Decision to protect historic Brockmont Park home raises zoning question

As the Historic Preservation Commission on Thursday unanimously denied the demolition of a contributing home in a historic district, many of its members remarked that their decisions came with regret and reluctance.

"There's no right answer, unfortunately. That's the situation we find ourselves in," said Commissioner Arlene Vidor, who called on a moratorium on establishing historic districts until city officials figure out how to handle renovation projects that make their way through City Hall as a historic overlay zone is in the process of being approved.

The owners of a 1954 home in the Brockmont Park Historic District in the 1500 block of Valley View Road thought that if they got their paperwork in before the historic district was approved, they'd be in the clear to raze their one-story ranch-style home and nearly double its size to a two-story, 4,350-square-foot Spanish Colonial Revival-style house.

Their application was deemed complete in February, just weeks before the City Council approved the Brockmont Park Historic District, adding a protective layer of oversight to 59 homes built between 1910 and 1954.

However, neighbors and the Glendale Historical Society complained, and the day the owners, Erik and Kristina Kaminski Yepes, were set to have their plans go before by the Design Review Board, the project was yanked from that commission's agenda.

The board is usually where property revamps go for approval, but the Yepes' home was redirected to the Historic Preservation Commission, the decision-making body for properties in historic districts.

The couple said they were confused and shocked. They had worked for nearly three years alongside city staff to ensure their design was in line with city zoning codes, but at the last minute there was a change of plans.

"We are stressed out," Erik Yepes said, taking over the microphone at the podium when his wife began to cry while addressing the commission.

"We've been tossed around," he added.

The current ordinance governing historic districts does not have a process for pipeline projects, or ones that may come through in the midst of establishing new districts. Vidor said that crack in the process should be filled before more districts come through.

Just because a property is in a historic district doesn't mean it can't be demolished, according to a city report. But the commissioners said they opposed the demolition of a home with historical integrity.

"I think, at this point, I would support the renovation or addition of this home, but I don't feel I could support the demolition of a contributing property and don't feel like that would be doing our jobs here today," said Commissioner Desiree Shier.

Under the current zoning code, if the couple wanted to renovate their home by removing 50% of its walls and roof, they would have to double their setback to 10 feet, cutting into the size of their house, which they want to enlarge for their growing family. The house also needs significant work because of $10,000 worth of termite damage, Kristina Kaminski Yepes said.

Senior Planner Jay Platt said the city could work with the owners to redo their home within historic-district guidelines and without demolition.

The couple did not have any vested rights to demolish the property, said Chief Assistant City Atty. Gillian van Muyden. Their application may have been deemed complete, but they did not have a tentative map, a statutory development agreement or a building permit.

Erik and Kristina Kaminski Yepes can appeal the lower-level commission's decision to the City Council.

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