The controversial application to build a contemporary “international” style house in the Third Street Neighborhood Historic District was finally “approved” at Tuesday’s City Council meeting as a result of a deadlock among the six councilmembers present. The Landmarks Commission had approved the application on December 10, 2007, and Mayor Katz’s February 12 motion to deny an appeal and uphold that approval produced the deadlock vote, with councilmembers Katz, Bloom, and Holbrook voting for the motion and councilmembers McKeown, Genser, and Shriver voting against it. Councilmember O’Connor was not present, as she was out of town on City Business.
A follow-on motion to remand the matter to the Landmarks Commission for further work also deadlocked 3-3, so the Commission’s decision remained in place, and Katz told applicants Mark Gorman and Beth Burns, “You have your house.”
The debate over the appeal filed by Bea Nemlaha and other District residents illustrated the differing views within the community as to “how new construction can be compatible with older buildings,” as Nemlaha posed the question.
The existing building at 2642 2nd Street is a “non-contributing structure,” a one-story duplex built in 1953 that does not contribute historically or architecturally to the nature of the Historic District formed in 1990. All parties seemed to agree that the proposed 2,365 square foot house does not conflict with its historic neighbors in terms of size or exterior building materials, but that it certainly would look like a contemporary house in a neighborhood of largely pre-1935 homes.
Members of the public who addressed the Council were overwhelmingly but not exclusively against the application and in support of the appeal. Applicant Gorman said that the owners tried to make the design simple so as not to compete for attention with the older houses but to provide “a backdrop to show off” the historic buildings, but other speakers criticized the new building’s design for its simplicity and “minimalism” which was out of place with the architecture of the contributing structures in the Historic District.
In the discussion among councilmembers, Mayor Pro Tem Bloom called the issue “a train wreck of subjectivity” and opted to resolve “a very difficult decision” by deferring to the Landmarks Commission. Holbrook made the “tough call” the same way, but Katz went further, saying, “We must look not only to the past but to the future.”
McKeown thought the new design “violates the sense of history and sense of place” in the Historic District, and Genser and Shriver voted with him in favor of the appeal.
Another real estate development item on the agenda raised an unusual issue that the Council said had happily not come before it in the past. In connection with an appeal from the Planning Commission’s approval of a 19-unit condominium project at 1433 14th Street, appellant Elaine Antonio said that neighbors opposed to the project had received telephone death threats that deterred them from voicing opposition to the Planning Commission.
Although the Council approved the staff’s recommendation and denied the appeal, it directed staff to investigate what steps could be taken in the future to insure the integrity of public participation in Planning Commission proceedings.
In other action, the Council approved the request of Bloom and O’Connor to direct staff to make recommendations regarding implementation of revised procedures for analyzing appropriate mitigations for replacing City trees.