The Historic District Review Board received an Application for a Certificate of Appropriateness for 439 Mason Avenue to add a handicap ramp, front stoop removal, window shutters, new front gable, roof cupola and signage for a Dacha-style Russian Tea Room. The applicant requested the façade changes for the existing 1970s-era, vinyl-clad Ranch style frame dwelling so as to create the impression of being in Central Europe or Russia. According to staff, this will not be a home occupation; there will have to be a change of use to commercial.
While this board generally defers to Chairman Joe Fehrer’s knowledge, experience and expertise, this application created a bit of a mutiny. Fehrer found the entire idea somewhat ridiculous, “I just don’t see it…to take a rancher like this, and try to make it look like something else. They were old houses, the way they were built–I just don’t think it’s right. The ornamental domed cupola, is just too much for a 1970s style rancher.”
The divide in opinion was whether the board should work more to maintain the historic integrity of the historic district (Fehrer’s contention), or whether they should disregard any notion of integrity in favor of promoting more business in Cape Charles. “We have to do something to help these people. What can we do to help, we need more business in town,” board member Sandra Salopek said.
While member Terry Strub sided with Salopek, initially David Gay and John Caton agreed with Fehrer. As discussion continued, and with aggressive feedback from the applicant, they began to soften and back off their initial support. During several moments of confused chatter, there all of sudden was a motion on the table to vote to approve the application (minus the cupola). Fehrer asked for a vote; Salopek and Strub voting yes, Fehrer and Gay voting no. Caton so far did not offer a vote. Confused, Fehrer entered into more discussion, basically trying to figure out just what was going on, and why Caton would not vote. Caton noted that he was still thinking about it, that he basically agreed with Fehrer, but was not sure how to vote. After more discussion, Fehrer took another vote. This time it was Salopek, Strub, Gay and Caton voting yes, with Fehrer voting no.
“Congratulations,” said Fehrer. “The application is approved.”
Application details from staff report:
Handicap ramp. The Town previously approved such a ramp at this location. Being used as a commercial site requiring public accommodation staff finds the request for a ramp to be appropriate. The proposed ramp will serve as the new entrance to the building, and so removing the existing concrete steps and stoop is appropriate.
Window shutters. This is a non-contributing structure and currently has non-functioning, decorative shutters on all windows. The Guidelines address shutters as window elements to be respected (page 37), should be wood and mounted on hinges (page 40), and that storefronts should avoid plastic and\or inoperable shutters (page 46).
The applicant presents a number of examples within the Cape Charles Historic District of ornate shutters on contributing structures. The proposed shutters are an integral feature of the overall architectural approach to the building’s redesign as a Russian tea room.
New front gable. A modest new front gable is proposed over the front entrance way.
Pages 11 and 12 of the Guidelines shows examples of the decorative front gables used as both central and complete front gables. The applicant proposes a decorative style similar in type to those found in Town.
Cupola. A cupola is proposed for the roof. The Guidelines are silent on cupolas and roof additions beyond chimneys and modern features such as antennae and satellite dishes (pages 34 – 36). The proposed cupola represents a Russian-style onion dome integral to the overall architectural approach to the building’s redesign as a Russian tea room.