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Court OKs Modern Home on Historic Block

Monday, February 22, 2016

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An appeals court has ruled in favor of the architect owner of a controversial modern home situated in a historic neighborhood in Raleigh, NC—a likely end to a three-year long legal row.

On Tuesday (Feb. 16), the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld a Wake County court decision to allow a two-story modern residence to remain amidst the Victorian-era homes and 20th-century bungalows in the city’s Oakwood Historic District.

Louis Cherry

At one point in the process, construction on the two-story, contemporary home in Raleigh's Oakwood Historic District was stalled. Its owners won a victory in the North Carolina Court of Appeals Tuesday (Feb. 16).

The homeowner and architect Louis Cherry and his wife, Marsha Gordon, had received the required approval permits to construct their dream home in the fall of 2013. According to the city’s website, the neighborhood, seen here in Google’s street view, is full of architectural variety, developed from 1880 to 1930.

Controversial Construction

Controversy struck as construction on the contemporary home began.

Gail Wiesner, a neighbor across the street, took issue with the 2,500 -square-foot abode taking shape out her window.

She argued the house would “harm the character” and “contribute to erosion of the neighborhood’s value,” according to the court documents.

Wiesner first voiced her displeasure in a City Council meeting and appealed the Raleigh Historic Development Commission’s initial decision to allow the construction.

She presented her case in front of the Board of Adjustment in January 2014. Other neighbors also spoke up about the house that “didn’t fit in.”

Meanwhile, construction continued. Cherry was advised of the appeal by city officials.

Louis Cherry

The appeals court found that the neighbor across the street lacked standing to challenge the design of the abode, shown here in rendering.

He told D+D News he was told he might be sent back to the historic development commission to correct any procedural errors that the city board may have identified during its review. Thus, the architect and his wife perceived the risk as minor and proceeded with the construction project.

Unprecedented Decision

They did not anticipate what happened next.

The City’s Board of Adjustment, a body that reviews procedural errors by city agencies, determined that the home clashed with its historic neighbors and should not have been approved.

In an unprecedented decision, the Board voted 3-2 to overturn the Historic Development Commission’s approval, saying that the commission’s guidelines were not properly considered when the plans in the “Certificate of Appropriateness” were approved.

The board’s decision, which became official March 10, 2014, thus revoked Cherry’s construction permits and the project was temporarily halted.

The officials commented on a number of design features that were not in line with the overall character of the historic district, including the roof shape.

Modern architecture lovers and historic preservationists alike rallied against the board’s ruling, as the case was thrust into the global media spotlight.

Cherry and Gordon challenged the decision, taking the matter to Wake County court, which sided with the couple. They were able to finish the construction on their home soon after. Wiesner appealed.

Neighbor Lacked Standing

The North Carolina appeals court unanimously agreed that Wiesner lacked legal standing to challenge the design.

“Vague, general allegations that a property use will impair property values in the general area […] will not confer standing,” the judges wrote.

“Even if she is correct in her assessment of the Cherry-Gordon house’s design, respondent has failed to show that she is an ‘aggrieved party.’”

Her objections were “essentially aesthetic,” the court added.

Should Wiesner appeal the decision, the state’s Supreme Court does not have to hear the case, reports relate.

The homeowners issued a statement to media outlets thanking their attorneys and friends for supporting them throughout the “long and difficult process.”

A rogue Twitter account, speaking in the voice of the modern house, also re-joined in the conversation following Tuesday’s decision.

@ModernOakwood wrote: “**does a little happy dance**” and “’Essentially aesthetic’ going on my tombstone, y’all.’”


Tagged categories: Aesthetics; Architecture; Color + Design; Design; Government; Historic Structures; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; Modernism; Modernist architecture; North America

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