Town Council rejected an appeal by David Gammino, owner of the Hotel Cape Charles, for a Historic District Review Board Certificate of Appropriateness. Gammino had planned to have a mural installed on the facade of the hotel. An artist was going to be flown in from Europe to do the installation. According to Mr. Gammino, the piece was going to reflect our love for the natural beauty of the Eastern Shore.
Gammino argued that the hotel was not a historic contributing structure and that the Historic District Guidelines say nothing about public art, such as a mural.
The HDRB rejected the application citing the guidelines that stated that, as a contributing structure, not only could the applicant not paint a mural but if he did anything to the facade, he would have to return it to its original state.
A departure from earlier boards, the current HDRB along with Planner Zach Ponds argued that the hotel was a historic contributing structure due to the fact that it was within the historic district overlay. That is, every single structure within the overlay is considered contributing. This interpretation is backed by members of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
In the past, when Larry DiRe was Planner, there were many instances where homes inside the overlay were not considered contributing structures due to a number of factors.
In the law regulating historic districts in the United States, a contributing property or contributing resource is any building, object, or structure which adds to the historical integrity or architectural qualities that make the historic district, listed locally or federally, significant. Government agencies, at the state, national, and local level in the United States, have differing definitions of what constitutes a contributing property but there are common characteristics. Local laws often regulate the changes that can be made to contributing structures within designated historic districts. The first local ordinances dealing with the alteration of buildings within historic districts was in Charleston, South Carolina in 1931.
Properties within a historic district fall into one of two types of property: contributing and non-contributing. A contributing property, such as a 19th-century mansion, helps make a historic district historic, while a non-contributing property, such as a modern medical clinic, does not. The contributing properties are key to a historic district’s historic associations, historic architectural qualities, or archaeological qualities. A property can change from contributing to non-contributing and vice versa if significant alterations take place.
Does the Hotel Cape Charles add to the historical integrity of the town?
While the town pounded its fist on the guidelines in order to reject the appeal, the arguments used to do so were pretty flimsy. The decision was arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and made without any relevance.
The actual reason for the denial was that the town just didn’t want a mural on the front of the building. Councilman Bennett said he thought it would be hideous and ugly. Councilwoman Burge said that, while she liked the mural, and the town needed more public art, that it was not appropriate.
The town used a bogus interpretation that the Hotel Cape Charles was somehow a contributing structure to the historical integrity of the town, and then leveraged an obscure section of the guidelines that dealt with paint, and was apropos of nothing. The denial was made even as there is nothing in the guidelines that deals with public art, or at a more detailed level, murals.