Historic District Review Board Approves Projects, Considers Paint Colors and Satellite Dishes

Cape Charles Wave

April 27, 2015

In 1954, the Supreme Court case of Berman v. Parker set a precedent which allowed local governments to “tear down an old building to improve a neighborhood.” This landmark case oddly led the way for the modern preservation movement.

The case was heard during the beginnings of the urban renewal movement, which sought to rehabilitate blight in America’s cities. Essentially, the ruling implied that aesthetics was enough to finally enforce a historic district’s preservation efforts. That is, a historic district could endeavor to protect historic neighborhoods based on visual importance.

From the early attempts creating historic districts, such as Charleston, Savannah, or New Orleans, several key concepts have evolved, such as to protect significant historic properties against the threat of development, to encourage development in an older area, to maintain property values, or to create a brand or image of the place.

Of course, there is the economic effect. Don Rypkema, in The Economics of Rehabilitation, states that historic reinvestment can generate tax credits and can establish a new and higher depreciation schedule, extend the property’s economic life, and achieve a better quantity, quality, and durability of the income stream. Also, it can stimulate tourism, private, increased property values, property values and sales tax, create jobs and compatible land use patterns.

On April 21, town officials in charge of this preservation effort, the Historic District Review Board, met to revisit the Certificate of Appropriateness for each of two properties, 1 Mason Avenue (The Hotel), and 205 Jefferson Avenue.


At 1 Mason, owner Beth Walker hopes to modify the Certificate of Appropriateness for proposed façade modifications. According to the notice provided by Town Planner Larry DiRe, “the Guidelines address windows and doors in detail. The applicant has previously addressed this Board about those matters in the December 2014 application. Window and door structural and alignment standards are addressed and should be considered when deciding any modifications to the original Certificate of Appropriateness.”

Based on analysis and data provided by the applicant’s project engineer, these modifications are needed to comply with the current town code, specifically in reference to the location of the first and second story windows relative to the building’s corners and symmetry; the project must maintain a 6 foot window setback from the corners of building on the first floor and 4 feet on the second floor. The plan is to relocate one window on the first floor front elevation, while keeping the symmetry of window placement on first and second floors as a “defining feature.”

According to the applicant, most of the windows and doors are so damaged, that they will have to be replaced. Even as the windows will match those being replaced, they will be using high-end, wind-resistant models that will be better equipped to withstand the high wind events common on this end of the peninsula.

One of the more interesting features of the renovation will be the creation of an outdoor dining area at the back of the property. This will require a rear balcony addition and stairs which will also provide a second form of egress from the second floor rooms, as well as an outdoor space for guests.

This design is not without some financial hurdles. In order to completely match the old with the new, the applicant originally planned to have each spindle being used on the front and back porches be milled to custom specifications. As each spindle cost $60, and there are over 1000, the applicant asked permission to substitute the spindles on the back porch for non-custom, yet high-quality models. She still planned to use the custom, milled version on the front porch area.

After review, the consensus of the Board was that the non-custom milled spindle was still within the guidelines, and so approved the request. The Board sees the hotel at 1 Mason as an exciting, important project, both from an historical preservation standpoint as well as from the economic benefits it should provide. The HDRB approved the modifications to the Certificate of Appropriateness unanimously.


A Certificate of Appropriateness for a new screened-in porch and deck was approved in March for 205 Jefferson Avenue, owned by John, Nan, and Anna Mosteller. The original plan was to build the screened-in porch and deck first, but now the owners wish to modify the Certificate of Appropriateness to convert the porch to an enclosed sun room.

At the meeting, the applicant stated that due to financial concerns, the timeline had changed, and it may be “a while” before they would be able to tackle the entire sun room project. The applicant was willing to withdraw the latest modification, but since the request was well within the guidelines, the board agreed to approve the request with the stipulation that work on the sun room begin within one year, and if they used the same plans, there would be no need to reappear before the Board.


Another application for a Certificate of Appropriateness was brought by William Manning, contractor for Robyn Milmouth, owner of the property at 234 Tazewell Avenue. According to the report from Planner DiRe, “the proposed work on the home includes removing the current porch; removing a second floor window and replacing it with a door matching the front door; constructing a new porch, and extending the new porch to the second floor. The guidelines address porches fairly comprehensively. Full-width, one-story porches are the most common within the Cape Charles district. However, two-story porches are not unknown in the district.”

Although the application was fairly straightforward (and was approved), interestingly, Mr. Manning also supplied swatches of the paint colors chosen for the project. Board member Sandra Salopek thoroughly reviewed the color palette and had the proposed colors read into the record. This segued into Guideline updates that were taken up by the Board. On the agenda was whether the board should create a color palette that could serve as a guideline for applicants to use as a tool to help choose historically appropriate paint when doing a renovation, or even new construction. “Is that enforceable,” asked this reporter. “How do you limit that choice? If you take that Victorian house at Tazewell and Fig — the one that is pink and purple and fuchsia — it’s beautiful, but may not fall into the guidelines. And Victorians at the beach can be wild.”

“It is beautiful,” offered Salopek. “But the board needs to . . . .”

“There should be some guidance,” interjected Terry Strub. “Just as some way to help protect property values.”

To this end, the HDRB and Planner DiRe intend to create a working group, made up of some of the town’s talented designers, painters, and artists, to help derive the color palette. Anyone interested in joining the working group should contact Larry DiRe at 757-331-3259 x15 or [email protected].

A sticky wicket of business broached by the Board was the Satellite Dish ordinance. After surveying the town by car and by foot, DiRe observed “many, many dishes that are out of compliance.” But enforcement is not a cut-and-dry issue. According to DiRe, “There are differing world views on dishes.” There is the town ordinance, and the historic guidelines, yet overarching is the federal guidelines of the FCC. “The local ability to override Federal law with local ordinance is hard.”

“There are so many [dishes] that are not in use,” noted Terry Strub. “Can’t we do something about them?” Even as the Board agreed that removing old unused dishes was appealing, the ability for the town to act was still unclear. Currently, there is no permit required to put up a dish. The consensus of the Board was to examine the possibility of requiring a building permit, which would be enforceable. “Even so,” warned DiRe. “The FCC may not allow you to enforce it.”



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