2014-07-17 / Around Town

HDC Weighs Seven Projects

By Barry Bridges

At its monthly meeting on Tuesday, July 15, the Newport Historic District Commission considered several applications from homeowners seeking the necessary approvals to renovate their properties. The proposed projects spanned the gamut from window replacements to new additions.

Five efforts in the historic district were given the nod, while two others were continued so that the record can be supplemented with additional information.

A request from Ronald Lee Fleming to allow for construction of two new accessory structures at Bellevue House, 304 Bellevue Ave., was summarily approved with no comment.

Meanwhile, there was debate concerning the front porch steps of the Nellie McMahon House, 21 John St., which was constructed in the early 1900s. Historic wood steps on the property were previously removed and replaced with stone steps without the necessary permission. Although this move resulted in ongoing litigation with the city, the homeowners were before the commission with a proposal to mitigate the situation by adding a layer of wood on top of the stones.

Commission Chair Diana Sylvaria expressed dismay at this chain of events, telling project architect Richard Rice Long that “we wouldn’t be having this discussion if the owners had done things right in the first place. They didn’t get approvals, and now you’re trying to put a Band-Aid on it. We’re being asked to approve something to cover up something we never approved.” She felt that putting wood on top of the stone already there would make the structure too bulky. “There should be wood steps, period,” she said.

Other commission members agreed that the stone steps were not well-suited to the neighborhood and questioned whether the wood would quickly rot. Michael Conroy noted that “stone stairs are not appropriate for a house of this vintage.” However, Daniel Dias took the opposite stance. “I think at this point a lot has been invested [by the homeowners]. The stone isn’t all that inappropriate compared to other stone steps on John Street. I think just leaving the stone steps would be best.”

John Shehan foreshadowed the commission’s decision in stating, “I would ideally like to see the stone stairs gone, but I see [this proposal] as an awkward solution to a bad situation.” After some deliberation on pragmatic options, the plan to affix wood to the stone passed on a fiveto one vote, with Sylvaria standing her ground and voting against the application.

A project to add a new second story addition and to make accompanying exterior renovations to a noncontributing 1960s-era home at 4 Mary Jane Lane was quickly OK’d, with the commission acknowledging that recommendations from the design review phase had been effectively implemented.

Similarly, members gave the go-ahead for revisions to previously authorized alterations at the Emily Carry House at 105 Mill St. Roof and dormer designs were redrawn to accommodate the clearances needed for an elevator and a stairway. After a discussion on anticipated window replacements, architect Steven Laurin agreed to the commission’s preference that several original windows on the front elevation be restored and remain intact.

In the final approval of the evening, homeowner John Grosvenor received a green light to remove the existing “unsightly” three-story rear addition at the Isaac Sherman House at 20 Sherman St. In its place, he will construct a “purposefully different” two-story addition that will provide an appropriate contrast with the original 1811 Federal-style home. He will also honor several construction details requested by the commission. Grosvenor, a local architect familiar with historic district standards, said “This will be a nice augmentation of lifestyle without taking away from the main house.”

Full consideration of window replacements at 35 Franklin St. (Rogers House) and 718 Bellevue Ave. # 2 (Mailands) was continued to the commission’s August meeting.

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