On Monday the Cape Charles Town Council heard appeals from four applicants that had Certificates of Appropriateness denied by the Historic District Review Board. Council overturned the HDRB’s decisions and granted all four appeals.
This was a repudiation of the HDRB, as is summed up in the following statement by Councilman Steve Bennett:
You can’t do this in a vacuum, by not looking at the adjacent property. Look at the surrounding buildings cannot be any clearer. The guidelines mean a lot, but your interpretation of the guidelines is too strict. It is your job to interpret these guidelines with some sense about it. You can’t treat them like an edict that has been handed down, and you need to treat every case the same way. If that’s what you think you’re doing, then you’re doing the wrong thing. On my time on council, I’ve only had two appeals from the Historic District Review Board, and one of those was five or six years ago. Tonight, we have four. That’s an indication that something just isn’t right.
Given the push back from big money players, Town Council’s manufactured outrage is predictable.
While it may be easy to criticize the HDRB’s methods, the fact is they are stuck trying to work with a shoddy piece of pigeon crap we like to call the Historic District Guidelines. That document would only be useful it was printed on thin paper, rolled up and put in the public restroom at Central Park.
The Board asked Town Council point blank, are the guidelines important or not? The response, which exposed just how marginal this Town Council really is, was, “It’s your job to interpret the guidelines with some sense.” What does that mean? Interpretation should not be involved.
Cela Burge, who has the uncanny ability to say the same thing twenty-five different ways (law school training), droned on and on about how difficult it was to create the guidelines; this Frankenstein monster was created under her watch and her input.
It doesn’t have to be difficult. The guidelines could be done in a ten-slide Powerpoint presentation.
- List the materials you can use.
- Create a historic paint palette.
- List the home styles (American Four Square, Cape Cod, Victorian, etc.).
- List dimensions relative to lot size.
- Home orientation.
- Acceptable roof pitch.
“Men have become the tools of their tools…Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” – Henry David Thoreau
Town Council is planning a work session to deal with this mess. We’re sure this will be a regular Algonquin Round Table.
Council has no expertise in these matters, and they need to stay out of it. There is a lot of talent and experience on the Historic District Review Board. Council only needs to task them with simplifying the rules so that architects and contractors know where they stand.