The Block Island Times

HDC should base decisions on hard and fast rules

May 14, 2012

The Block Island Times recently ran a story about the Historic District Commission denying permission to the new owners of the Inn at Old Harbor to install an awning at the back of the building over a patio used for dining. “The commission cited the building’s visibility from the harbor and the building’s historic significance as the reasons for the denial.”
When the story was posted on the web it drew an immediate comment:
“Does not Finn’s have an awning off the back of their second floor which can be seen from the harbor? So, visibility from the harbor does not sound like a valid excuse.” Surely the Finn’s building is equally historic as the Inn at Old Harbor. No one has suggested that Finn’s looks anything but attractive.
The members of the HDC are well-intentioned volunteers who labor diligently to fulfill the commission’s intended mission — to preserve the architectural heritage of the island. Too often, though, the commission’s decisions appear subjective and arbitrary. This ultimately undermines the effectiveness of the commission, inviting public skepticism about its standards.
Wander through downtown and you will see properties that are eyesores begging for attention. Other places flaunt features that surely never passed any kind of review process.
Perhaps the HDC could focus on thing with larger impacts, so that owners making a good faith effort to improve properties are not discouraged from doing so. The HDC might also consider approaching owners of deficient properties to make improvements.
When decisions are made they should be grounded in clearly defined rules that apply equally to everyone.

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