Three new windows installed at the Prairie Harvest building, 601 N. Main St., recently triggered a somewhat unheralded — but nonetheless impactful — review process that ultimately came before the Newton City Commission at its most recent meeting.
While a non-contributing member, 601 N. Main is still a part of the Newton Main Street Historic District II. As such, any renovations require a permit, which then triggers a review of the project by the Historic Preservation Commission.
In this case, the renovations were performed prior to the permit being pulled, but a review by the HPC still was required (after a permit was pulled retroactively). Building owner Aaron Gaeddert said he was unaware of that issue, believing the window permits had been handled when the entire renovation project (including other parts of the building) started roughly one year ago.
Part of the HPC's standard procedure, the review process is based off guidelines handed down by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) — but left to local entities to enforce. Windows, in particular, are difficult — with six such cases handled in the past five years. Both city staff and HPC members noted windows are "significant" to architecture, so they often come under more scrutiny.
City staff recommended the HPC approve the permit, but upon review of historic preservation design guidelines — namely pointing to items that encourage the retention of historic windows when feasible — the HPC denied the permit.
Replacement windows installed at the building were similar in style to the original windows, but not quite the same. While the windows were made to look like historic, double hung windows, the pattern (namely the divider) is not an identical match — and that is a key factor in renovations to historic buildings, according to HPC chair Jerry Wall.
Wall also noted the cost difference between the historical window and modern look-a-like is relatively minimal.
Details like that are another reason the HPC review process is meant to happen early on, as City Development Director Kelly McElroy noted the HPC is willing to work with local businesses/residents to help them preserve the historical integrity of the design elements.
"The (historic preservation) commission tries very hard to make the project work," McElroy said.
"Right now, it's a code violation because it was done without a permit," said City Manager Bob Myers. "If it's not remedied, that can be prosecuted."
Gaeddert appealed the HPC's ruling on his permit, stating his perspective in believing the entire renovation project would've triggered the review process. Additionally, he stated he was striving for higher standards and efficiency with the replacement windows.
Considering the appeal, while the Newton city commissioners saw the difficult position in which Gaeddert was placed, they are also aware of why the HPC exists.
"We hear from people all the time who visit Newton that one of the greatest things is it's historic downtown," Commissioner Barth Hague said.
Ultimately, Gaeddert's appeal was denied by the city commission — even as he raised questions about the gray areas in the design guidelines (i.e. decorative elements allowed to help maintain historical attributes).
Sharing empathy for Gaeddert's situation in having to deny the appeal, commissioners looked at the permit situation as a two-party issue and one they were hopeful he would be able to work out.
"I think it's really a contractor/client issue," Wall said.
"As a contractor in the marketplace," Commissioner Leroy Koehn said, "I would not have a choice but to stand tall and replace those windows."