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Martinsburg City Council nixes vinyl siding in historic district

August 13, 2010|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Martinsburg City Council on Thursday overturned the Historic Preservation Review Commission's decision last month to allow vinyl siding to be installed on a residential building for homeless veterans in the city's downtown historic district.

Councilman Roger Lewis was absent for the 6-0 vote, which vacated the HPRC's 3-2 decision in favor of Telamon Corp., the building owner.

HPRC's decision regarding the property at 226 E. Burke St. was appealed by Michael M. Covell, the city's engineer and planning department director.

In his appeal, Covell said the HPRC's July 12 decision was "arbitrary and not supported by the evidence presented" or consistent with previous decisions concerning the installation of vinyl siding on historic structures in the historic district.

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Telamon Corp., which cited economic hardship posed by federally imposed lead paint regulations that were adopted in April 2010, has the option to appeal the city's decision in circuit court within the next 30 days or file a new application with the HPRC.

Robin Kees, Telamon Corp.'s state director, said after Thursday's council meeting that they were still considering their options.

"We're going to look into try to maintain the historical integrity of that building, we're going to try to look out for the health and safety and welfare of our residents and in the mean time spend the Veterans Administration's money (in an) economically sound and responsible way," Kees said.

In 2003, Telamon Corp. was awarded $18,500 from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to help renovate the building for housing male veterans at the 11-bed facility. Kees said Telamon Corp. "inherited" the building from another organization that operated a similar veterans program there.

Kees said Telamon assessed the property's condition when they took ownership.

When asked if Telamon was aware of the city's special historic preservation-zoned district and the regulations that came with it, Kees said "we knew there was a historical society, but we never really had to deal with that."

Telamon Corp. is a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to people in 10 states through a number of programs, including child care, employment, housing, education and community development, according to Telamon's website.

Covell also noted that Telamon failed to provide evidence of the hardship posed and noted that Telamon failed to provide "any credible evidence concerning the cost savings of the vinyl siding versus painting."

In Thursday's meeting, Telamon officials did not present any documents outlining the cost to council members who seemed willing to consider the organization's economic hardship argument. Telamon had previously said the project was estimated by a contractor to cost as much as $40,000.

"...They're throwing around cost estimates, but there's nothing in writing, said Ward 5 Councilwoman Betty Gunnoe.

"It's like ... 'it could be this, it could be that,' there's no estimates, there's nothing concrete."

Before entertaining a motion to "abate" HPRC's decision, Mayor George Karos, who only votes to break a tie, said he supported Covell's appeal because of the concern for setting a precedent and making exceptions to preservation guidelines.

"If this Council lets you do what you want to do ... then that to me opens up ... Pandora's box," Karos said.

"Regulations are regulations and we have to abide by those," Karos said.

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