Unapproved renovations to historic home cause concerns in Beaufort

emoody@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 19, 2014 

In the end, no one was happy.

But perhaps that's the sign of a good compromise, said Joel Newman, chairman of the city of Beaufort's Historic District Review Board.

The board and resident Jeannette Neal found themselves in a difficult position last week after renovations to her home, the deTreville House at 701 Greene St., were halted because they had not been properly permitted or reviewed.

After an hour of discussion during a Wednesday meeting and a Friday site visit, the board approved a compromise that could allow Neal to continue with at least part of the work.

Neal was granted a permit in October to remove tin and wooden shakes on the roof and install a new roof, according to the application. However, it did not cover a roof extension, second-story rear porch with railing, or a wraparound porch with an arched brick foundation, among other changes, according to city project development planner Lauren Kelly.

The house, built in 1785, is considered a contributing structure in the city's historic district. As a consequence, renovations must be approved by city staff or the Historic District Review Board.

Kelly said the deTreville House is one of the oldest homes in the city and has been noted on every property map through the years.

"Let the record reflect, we've got a big hot mess here," Newman said Wednesday.

Neal said that after construction began, rotten wood from water drainage problems and other concerns cropped up. The additional renovations and construction were intended to fix the problems and prevent them in the future. She also wanted to make the home, which she described as awkward, more livable.

The second-story flat roof with railing was added for safety, Neal said, as children have climbed out on the existing slanted roof through a window.

She inherited the house from her mother, Ruth deTreville Richter, and said she simply wants to make it easier to live in for herself, husband and future generations. Repairs have been put off for years, she said, and she fears it will decay.

"(My mother) wanted to fix the house and do it right, and she was afraid of you all," Neal said.

Neal said she thought the permit allowed all the work.

Newman sympathized and agreed homeowners sometimes need leeway to make historic homes livable, but some of the work was simply too out of character with the district's historic nature.

He also said the board's role is to judge the appropriateness of the renovations, not safety issues like children crawling onto roofs or the cost of repairs.

Board members Newman, Erica Dickerson and Inez Neal voted to allow Neal to continue and complete the expanded porch, but she had to remove the new side roof and build one that matched the rest of the existing roof. The second-story rear roof with railing also had to be removed. Board member Mike Rainey was absent, and Michelle Knoll left before the vote under the impression no action would be taken.

If new drawings submitted to the city are approved by staff and permits issued, Neal can resume construction, city staff said.

But not everyone is happy.

"I think it's going to be much, much more expensive for me and much less safe for my family with the balustrade removed, but I have to compromise," she said.

Historic Beaufort Foundation executive director Maxine Lutz is also displeased and plans to appeal the decision.

She said the meeting and vote did not follow proper procedure, and that not all standards or city guidelines for historic renovation were considered.

"This action today violates the letter and spirit of the procedures the city has in place for Review Board conduct," Lutz wrote in a formal request to Newman asking that the decision be rescinded and a new vote taken when more time and a full board are available.

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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