Friday Round Up: Historic Buildings, Tax Credits, and Demolition

Preservation has been in the news lately. First, you may have seen the Winchester Star article on the latest Historic Tax Credit studies. You can watch the accompanying video interview on YouTube or below:

If you are up for a little light reading on historic tax credits and their impact in Virginia, you can read the full 94 page Preserving the Past, Building the Future or the four-page Executive Summary to hit the highlights. You may also want to read the similar economic analysis Virginia’s Historic Tax Credit Program prepared by Baker Tilly. Both studies back up the assertion of Historic Preservation Tax Credits paying for themselves over time and positively impacting not just buildings but entire communities.

You may also want to read the Winchester Star article on the approval of the demolition of a property on Sharp Street at the Board of Architectural Review last night. PHW President Bruce Downing was present to voice our concerns about the demolition of this property essentially by neglect. Sharp Street as a whole is a very architecturally and historically significant, if often overlooked, area of our Historic District. We hope the proposed changes and new construction, which are scheduled to return at a future meeting, will continue to honor and reflect the unique character of that block.

Remarks on the First Winchester Historic Plaque

The following is a transcript of the remarks said by Stewart Bell, Jr. at the dedication of the first Winchester historic building marker dedication on October 15, 1967. The marker was placed on the home of Miss Lucy Kurtz, 21 South Loudoun Street. The remarks were found when a scrapbook of early PHW mailers and newsletters was being moved and several sheets fell free of their scrapbook pages. The sentiments said fifty years ago still hold true and remain guiding principles of the Winchester Historic District. Every time you see one of the oval plaques on a historic building in downtown, you can remember this is the spirit in which the plaque program was begun, and one we hope it still embodies today.

Remarks by Stewart Bell, Jr., Vice Mayor
Dedication of historical marker on Miss Lucy Kurtz’s House
21 S. Loudoun Street
Sunday, October 15, 1967

Urban progress is voracious. It is often indiscriminate. It has no memory.

Some months ago the Common Council recognized this. They recognized, also, that this is not altogether good for a community. They recognized, as all of us here today recognize, that an old landmark, because of its aesthetic, historic, or cultural significance possesses an amenity value often far beyond and aside from its utilitarian or commercial value. Because this is so, it contributes to the economic vitality and strength of its community. As evidence of this I would point to the fact that Travel is Virginia’s second most lucrative industry and that localities with historic interest and cultural distinction share most generously in its benefits. As evidence of the truth of this statement, I would point to the fact that the level of general retail trade in Williamsburg usually leas that among all the localities of the State.

It seems, therefore, that it is a wise and proper municipal policy to identify some of our older buildings what have cultural significance and architectural integrity and that we endeavor to snatch them from the eager maw of Progress.

To that end, the City has purchased and in various ways preserves three such buildings: Washington’s Office, Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters, and Abram’s Delight. But the City cannot continue to purchase and preserve as public property all its old buildings. Pursued to its conclusion, such a policy would not only be costly but it would ultimately make our city a necropolis, which is a city without life. This is the opposite of our aim.

In view of this, it was the purpose of the Council when it pass the Ordinance, as a result of this this plaque is placed here today, to indicate that the City of Winchester, as a corporate body, does recognize the value to the community of some of its older buildings and that it is our official policy to join with the owners of such properties to identify and to designate them by placing upon them an official bronze marker.

We hope that the presence of such a marker on any building in our community will in the future serve as a reminder to all who pass by, and especially to each future owner, that here is a building of distinction out of our past. It has survived and it is of genuine worth to our community to keep it if possible. It is, therefore, the policy of the community to attempt to preserve it from thoughtless or wanton destruction. This marker will say, “Think carefully and weigh all the values involved before you determine to replace this ancient building.”

As here and now we dedicate ourselves to the preservation of something of value out of our physical and material heritage, I have to express my wish that we likewise dedicate ourselves to the notions of purity, integrity, dignity and self-respect which are typified by such landmarks as this home, and that we seek to honor and observe these values which have come down to us out of the past. They are among the solid verities upon which all that is worthwhile is our past is built. They are among the solid verities upon which to build an enduring future amid the bewildering changes of our days.

This marker bears the official arms of the City of Winchester, but it is placed on any property only upon request of the owner, who thus joins with the City to designate his property as a cultural landmark. For this reason, I request Miss Lucy (Kurtz) and Mrs. (Godfrey) O’Rear, the owners of this handsome stone house that graces our principal street, to join with me in the placement of this first historic marker.

Placement of the first Winchester historic plaque

If you are inspired to have a plaque placed on your building in Winchester Historic District, visit the City’s website for the forms and guideline information. Plaques are discussed and approved by the Board of Architectural Review. Currently over 140 buildings in the historic district have been recognized with the official plaque, but not all recognized buildings have had their plaques installed.

Friday Roundup: Tax Credit Edition

Friday Roundup Welcome to 2018! As you may have heard, there had been an open demolition request for 137 South Loudoun, the building most heavily damaged by the fire in February 2016, submitted to the Board of Architectural Review. We wanted to publicly share the news from the applicant that at the same time the Board of Architectural Review was meeting and discussing how to proceed on the demolition request yesterday, Part 1 of the historic tax credit application was approved by the Department of Historic Resources. The applicant will be proceeding to Part 2 of the application, and as such, the demolition request has been withdrawn.

This is a prime example of how the historic tax credit can help save endangered buildings. The tax credits will help make this project more financially feasible than it otherwise would have been, and the community can retain at least a substantial portion – and the most important portion for experiencing the downtown as a pedestrian – of the historic Italianate-style building. While there is still a long process ahead, we hope to see 137 South Loudoun Street recover and thrive.

On that note, while we mentioned that the Federal-level historic tax credit was spared the chopping block, we did note there was a change to the implementation. As of now there is no hard-hitting look at how spacing the credit over five years will impact projects financially, although there is expected to be some lessening of value. The National Trust for Historic Preservation recapped the changes due to the preservation community’s advocacy as such:

“This strong showing of support resulted in an amendment to restore the HTC to 20 percent. The amendment—offered by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and cosponsored by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa; Pat Roberts, R-Kan.; Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; and Tim Scott, R-S.C.—was accepted at a critical moment in the Senate Finance Committee’s markup of the tax bill during the week of November 13. To file the amendment, however, Sen. Cassidy needed to identify a way to offset the cost of the incentive. The solution was to take the HTC in phases over five years instead of in its entirety the year a rehabilitated building is completed. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that phasing the HTC in this way reduces the cost of the program by approximately $2 billion over 10 years.”

The Trust also notes what a remarkable and almost improbable feat it was to retain the historic tax credit, noting that “[o]f the more than 300 amendments offered, the Finance Committee ultimately approved only about a dozen.” We hope to see more of this good luck spread to other preservation projects in 2018!

PHW’s Position on Upcoming Public Hearing of BAR Appeal

The following is PHW’s position on the upcoming appeal of a vinyl window installation without a Certificate of Appropriateness. This event is scheduled as a public hearing for September 22 at the regular Winchester City Council meeting, which begins at 6 PM in Rouss City Hall.

I write on behalf of Preservation of Historic Winchester in support of the Board of Architectural Review’s decision to replace the vinyl windows installed without a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) over a two-year span with appropriate wooden windows at 210 South Washington Street.

A review of the sequence of events shows the following. First, the applicant for Sleepy Creek Renovations, LLC of Hedgesville, WV, says he was unaware of the existence of the Winchester Historic District and the BAR at the time of his purchase of the property. It is ultimately the responsibility of the owner to determine any restrictions due to the property’s zoning, which in this case included Winchester’s Historic District overlay. This lack of research is not a failure of the Board of Architectural Review.

Second, all property owners in the Historic District are required to receive a COA for exterior changes visible from a public street, which includes many semi-private alleys. The BAR members carefully and deliberately went through each window location at 210 South Washington Street with the applicant, ascertaining the visibility from the public right of ways and the material of the removed windows, to determine which vinyl windows were subject to their approval before making their decision. In this case, all windows in question are in view from South Washington Street, undoubtedly one of the district’s most visible and highly traveled thoroughfares, lined with some of Winchester’s grandest homes. It would be an unfortunate precedent to overturn such a systematic application of their design guidelines. In effect, it would reward a stated lack of knowledge as an excuse not to be held to the same standards as his neighbors.

Third, as stated in point 6 of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, reprinted in chapter one of the Winchester design guidelines on page 13, “Deteriorated historic features will be repaired rather than replaced. Where the severity of deterioration requires replacement of a distinctive feature, the new feature will match the old in design, color, texture, and, where possible, materials. Replacement of missing features will be substantiated by documentary and physical evidence.” Wood windows with increased energy efficiency and maintenance-reducing factory finishes are still being manufactured today, are readily available, and have been used successfully in numerous projects throughout the Historic District. On the issue of vinyl replacement windows, the BAR has been consistent, and the design guidelines have been consistent, that they are not an appropriate replacement for existing wooden windows.

Fourth, we are very aware that this was a costly mistake. Although the BAR does not in general consider financial hardship during their review, they were extremely sympathetic in their ruling. In a move unprecedented in my ten years of observing BAR meetings, the applicant was allowed a two-year window to rectify the window replacement issue in stages to accommodate his financial situation. Everything the BAR could have done to reduce the strain on the homeowner and stay within their guidelines was done.

Considering the above facts, we urge the council to affirm the BAR’s decision. As a reminder, city staff and council are to apply the same guidelines when making decisions pertaining to the Historic District as the Board of Architectural Review, in accordance with Ordinance 14-9-1.3. In this case, the verdict is clear – the windows can be seen from a public right of way, were not of a “grandfathered” nonconforming material eligible for a like-for-like replacement, and the replacement material is still readily available. Combined with the extremely lenient two-year replacement schedule, it is the belief of Preservation of Historic Winchester that the BAR correctly and fairly interpreted both the spirit and letter of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and their own design guidelines in this case. These guidelines have served over the years to increase property values and the aesthetic charm of Winchester’s historic downtown and surrounding neighborhoods, which has made our town an attractive place to live and work.

Is My Property in the Historic District?

The Kent Building Winchester’s local Historic District (HW zoning) is quite large at over 1200 documented structures over approximately 45 city blocks. There is often confusion about what area the local Historic District covers and whether or not a property is subject to any oversight for exterior changes.

All properties within the local Historic District are subject to review by the Winchester Board of Architectural Review for exterior alterations. Refer to Article 14 of the Winchester Zoning Ordinance and the Design Guidelines for the Historic District. For questions and more information about BAR oversight and applications, direct your inquiries to the Winchester Planning and Zoning Department, which acts as the city staff for the BAR.

This may sound very complicated, overwhelming, and impossible for an individual to figure out what the requirements are and where to go for information. There are a few ways you can check the status of your property on your own, quickly and easily, to determine whether you are subject to BAR oversight:

How to Check the Winchester Historic District (HW Zoning) Status

If you are new to the area, you may not realize some of the ways you’ve seen other historic districts and protected properties marked are not the same in Winchester. Here are some ways you may expect to see a historic district marked that are NOT a reliable indicator in Winchester:

How NOT to Check the Winchester Historic District (HW Zoning) Status

  • Historic building plaques (The oval plaques in Winchester are recognition for buildings of significance within the district, but are an optional part of the local historic district and denote no other protections or restrictions.)
  • Street signage (Historic district boundaries are not fully marked by signage and such signs should be used as a guide only.)
  • Real Estate Assessment Search (HW zoning is NOT shown on the web assessment search.)

Do you have any further ideas to add to the list? Perhaps you’ve expected to be able to check local Historic District status in some other way you don’t see listed here. Please drop us a note at PHW and we will keep this post updated.

BAR Is Looking for Two Volunteers

Today is the first Winchester Board of Architectural Review meeting for February, and it seems like a good time to remind everyone there are two vacancies for the board. The Board of Architectural Review promotes preservation, protection and maintenance of buildings, structures, places and areas within the Historic District.  Prior to any alteration, reconstruction, demolition, or restoration of buildings or structures within the Historic District, the Board reviews applications and grants Certificates of Appropriateness for such changes.  The Board uses the following when considering applications:
The Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation  
Winchester Historic District Guidelines
Article 14 of the Winchester Zoning Ordinance

The Board consists of seven voting members who are appointed by City Council.  One should be a registered architect or design professional, one should be a licensed real estate agent, one or more should own property or reside in the Historic District, and one or more may be from backgrounds in architectural history, history, planning, real estate, or archaeology.  All members should possess knowledge of and demonstrate interest in preservation of the historic character of Winchester.  The Board meets the first and third Thursdays of each month at 4:00 p.m. in the Council Chambers at Rouss City Hall.

Interested in filling a vacancy? Contact Will Moore at the Winchester City Planning and Zoning office for more information, (540) 667-1815.

Susan Beemer House Update

The public hearing for the demolition request at 110 W. Boscawen Street is proceeding. It appears that the applicant wants to demolish the existing structure for “high end apartments or townhomes.”

If you wish to attend the meeting or make a public comment on this request, mark your calendars for Thursday, October 18, 4 PM in Council Chambers in Rouss City Hall. The public hearing is the first agenda item.

Demolition Request at BAR on Oct. 18

Word has reached PHW that a demolition request will come before the Winchester Board of Architectural Review on October 18 for the Susan Beemer House at 110 West Boscawen Street. The house is a ca. 1823 Federal-style structure altered for commercial use. We wanted to let you know PHW is aware of the proposal. We will update you as information becomes available.

BAR Annual Report

Winchester’s Board of Architectural Review (BAR) presented its annual report to the City Council on March 15. The report detailed the ways the BAR works to fulfill the objectives of Winchester’s City Council, outlines the relevant ordinances, and enumerates the applications approved, denied, and withdrawn from 2006-2010 among other data.

If you missed the meeting, click here to see the slide presentation (pdf).

Community Food Store Slated for Demolition

Vic Bradshaw reported on the fate of the Community Food Store, 319-321 S. Kent St.:

. . . Hobbs’s response provides an answer to why the Community Food Store building is still standing – money to rebuild on the site could not be obtained. The structure, at Kent and Cecil streets, could be gone by year’s end, however. The City Council has begun action to declare it blighted and tear it down.

Read the full article at the Winchester Star (login required).

PHW representatives toured the building prior to the public hearing for demolition.  While the building tells a key story in the development and history of the neighborhood, the cost of the necessary stabilization made the project financially unfeasible.  PHW did not oppose the demolition of the structure given that the state of neglect and compromised structural integrity would make the project financially unfeasible.

The fate of the Community Food Store,  like Ruth’s Tea Room before it, is a sobering reminder that  important pieces of history may become empty lots when faced against demolition by neglect.