Commission Allows Demo Of Cottage In Proposed Historic District

By: Tim Wood

The historical commission has allowed the demolition of this 1940s-era cottage on Stage Harbor Road, ruling that it is not historically significant even though the buildings around it have been deemed to be eligible for listing as a National Historic Register District. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – Not all historic homes, it seems, are created equal.

Although it was included as a contributing structure to the proposed Stage Harbor Road National Historic Register District, a 1940s-era home along the scenic roadway was recently given the nod for demolition.

In a Sept. 19 ruling, the historical commission determined that although the bungalow-style home at 292 Stage Harbor Rd. met the technical definition under both the town's demolition delay bylaw and the National Historic Register District criteria, it was not historically significant.

The 700-square foot building will be removed and a new house more in keeping with the architecture of the neighborhood will be built.

The commission is in the midst of determining if a National Historic District nomination for the Stage Harbor Road area will go ahead. While the Massachusetts Historical Commission has determined that the neighborhood is eligible for listing, a meeting of some property owners last month showed opposition to the nomination, which would allow the commission to refer demolitions to the Cape Cod Commission. While the historical commission can only invoke a demolition delay of up to 18 months under the town bylaw, the Cape Cod Commission has the authority to stop the razing of a structure within a National Register District.

The commission believes that the state commission's determination that the area is eligible for listing as a National Register District is grounds for referral of a demolition to the Cape Cod Commission.

But the historical commission did not take that action with the cottage at 292 Stage Harbor Rd., even though members are concerned about the future of homes along the road, where two other houses that were determined to be historically significant are now under demolition delays.

There is uncertainty about exactly when the house was built. According to the town's assessors records, it was constructed in 1940; the historical commission's records say it could have been built as early as 1920. Architect Chris Cannon said based on the materials and style of the building, it was probably built in the mid 1940s, possibly as late as 1949. The rear section was definitely built after that time, he said.

“This building may not even be 75 years old, quite frankly,” he said.

According to the historical inventory form on the house – which Cannon criticized as not being very accurate – was “very likely” built before World War II given its bungalow style. It was original part of a larger parcel, which the form states was subdivided in 1963, although attorney William Litchfield said at the hearing that the subdivision was done in 1944. In the early '60s it was owned by Clara Crowell; it was purchased by the current owners, John and Marion Schoon, in 1984. While the 7,405-square-foot parcel is currently assessed by the town as $878,400, the house carries a value of only $33,600.

The building has been “terribly altered,” Cannon said. “I don't know if there's a modicum of the original within the interior.”

He added, “I just don't see anything here worthy of trying to preserve.”

The commission approved demolition of the cottage in 2013, but the permit lapsed. That was before the neighborhood was considered for a National Register Historic District, said Chairman Frank Messina. When the commission's consultant put together the eligibility request to the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the cottage was included because it is within a contiguous area that would comprise the district. But not all contributing structures reach the threshold of being “historically significant.”

“That does not mean that the house is in fact historically significant, or that when the final analysis is completed it would be considered a contributing structure for a National Register District,” Messina said. The cottage is only a “modest” example of its architectural style and has no known connection to meaningful town history, he added.

But it's important that property owners along Stage Harbor Road realize the general historical importance of the street – one of the town's oldest roadways, or centuries leading to a dock or “stage” on Stage Harbor – and when considering work on their homes “stop and take a look at what you're doing,” Messina said.

The zoning board of appeals later approved a special permit for the new house on the lot, which chairman David Nixon said was “one of the best designs I've seen of taking something whose time has come and remaking it into something that absolutely fits perfectly” with the neighborhood.

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