Commission Wrestles With Historic Status Of Main Street Shed

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Historic preservation

Whether or not this shed at the back of the property at 193 Main St. is a contributing structure to the Old Village National Historic District is the central question before the historical commission. If so, a proposal to demolish or remove it must go to the Cape Cod Commission. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – Ten years ago, a proposal to make significant changes to the building known as the John Hallett Store at 193 Main St. was turned down by the town and the Cape Cod Commission. Now the owner is asking to carry out what was a minor part of that plan: removing a shed at the rear of the lot and replacing it with a two-car garage.

No changes are proposed for the main structure, the lime green and yellow edifice that currently houses the Cape Abilities Farm Store and is known by many as the Calico Cat building. The building was built around 1800 and like those surrounding it is part of the Old Village National Historic District. There's no doubt the stately Greek Revival building is a contributing structure to the district, but whether the shed can also be considered a contributing structure is the issue now before the historical commission.

During a hearing last week, Mark Zibrat, who represented owner Hilary Foulkes, acknowledged the shed is more than 75 years old, but said it has no historical significance. He referred to comments by Cape Cod Commission Historic Preservation Planner Sarah Korjeff regarding a lack of information in the record to determine if the shed was a contributing structure. Korjeff suggested that more information be sought from the historical commission.

The Cape Cod Commission staff report on the 2008 project notes that the shed is “not noted in the historic inventory form and is not believed to be historically significant.” Removal of the shed, it adds, “does not appear to impact the historical integrity of the district.”

But there's disagreement on that, and Chairman Frank Messina said National Register documentation includes mention of the shed as a contributing structure. Further research into the documentation is necessary to make the determination, he said.

The shed's status as a contributing structure to the Old Village district is a critical issue. If it is a contributing structure, the proposal to demolish or move it – Zibrat said the owner wants to move it to his property on Stage Harbor Road – is automatically referred to the Cape Cod Commission, which can approve or turn down the proposal. If it is not a contributing structure, its disposition falls under the historical commission, which can invoke a demolition delay if it determines the structure to be historically significant but cannot prevent it from being moved or torn down.

Resident Normal Pacun, who played a key role in the Old Village National Historic District designation, has no doubt about the shed's status.

“This is a contributing structure within the National Register Historic District,” he told the commission. There are more than 100 other accessory buildings – sheds and barns – in the district, he added. “They are all very important and critical to how the district looks.”

Members of the commission had concerns about the scale of the garage that is being proposed to take the place of the shed. Zibrat said the current one story, 169-square-foot, 13-foot-high shed would be replaced by a 410-square-foot, 22-foot-high two-story building with living space on the second floor. Commission member Robert Lear said that would overwhelming the site.

“It's going to be a significant change to the existing streetscape,” Messina agreed. A small shed is effectively being replaced by “another domicile,” he said.

Referral to the Cape Cod Commission is not something the commission does lightly, Messina said, noting that it's only been done a few times in the past. “It's a big deal,” he said, requiring a formal hearing before the county agency and a higher level of documentation. He asked staff to research Old Village National District approval to determine if the shed was listed as a contributing structure. Korjeff will also be invited to the commission's Sept. 18 meeting, when the matter will be taken up again.