Oakwood modern house allowed to stay in historic neighborhood, court rules

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld a ruling Tuesday that the Oakwood “modern” house that caused some controversy among homeowners in the historic neighborhood will be allowed to remain in the neighborhood.

“It’s been a long, long process so it’s nice to feel a sense that this is coming to an end,” said Martha Gordon, an owner of the modern house.

The owners and designer of the house located at 516 Euclid St., Louis Cherry and Marsha Gordon, submitted an “Application for Certificate of Appropriateness” to the Raleigh Historic Development Commission on Aug. 23, 2013 to determine if their plan for the construction of their house was in-line with City of Raleigh guidelines.

“It was my best effort as an architect to make a house that was reflective of today, at the same time respectful and honoring for the past,” said Louis Cherry, also an owner of the home, and its architect.

The commission held a hearing on the application on Sept. 9, 2013 and approved, in part, their application as long as it met certain conditions.

Another hearing was held on Oct. 7, 2013 and the full design was approved.

In November 2013, a neighbor, Gail Wiesner, gave notice of her intention to appeal the Commission’s decision to allow the house to be built saying that the home did not fit the character of the neighborhood and that it would bring property values down.

The City of Raleigh Board of Adjustment overturned the decision to allow the house to be built in a 3-2 vote in March 2014 saying that the design of the house was “incongruous” with the rest of the historic neighborhood.

Read the Court of Appeals ruling

After Cherry and Gordon appealed the Board’s decision to the North Carolina Superior Court, the Board’s ruling was overturned and construction was allowed to continue. The court said the Board of Adjustment “used the incorrect standard of review” and “substituted their own judgment” in overturning the decision to grant a certificate of appropriateness.

The Superior Court did not rule on the question of the Cherry-Gordon house’s modernist design and the claim of “incongruity” with the historic district but decided that Wiesner didn’t have legal standing to challenge the approval of the design.

In the Superior Court’s ruling they said:

A person who brings a legal action challenging a land use decision like this one must have “standing” to bring the action. The applicable statute gives “standing” only to an “aggrieved party,” as the law defines that term. Although respondent lives across the street from the Cherry-Gordon house, the location of her home does not automatically give her standing to challenge the issuance of the certificate. A nearby landowner has standing to challenge a land use decision like this one only if the new construction will cause him to suffer some type of “special damages” distinct from other landowners in the area. Usually, special damages include economic damages such as a decrease in property value and other direct adverse effects on the property of the landowner challenging the proposed land use, such as smoke, light, noise, or vandalism created by the new property use, which are different from the effects on the rest of the neighborhood.”

Not all of Oakwood’s residents opposed Cherry’s home.

Donald Mutrud said the modern home is why he decided to buy on the same block.

“That was one of the deciding factors to pull the trigger on my house,” Mutrud said.

Mutrud along with supporters of the modern style home said the house is a good thing for Oakwood.

“[The home] will add to the richness and diversity of the neighborhood,” Mary Dillon said in August 2014.

“The important thing is we’ve shared a common passion, and that passion really has been to preserve and keep intact the character of the Oakwood neighborhood,” said neighbor Peter Rumsey.

The City of Raleigh told WNCN Tuesday that they had no comment on the ruling, but the City attorney’s office said they were glad the ruling was upheld.

Cherry and Gordon released a statement regarding the court’s ruling:

We are delighted and relieved by the unanimous Court of Appeals ruling in our favor regarding our home 516 Euclid St. We think it is a well-reasoned decision that will help protect homeowners like us from being subjected to inappropriate legal challenges. We had great appellate counsel in Joe Dowdy and Phillip Harris of Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP. They made outstanding legal arguments that promoted the interests of justice in our case, and they have been extraordinarily dedicated to us.

We also are fortunate to have had so much support from our neighbors, from the City of Raleigh, and from people—friends as well as strangers—from all over the area. Thanks to everyone who helped us get through what has been a long and difficult process.

We have lived in our home for over a year now, and truly love being a part of the eclectic Oakwood neighborhood. We look forward to being here for many years to come.”

Wiesner’s lawyer, Andy Petesch, released this statement in response to the ruling:

We’re obviously disappointed with the decision. It’s unfortunate that, in addition to the original issue of whether a government body abused its discretion and violated the law, this case has also become about something equally as important to the people of this State — access to the courts and an opportunity to be heard.”

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