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Commission rejects demolition, historic zoning for Hyde Park house

Thursday, January 13, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

Planning Commission could come to no clear conclusion on the Bradford-Nohra House at Tuesday night’s meeting, equally split between local conservation efforts and the owners’ request to demolish it, leaving no clear choice for Council to consider.


This was the second time Planning Commission heard the Bradford-Nohra case, and it goes to Council today. Historic Preservation Officer Steve Sadowsky did not recommend preservation of the controversial one-time wood frame home, noting its many extensions and expansions during its life span. Under the specifications of the Hyde Park National Historic District, the now-stucco house was deemed only “potentially contributing” to the area’s historic fabric, according to Sadowsky.


“Staff has never recommended this house for landmark designation because of the changes to the house,” Sadowsky said. “It does not retain enough of its historic appearance under the land use code.”


Commissioner Kathryn Tovo asked whether elements of the house, such as the replaced windows, could be replaced for historical designation. Sadowksy noted that it would have to be broader, such as stripping the stucco frame, removing the back-end addition and returning the original porch to the property.


Attorney Jimmy Nassour, nephew of the owner, noted his elderly aunt did not have the $1 million to restore the property, but he did emphasize the family was willing to spend money to turn the lot into space for both his aunt and renters. The neighborhood was skeptical of the proposal.


“Any way you look at it, some money needs to be spent on this property,” said Karen McGraw of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association. “And I think with the financial incentives, I think there’s good reason to explore the restoration as opposed to tearing it down and building something new.”


Nassour said his extended family had spent more than $30,000 in legal fees to stop the family’s home from being restored or rebuilt. He insisted his aunt, and his cousin, had no financial wherewithal to address historic designation. And he noted his 97-year-old aunt, Helen Nohra, was the longest living resident in Hyde Park, a point that appeared to resonate with a number of commissioners.


Nassour also apologized to commissioners who might have thought it was possible to find the money to make the repairs.


“The only thing working in the house is the doorbell,” Nassour told commissioners, noting that no one had pointed his family to a money tree for improvements to the property. “This house is a teardown.”


The original house was eight rooms and 1 bath, Nassour said. Newer additions had made it 18 rooms and nine bathrooms, Nassour said. That was significant. And he noted that the local historic district had made no difference.


“When you do this in a cavalier fashion, it really dilutes the significance of historic zoning,” Nassour said. “And historic zoning should not be a planning tool for neighborhoods to use to control development.”


Options provided by the preservationist half of the commission, such as preserving the house and subdividing the property, did not meet with much approval from the landowner.


“Where are we going to put Ms. Nohra, in the meantime?” Nassour asked, although he also acknowledged the elderly woman’s daughter lived next door to the existing property, noting the value of the house was just $130,000, compared to the $400,000 value of the land.


“It makes me so angry to see what’s happened to this house,” Commissioner Mandy Dealey began, in an attempt to talk about the house’s condition.


“It makes me so angry to see what’s happened to my aunt,” Nassour said.


“Your aunt is your responsibility,” said Dealey, a bit frustrated.


“And I’m trying to take responsibility for her, and I hope you do the same thing,” Nassour rejoined.


Dealey asked Sadowsky about the demolition by neglect ordinance. But Chair Dave Sullivan noted that a hardship exception applied to the ordinance.


Two motions came forward. Commissioner Richard Hatfield, seconded by Alfonso Hernandez, proposed following staff recommendation that the house was not historic. Hatfield, admitting he did not know everything about the landmark ordinance, suggested the additions to the house failed to maintain the historic aspects of the property.


That failed on a 4-4 vote, with Jay Reddy absent. Reddy had supported historic zoning on the property.


A motion by Danette Chimenti, seconded by Kathryne Tovo, to zone the house itself, rather than the full property, as historic, failed on a similar 4-4 vote.


Chimenti said that restoration could be a feasible alternative, especially given the family was willing to spend money to replace the house itself. Hatfield said he could not support the alternative option. Those supporting the historic zoning included Chimenti, Tovo, Dealey and Saundra Kirk.

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