changes to the historic streetscape and to any primary facades of a ‘contributing (historic) resource.’ Again and again in situations where an addition is visible from a public way it gets ruled out as incompatible with the Guidelines. And is denied.
It is difficult to think of any addition more prominent and conspicuous from a public way than the Hluchs’ balconies and spiral stairs.
A convenient lie?
The Hluch addition only got approval with a great big lie – the lie that the balconies addition will be “inconspicuous.” This is calling white black, the Islamic State humane, the homeless man affluent, Obama a conservative…
It is patently false.
Where did this lie originate? Maybe it was it all just a mistake? Ms Murphy just thought: “Not the streetfront, therefore inconspicuous. Next case.”
Maybe she never got to actually look at the building? It is just 250 yards from the front of her office on West Patrick. She could see the Hluch building across the police parking lot from the Patrick St parking deck at the back of her offices.
Such extraordinary error of observation as sheer incompetence can never be completely ruled out. But you have to suspect there were little power games going on here – that City staff had their own reasons to permit the Hluch balconies, knew the project was non-controversial, and boldly saw a Big Lie as the easiest way to achieve their objective. (Further pictures below.)