Thursday, May 14, 2015

"206" West Stadium

Tuesday evening (12 May 2015) the West Lafayette Historic Preservation Commission approved the construction of a new "kiddie condo" at 206 W. Stadium. The three bedroom, three bath house is to be built on property owned by Plonski LLC  (Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA). It will be built my Michael Plonski and "owned" by the 18 year old son of the current owner. By now we all understand how this pattern works in our neighborhood both as a commercial investment and as a device for tax avoidance.

It could have been worse.

Put to one side any observations you may have regarding the maintenance of the Plonski owned property next door at 204 W. Stadium. (Mr. Plonski blamed that on his management company, Livesay Rentals). I will ignore any confrontation I might have seen between the parent of a student living in 204 and someone who I can only assume was the property manager for Plonski LLC over the condition of the building. I will not report on the repairs the parent did himself. You need not hear the dead animal stories told by the students living there.

Nor will I revisit the 1997 battle with the APC over R1U (U = "urban") vs R1 zoning. It was not a good idea. We lost. It hurt us here.

Instead follow me into a discussion of the current limits of an R1U zone and the limits of the Historic Preservation Commission.

The lot at "206" is questionable. At 30 ft. it does NOT meet the lot width requirement for R1U (40ft.). Nor does it allow for the 12ft. building separation that should take place in an R1U district. BUT it was approved by an APC planner because it met (barely) the "substandard lot" "lot coverage" requirement of 4000 sq.ft. ("206" measures 30ft. x 135ft or 4050 sq.ft.)  Apparently the garage is not involved in the calculation.The city then reviewed the permit to see that the "lot coverage, setback and building height standards, parking, and bufferyard requirements" were met. Mr. Plonski was then free to build something.

They hit the application with a rubber stamp.

I became involved
on April 26th. when the "206" sign went up and construction was about to begin. I wrote the Mayor, the City Engineer, and the Director of Development. I quoted the following from the Historic Preservation Ordinance:

b.  The establishment of a historic district shall occur in two (2) phases.
During the first phase, which continues for a period of three (3) years from the date any
map of the Local Historic District is adopted, a certificate of appropriateness is required
for only the following activities: the DEMOLITION of any building; the moving of any
building; and any NEW CONSTRUCTIONS of a principal building or accessory building or
structure subject to view from a public way. 

I said No permit for this house can be issued, nor a demolition take place without an action of the Historic Preservation Commission. 

Then I threatened to set my hair on fire. The building permit was rescinded.

The city had relied on the applicant to self report that the construction was in an historic district; to tick that box. That didn't work. The city should have been able to identify this address as being within the Historic District and then refer this new construction to the Historic Preservation Commission for a Certificate of Appropriateness.

But due diligence on the part of permit applicants or their agents is not an unreasonable expectation. The New Chauncey National Historic District came into existence in 2002. Our local ordinance was adopted after numerous amendments in two stages over two years (2011-2013) requiring four votes of the city council. It's on the New Chauncey Neighborhood signs!

To his credit, Mr. Plonksi then began a series of meetings with the Certificate of Appropriateness  subcommittee of the Historic Preservation Commission. He modified the initial design which appears above. He balked at removing the vinyl siding from the plan and argued that because there was already vinyl siding on W. Stadium Ave., he was in compliance with the ordinance.

True, there is vinyl siding on W. Stadium. But it is not representative of the historic district as a whole. It is also likely that there are over-occupied houses on W. Stadium Ave., trash cans without lids on W. Stadium Ave., and smoke alarms without batteries on W. Stadium Ave. But not every practice on the street should be emulated.

At a public hearing, both the Certificate of Appropriateness Committee and the full Historic Preservation Commission unanimously rejected the Plonski design submission. Had they accepted the Plonski drawings, they would have lowered our standards below those set by the Dept. of the Interior (see the 2003 reconstruction of 200 W. Stadium (below) built according to those standards) and below those more recently negotiated by the Area Plan Commission with Morris Rentals (Fowler Ave.) and done with the neighborhood land use plan in mind and in anticipation of the neighborhood overlay zone to come.

Mr. Plonski removed the vinyl. The plan was approved. 

The process was very messy. Apparently nobody got the memo that the Historic District exists. Maybe nobody sent the memo. The resource guide for the district is nearly but not yet complete. We have been borrowing from the Department of the Interior and the City of Lafayette. We borrowed Kurt Wahl from the City of Lafayette to provide technical support. No one on the Historic Preservation Commission had ever done this before.  

We must get better before the full ordinance comes on line next year. We survived the first test of the historic preservation ordinance. It could have been better. It could have been worse.

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