After buying historic downtown house, residents now face violations for previous owners’ additions

The city's historic districts have strict architectural regulations. When the owners bought the 112-year-old house, the may not have realized that the building had additions that apparently violate those regulations --- a situation that could lead to fines and fees.

Homeowners in Wilmington have been told that new additions including their fence and stairs were not in compliance with historic preservation code (Port City Daily/Courtesy City of Wilmington)
Homeowners in Wilmington have been told that new additions including their fence and stairs were not in compliance with historic preservation code. (Port City Daily/Courtesy City of Wilmington)

WILMINGTON —Becoming a homeowner is stressful and exciting for most people, but as one couple who recently purchased a home in Wilmington, it can also be a major headache thanks to strict historic district codes.

That was certainly the case for the residents of one downtown house.

Related: Here’s how Wilmington’s many historic districts and their code requirements work


The house in question is located off Walnut Street in Wilmington’s Historic District and was purchased in April by a couple, who, unbeknownst to them, would soon be facing possible citations and a lengthy process of appeals thanks to some minor modifications made to their home.

Things like a new fence, new stairs, and installing a new back door all came under scrutiny by the city’s ever-watchful Historic Preservation Commission  (HPC) who demanded the homeowners make some changes. But a recent decision from the city’s Board of Adjustment has remanded the case back to the HPC after a lengthy discussion earlier this month.

The case at hand

The house in question is known as the Bertram Quelch House, constructed in 1907.

The home was purchased in April and sometime after the sale, city staff members were somehow alerted to several changes that had been made by the previous owners.

According to the HPC meeting minutes from July 12, “Shortly thereafter, an exterior alteration came to the attention of staff, which resulted in a notice of violation. She gave a list of alterations including those identified during an on-site meeting with the applicant as follows:

  • A new fence, greater than 9-feet tall in places, with the unfinished side incorrectly
    facing out, which follows the property line and abuts an original historic extension
    at the back elevation;
  • A plank deck built to the property line with lattice underpinning, which augments
    original tongue and groove decking;
  • A dormer window replaced by the previous owner with one that opens and closes
    and is framed by unfinished wood and wood shingles, and heavy galvanized
    hinges;
  • New back steps and crawl space door;
  • New rear entry door with a simulated divided light door;
  • Alteration to an infill area where a window may have been removed;
  • Replacement of lap siding with that of unknown composition.”

After being notified of the violations, the homeowners submitted a request for an after-the-fact approval of the additions to their property from the HPC. Members of the HPC were not keen on approving some of the changes, although they did allow for some.

“Following further discussion, Acting Chairman [Rob] Romero moved to approve with the
request for the certain exterior alterations – the installation of a new rear entry door, and the construction of a new deck and handrail on the rear elevation of the house …” according to meeting minutes.

Despite the approval of some items, the HPC noted several changes it would require, including:

  • The rear fence shall be reduced to a height of 6 feet.
  • Those portions of the fence within 3 feet of a structure shall be constructed with removable panels to allow access for maintenance.
  • The wood shingles on the rear dormer and the wood framing around the rear dormer
    window shall be painted white to match the rest of the house.
  • The applicant shall enter into a preservation agreement with the City of Wilmington to
    remove the rear deck except that portion within 3 feet of the rear property line when the deck becomes deteriorated but in no case less than 15 years from July 12, 2018. Any new replacement siding for the house shall be wood and shall match the original siding in design, profile, dimensions, material, and profile. In addition, should historic
    documentation or physical evidence be presented regarding the original design of the
    siding infill area on the rear elevation, such as the location of a former window, or the
    window in the rear dormer that those elements be returned to their original or similar
    design. Said agreement shall be recorded with the Register of Deeds and shall run with
    the real property. The intent of the preservation agreement is to ensure that future
    changes with regards to these elements be reviewed for compliance with the Design
    Guidelines with the goal of restoring the original fabric of the structure.
  • All construction shall comply with all regulations and requirements imposed by the Land
    Development Code and any other applicable federal, state or local law, ordinance or
    regulation, including the North Carolina Building Code. All required permits shall be
    obtained. The project reviewed as a part of this application shall comply with all
    conditions ordered by the Historic Preservation Commission.
  • Changes to the project from that described in the application and submittals that are as
    the result of compliance with the NC State Building Code, Land Development Code, or
    other applicable regulatory provisions, shall be reviewed by the Historic Preservation
    Commission, or if minor in nature as specified in the Wilmington Design Guidelines, by
    Commission staff through the administrative bypass process.
  • And the following additional conditions:
    • The window design to be brought back to the Commission in 90 days;
    • All other changes to be made in 90 days;

After receiving the news, the homeowners were not fully satisfied with the decision of the HPC and filed an appeal with the Board of Adjustment.

Editor’s note: This is part one of a series examining the case of the Walnut Street home, part two, publishing next week, will take a look at actions taken by the Board of Adjustment. 


 

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