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Preservation panel, attorney clash

Barrat accuses Martinsburg of not being able to enforce rules uniformly

Barrat accuses Martinsburg of not being able to enforce rules uniformly

January 09, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- An attorney was reminded this week by the Martinsburg Historic Preservation Review Commission that his decision to purchase a building in the city's historic core came with guidelines to abide by preservation standards for maintaining the property's exterior.

A request by Robert E. Barrat of Martinsburg to replace arched wood windows with vinyl windows at 210 E. Burke St. was tabled Monday until the HPRC's February meeting.

Barrat's request was first tabled by the commission in December to allow him time to submit cost-saving alternatives that would still preserve the appearance of the building's arched windows, some of which were removed before he purchased the property.

Instead, Barrat presented the HPRC with dozens of photographs of buildings in the Historic Preservation overlay district that had vinyl windows installed and told commissioners that what they preferred done with each window would cost $1,200.

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"I brought 64 pictures of vinyl windows in the historic district, and I can't have them," said Barrat, who suggested the city had a problem with enforcing the special zoning rules for the historic district.

Commissioner Lisa Clipp said she was well aware of the potential expense that could materialize with the purchase of her late 19th-century home and noted that she seldom could go to a regular home improvement store for a viable solution.

"I think people who buy historic properties undertake a labor of love," Clipp said.

Clipp told Barrat that many property owners in the historic preservation district have in the past made exterior changes to properties before having them reviewed by the HPRC, which issues a certificate of appropriateness for paint colors, windows, doors, signs and other aesthetic modifications in the historic district.

"Sometimes, we don't even have any idea that they've done it," Clipp said.

Barrat questioned whether the HPRC was being consistent with its decisions, and commissioners said they compromised with the previous owner of his building. In February 2007, the commission decided that vinyl windows could replace originals on the sides of the building he purchased, but asked the previous owner to preserve the front appearance.

In a lengthy discussion about the request, Commissioner Keven Walker offered to help Barrat find an economical solution that would still preserve the historical integrity of the historic district.

Barrat was doubtful about finding a feasible option.

"That window may be out there. I just haven't found it yet," Barrat said.

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