A retired couple has sued Astoria for compelling permission to replace windows in a historic home over objections from the Lower Columbia Preservation Society.
Thomas and Priscilla Levy bought the house on 16th Street and Grand Avenue in August and retired from Portland.
The couple submitted an application in September to replace 19 white pine window frames in the house with Fibrex, a composite of recycled wood fibers and thermoplastic polymer from Andersen Windows & Doors. Thomas Levy argued that the old windows were beyond repair, with black mold and decay.
“The same building materials that were available in the 19th century are no longer available,” he said. “You can’t get clear white pine any more, and if you could get clear white pine it would be ridiculously expensive.”
According to state law, cities must decide on such land use applications within 120 days. City officials initially recommended rejection, telling the Levys to repair the windows or use historically correct materials. The hearings on the project lasted three months while staff sought more information from Levys and the window manufacturer.
The Historic Landmarks Commission finally approved the newer window materials in December, stating that the old windows were beyond repair and Fibrex was a suitable replacement. The permit required that the Levys conform exactly to the old window style.
The Naturschutzgesellschaft, a non-profit organization for the promotion of historical architecture, appealed to the city council against the approval. Doug Thompson, chairman of the historic preservation society, said they believe the historic landmarks commission made a mistake by failing to follow a city ordinance that puts window repair first.
“People are moving to Astoria from other areas and buying historic homes. They are doing this because they want to live in and own a historic home,” said Thompson, who previously served on the city council. “And Astoria doesn’t look like it accidentally. That is why we have had this regulation on our books for more than a quarter of a century. “
The city was planning an appeal hearing on January 19, one working day after the 120-day deadline. Failure to meet the deadline allowed the Levys to file a Mandamus deed, an appeal that sought the Circuit Court to compel the city to finalize the Historic Landmarks Commission’s approval to replace the windows and pay their legal fees.
Prosecutor Blair Henningsgaard said he did not think Astoria would defend itself against the Mandamus letter. City manager Brett Estes said no decision had been made as to what to do.
“The complainants in this case, the Lower Columbia Preservation Society, will have the opportunity to participate and defend the lawsuit if they choose,” he said. “That’s how it sits.”
Henningsgaard said a response was due by the end of February. Thompson said the conservation society’s board of directors will meet with their attorney before deciding whether to defend themselves against the letter.
The court’s ruling on the Levys’ application would not be a land use decision, Henningsgaard said, and would not set a precedent for other historic properties.
Priscilla Levy said there should be disclosures from real estate companies about the impact of buying a historic home and providing financial assistance to people forced to make historically correct repairs.
Thompson argued that such resources were in place, such as special assessments, to freeze the value of historic properties while they were being repaired. He argued that repairing or replacing the existing windows with the original materials would ultimately cost less than using Fibrex.
“There are resources on-site, but it takes a homeowner effort to somehow work up a sweat on the details,” Thompson said. “Apparently the path of least resistance – albeit the more expensive one – is out with the old and in with the new.”