How did this happen? That’s the question a dozen homeowners were asking the Windsor Square (WS) HPOZ board members at Wednesday’s meeting about a renovation and second story addition to a Spanish style bungalow at 232 N Plymouth. The home which now looms larger than its nearest neighbors, has become the subject of controversy among neighbors trying to understand how it was approved by the HPOZ Board.
“I am concerned that the HPOZ is approving facades that will encourage “mansionization” of our neighborhood homes,” said Mark Williams who lives on Plymouth Blvd.
Gary Gilbert, another resident of Plymouth, expressed frustration that such a project would have been approved by the HPOZ board.
“People feel like the HPOZ process has failed them [by approving this project]. What can be done to prevent this failure going forward?” asked Charlie Coker, another resident on Plymouth.
On a more personal note, Young Sook Kim, who lives next door at 240 N Plymouth, said she has lost privacy because the larger home is so close to hers, and her bedroom windows are right next door to a new balcony. She asked the owner what plans he might have to give her more privacy. The owner, Siamak Khakshooy, who was present with his architect and contractor to ask the board for permission to make alterations to the perviously approved plans, simply said he was not concerned about what his neighbors were doing and that his house was no different from any other two-story addition on the street. This exchange was the only contentious moment in the meeting when other neighbors disagreed saying this house was much higher and larger than others in the neighborhood. There are 5 other homes where second stories have added. Only four homes appear to be built as two stories of the approximately 34 houses on the block.
For the most part the neighborhood frustration was not directed at the owner who said he spent two years working with the city to gain approval of the project. A recent city inspection confirmed the owner was building according to the approved plans.
Matt Artukovich, chair person of the WS HPOZ and the other volunteer members Priscilla Wright, Andrew Woodward, and architect Caroline Labiner listened to comments and concerns from residents.
Mr. Artukovich said that he was not pleased with the project when he recently saw it but added that second story additions were particularly challenging because the Windsor Square HPOZ was limited to reviewing only projects that fall within the “Facade and Visible Area.” In this case, the second story addition is set back from the main facade of the house by 26 feet and the entirety of the addition is behind the line of the Facade and Visible Area, known as the “red line,” according to the planning department’s review of the project.
In newer Preservations Plans for other HPOZs in the area, any portion of the house that is visible from the street falls under the purview of the HPOZ.
Ms. Wright said the Windsor Square HPOZ was the least strict of the HPOZs in the city because it was one of the first approved and it was controversial at the time more than 10 years ago. Also it was one of the first to cover a large neighborhood of 1100 homes. At the time, the Planning department told the neighborhood they would be able to revise and strengthen the Preservation Plan in the future. In July 2013, the Windsor Square HPOZ Board asked the Planning Department to review the plan, but the process has not begun yet due to staffing issues at the department. The HPOZ board would like to expand the plan to include any portion of the house that can be seen from the street, including walls and fences.
Tim Rosenstein, the city planner assigned to the WS HPOZ, said he hoped the city’s process of reviewing all the preservation plans could be completed within one to two years. In the interim, he encouraged the board to educate neighbors now so that when the time comes to consider revisions there will be support among the community.
Ms. Labiner explained the intent of the ordinance is to preserve the continuity of a “district” or a “zone” so the view from the street is very important. The board encouraged homeowners to come to meetings and express their concerns about projects. Ms. Labiner offered to share HPOZ meeting notices with the Windsor Square Block Captains to make sure residents were aware of meetings and projects coming before the board for review.