Homes in Dayton’s 13 historic districts may have charm and architectural splendor, but owners have to follow what can be strict rules when making exterior changes, rules that experts said can be more expensive and time consuming than typical projects.
One recent case — the owner of Blind Bob’s getting into legal trouble for replacing the front door on his Oregon District home — drew attention to the city’s Landmarks Commission and the rules and regulations governing Dayton’s historic districts, which contain about 2,650 homes and buildings.
Bob and Lisa Mendenhall, the owners of Blind Bob’s, live on Jackson Street in the Oregon Historic District. Some residents said the front door the Mendenhalls installed is fine, but others called it unacceptable for the historic district.
The incident was not the first time someone in Dayton landed in trouble for replacing a door without permission, and it’s unlikely to be the last, observers said.
Since early 2018, the Landmarks Commission, or historic zoning board, also has denied requests to change attic windows, make changes to window arrangements, replace a door with a glass window or panel, install solar panels and install glass block windows.
“Historic districts provide protection of the assets in our community,” said Jeff Peterson, co-owner of the renovation and construction firm Abode CPR LLC, and who has renovated about 10 historic properties.“The function of the city’s historic preservation officer and the Landmarks Commission are vitally important to these historic districts to be sure that things are done appropriately so what we have today is shepherded into the future.”
Last year, the Mendenhalls applied for a certificate of appropriateness to replace their front door, which was denied by the city’s historic preservation officer on the grounds the door was not period appropriate and incompatible with the historic district.
They appealed the decision to the Landmarks Commission, which voted to deny the application because the door style did not meet the standards in the Blueprint for Rehabilitation. The Mendenhalls did not attend the meeting nor send anyone to speak on their behalf.
A couple months later, the Mendenhalls installed a new $6,700 door on their home. Bob Mendenhall said his old door was falling apart, which put them at risk of crime, especially after a break-in happened nearby.
He was charged with a misdemeanor offense for not displaying a certificate of appropriateness before doing exterior work to ensure it complied with architectural standards and zoning code.
“My God, it’s a door — a door — and it’s a lot better than the door than was here,” he said.
City of Dayton staff said the applicants could have reached out to discuss next steps, which would have included presenting a new proposed door style, but instead they installed the rejected door.
“Door replacement is approved all the time in historic districts, as long the proposed door meets the guidelines specified in the Blueprint for Rehabilitation,” staff said.
Living in historic districts
The Mendenhalls’ have a High Victorian-style home in the Oregon District, Dayton’s oldest neighborhood and the first in the city to be designated as a historic district, in the 1970s.
Dayton has 13 local districts subject to historic zoning rules. Seven other districts have national historic designations but are not subject to the local rules.
The local districts are Dayton View, Oregon, South Park, McPherson Town, Huffman, St. Anne’s Hill, Grafton Hill, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Grafton-Rockwood-Wroe, Kenilworth, Wright Dunbar, Squirrel-Forest and East Third Street.
Dayton’s historic districts are popular places to live. Homes in the Oregon, South Park and St. Anne’s Hill districts sometimes sell within days of hitting the market at or above asking price, often for cash.
Historic zoning regulations protect the areas from incompatible alterations or demolition, city staff said.
In historic districts, people must apply for permits called certificates of appropriateness when they want to make exterior modifications or repairs to their homes and buildings.
Minor certificates of appropriateness are required for projects like painting existing painted surfaces, repairing or installing fencing and replacing roofs, doors, windows and gutters that match the existing design.
The city’s historic preservation officer considers the requests, which can be made over the phone, via email or in person, and they can be approved the same day.
The city approved 607 minor certificates of appropriateness last year.
Major certificates of appropriateness are required for “major modification” projects such as painting unpainted surfaces and constructing or removing porches, historic buildings, additions or accessory structures.
Major certificates are needed for altering or removing “significant” style elements like slate and tile roofs and constructing or removing window or door openings and decorative details like chimneys, gables, latticework and shutters.
The Landmarks Commission alone has the authority to approve major modifications. Last year, the commission reviewed about 111 cases involving major certificates of appropriateness. The commission has nine members at full strength.
Knocking the doors
The Mendenhalls weren’t the only Dayton property owners to get in trouble recently over a door.
In October, the Landmarks Commission denied a request to keep a front door on a home in South Park that was installed without a certificate of appropriateness.
The door did not match the former door, was inappropriate based on the guidelines in the Blueprint for Rehabilitation and is smaller than the existing opening, according to the city’s historic preservation officer and city staff.
The owner said the old door was kicked in and needed replaced.
The Landmarks Commission unanimously rejected the request and required the applicant to replace the door within six months.
Earlier this year, the owner of a home on Mound Street in the Wright Dunbar historic district grew upset after he was issued a stop order while installing vinyl siding.
The owner said he felt singled out because there were other homes nearby with plastic siding.
The Landmarks Commission said vinyl siding can be legal if it was grandfathered in and installed prior to the establishment of the historic district. Wright Dunbar was listed as a historic district in 2002.
The owner claimed other homes likely had vinyl siding put in more recently than that. The commission denied the request.
City staff said requests that are in line with historic and architectural guidelines are approved quickly.
But, they said, when there are issues, the Landmarks Commission will work with applicants to try to reach a desirable outcome. Landmarks and city staff provide feedback and cases are continued or tabled so that plans can be revised.
‘Many bigger fish out there’
City staff say they will assist people through the application process and help them understand and follow the requirements of the Blueprint for Rehabilitation and the city’s zoning code.
But city staff said historic districts need protected, and little changes add up over time. If a historic district becomes too altered, it can lose its historic designation.
The Mendenhall case is unfortunate because there may have been mistakes or misunderstandings, but the city really should be going after the “many bigger fish out there,” said Peterson, a member of the Downtown Priority Land Use Board.
Peterson, who lives in South Park, said his neighborhood and others have been invaded by house flippers from outside the area.
He said they want to turn a quick profit, cut corners and do as little work as they can get away with.
Some flippers ignore the historic zoning and building codes completely and make exterior changes without the proper permits, he said.
“We’ve got people working all over the city without building permits, certificates of appropriateness and no follow up, and our time is now wasted on Blind Bob’s,” he said.
Peterson also said he’s concerned that once projects obtain certificates of appropriateness, they are not monitored to ensure they stick to the approved plans.
Multiple projects around the city have deviated wildly from what the Landmarks Commission approved, and the city should find better ways to hold them accountable, he said.
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